Conservators at the National Library of Scotland have restored a very rare world map which was gifted to it after the map was found stuffed up a chimney in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The map is a 17th century work done by Dutch engraver Gerald Valck and was recovered while restoration work of a house was underway. The map measuring 2.2 metres by 1.6 metres (7ft x 5ft) would have served as a wall hanging in its days. A similar map from the same period is shown in the famous painting by Vermeer called ‘Painter in his Studio’.
According to conservators at the library when they received the map it was rolled up in a plastic bag and was in a very poor condition, covered with lots of dirt and damaged at various places by vermin and insects. Conservators removed the map and it looked like a bundle of rags and had to be handled extremely carefully as fragments of the map fell off like confetti every time it was moved. On closer examination, it became clear that the canvas backing on the map had survived better than much of the paper itself which had disintegrated in a number of places.
The team carried out the work in five stages: opening and flattening the map; separating it into its original eight sections; removing the linen backing; dry cleaning and washing the paper; and re-assembling the cleaned sections onto a new paper lining. Conservators at the library revealed that the work they did on the map was one of the most complex yet restoration work undertaken by the Library’s conservation department.
Conservators first dry cleaned the paper using a soft brush and an aspirator similar to that used by a dental assistant to suck up unwanted debris during dental treatment. Because the size of the map was huge, it had to be separated into smaller pieces. While the decision may sound drastic it turns out that the map was originally made by sticking eight sections together so separation didn’t sound out of the way.
Conservators then supported the map using blotting paper and Bondina – sheets of a synthetic support material
used in conservation work. This made it easier to handle and prevented loose pieces breaking away. It was then placed in a humidifying chamber as the gentle introduction of moisture made it easier to flatten out the map.
Then it was the dry cleaning phase again and conservators re-aligned loose pieces of the map with the help of a powerful magnifier. These pieces needed to adhere to the canvas backing on a temporary basis. A Japanese seaweed adhesive called Funori was used because it was strong enough to hold the loose pieces in place, but not too strong when the time came to remove the backing.
The challenge for conservators was to find a way of holding the paper map together while the canvas backing was removed. A thick cellulose solution was used to fix lightweight Japanese paper to the front of the map in two layers. This secured the paper map while the backing was peeled off using hand tools. After drying for 48 hours, the map was subjected to final cleaning phase wherein it was washed with water. The map sections were suspended individually in water in a heated sink at 400C for 40 minutes with the water being gently agitated to clean dirt from the surface. On removal they were placed in blotters to remove any excess water.