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Albrecht Dürer, The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I. National Gallery of Denmark

COPENHAGEN.- Throughout the autumn season visitors to the National Gallery of Denmark can see the museum’s conservators at work, restoring Albrecht Dürer’s 500 year-old masterpiece The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I. 

For many years, this artwork by Albrecht Dürer – the largest Renaissance woodcut ever made – was on display at the Royal Collection of Graphic Art’s premises in Prinsens Palæ, now the home the National Museum of Denmark. Here, the 3.5 x 3m artwork was exposed to light and changing climate conditions, and eventually it yellowed and deteriorated to such an extent that it was no longer fit for display. Since then it has been rolled up and tucked away in the SMK storage facilities. 

Join us in the workshop
In the spring of 2015 Dürer’s large-scale work will see the light of day again – and be the main feature of an exhibition arranged by the Royal Collection of Graphic Art.

In order to prepare the work for exhibition the SMK conservators will be busy throughout the autumn months, brandishing scalpels, spatulas, brushes, enzymes, and ethanol in their endeavours to separate the many sheets of paper, clean them, mend tiny tears, and generally restore the work to its former splendour. 

All museum visitors have the opportunity to watch the extensive restoration work being undertaken when the conservators open up their workshop. Here you can watch the conservators’ handiwork, study their tools at first hand, and ask any questions you may have. 

What the paper revealed
The artwork itself, The Arch of Honour of Maximilian 1., was commissioned by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, as propaganda in favour of him and his family. It consists of 36 large sheets of paper printed using a total of 195 carved wooden blacks. The work was originally stored in binders as loose leaves, but in the mid-19th century the head of the Royal Collection of Graphic Art, Just Matthias Thiele, had one set glued onto a large canvas so that it formed a single, large artwork – precisely as Dürer intended.

Prior to the actual restoration work the conservators carried out preliminary analyses of the artwork. For example, photographs taken while transmitting light through the artwork reveals that the paper has a watermark showing a double-headed eagle wearing an imperial crown: the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor. The watermark demonstrates the artwork’s close links to Maximilian I, and also proves that the depiction of the triumphal arch was indeed the emperor’s own project. 

The conservators must be very patient when separating the many sheets of paper. For preliminary tests have shown that even though the prints have been mounted onto the canvas by means of a simple paste boiled from e.g. wheat, the task of loosening and separating the leaves is very difficult. The conservators must use enzymes for the task, proceeding very slowly and with great care. 

In order to prepare the work for exhibition the SMK conservators will be busy throughout the autumn months.