Object of the week: The Praying Monks

POST BY JGraffius

Praying Monks date unknown
Praying Monks date unknown

This week these two wooden painted monks, each measuring about seven inches tall, have returned from the City & Guilds of London Arts School. The monk on the left has undergone conservation as a final project in an undergraduate’s degree in Conservation Studies, whilst the other, still showing its red and white patches of wear, is unchanged.

The monks are something of a mystery. Their appearance provides the only clues to their history, as on their donation in 1835 by Mr P.G. Blackett, the only information given states that they came from Greece. However, such notes often referred to where pieces were acquired by the donor. Given their overt Baroque form and that they are wearing the habit of Dominican monks, rather than any Orthodox dress, they probably originate from Western Europe in the 17th or 18th centuries. On the base of each statue is a hole for a dowel, suggesting that they were secured to a larger piece, on which would have been another figure – now missing – to whom the monks were praying.

The conservation project undertaken on the monk has included work to reattach his hands, both of which had been held on by a previous go-to repair tool at Stonyhurst – Blu-Tak. The blue residue had to be carefully extracted, and the hands reattached with conservation-standard materials. The surface of the monk was cleaned, the flaking paint secured, and those patches which had lost their paint were in-filled with watercolours. This conservation process took a total of 78 hours. As the project was carried out for research and training, the City & Guild agree to waive any fees, which on such a project would have been substantial.  By doing this, Stonyhurst is able to benefit from items being expertly conserved at no cost, and to help in the training of future conservators.