Case Study: A Funerary Jar

This large funerary lekythos (oil jar) from the Staatliche Museen in Berlin depicting a deceased youth was pieced together from 136 fragments in the 19th century, and then re-restored at the Getty Villa in 2005. It is believed to belong to a group of monumental white-ground funerary vessels known as Huge Lekythoi, of which only five exist.

The primary goal of the re-restoration was to protect the vessel by removing 19th-century restoration materials that had become unstable and disfiguring over time. The historical shellac, in particular, was severely discolored (see the photo at the bottom left of this page). Additionally, the fragments were poorly aligned, and the interior was lined with paper and plaster (see the photo at the bottom right of this page).

The object was re-treated by Getty conservators using reversible materials that will not darken or fail with age.

Fragments of the lekythos displayed on a table before conservation Conservator Marie Svoboda works on the re-restoration of the Berlin lekythos

In the course of the restoration, conservators observed that burned fragments adjoined unburned ones. A likely scenario is that the vase was ceremonially broken near a funeral pyre, whose heat discolored some shards. This observation became a critical consideration in the vessel's reconstruction. Because the ancient breaks tell part of the vessel's history, conservators decided to expose these breaks in the re-restoration.

During examination of the vase under ultraviolet (UV) light, the adhesive used in the 19th-century restoration was identified as shellac by its characteristic orange fluorescence. In addition, the partially lost painted decoration became clearly visible. The faint image of a youth (the deceased) was revealed in greater detail.

View of the lekythos in natural light View of the lekythos in ultraviolet (UV) light, revealing details invisible in natural light
Exterior view of cracks in the lekythos before conservation Interior view of discolored 19th-century restorations in the lekythos before conservation