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Courtesy of Ashmolean Museum, 2013.

Two Grand Candelabras by Piranesi Shine Prominently at the Ashmolean After Restoration

Traditionally moved by being dragged across the floor using winches, these key works from the Ashmolean were stabilized following restoration supported by the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund

The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archeology and opened in 1683 as Britain’s first public museum and the world’s first university museum. In 1775, the University of Oxford received two grand Candelabras (1770-1776) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi from Sir Roger Newdigate, who had purchased them directly from the artist. Combining ancient and modern elements and decorated with intricate carvings, the candelabras were shipped in component form from Italy to Oxford with instructions for their reassembly provided by Piranesi. The candelabra are key works in the Ashmolean’s collection and some of the finest examples of neoclassical sculpture in the United Kingdom, exemplifying 18th-century taste and collecting habits.

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One of the candelabra before restoration, displaying sulphation damage, discolored historic rosin and modern adhesives, and surface soiling. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Over time, the marble sculptures had become structurally unsound and unstable as the plaster bonding in the joints between each vertical section failed after having been last restored 100 years ago. Traditionally moved by masons by dragging them across the floor using winches, the candelabras had previously been re-plinthed on pallets but remained at risk when moving. The TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund supported the conservation of the two candelabras in 2013, during which the candelabras were cleaned and structurally stabilized. The support also provided the opportunity to undertake investigative conservation by tracing Piranesi’s original instructions for the reassembly of the dismantled candelabras.

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Two Neoclassical Candelabras, 1770-1776, after restoration. Marble. Ashmolean Museum. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Following conservation, the candelabras were displayed in prominent positions in one of the Ashmolean’s most iconic galleries, the Randolph Sculpture Gallery, immediately visible to visitors as they enter the museum.

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