13 July 2023

Behind the scenes of an exhibition, Act II


A part of the masterpieces of the Terra Sancta Museum has flown off to Lisbon to be exhibited from November 2023 at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Here we continue our visit behind the scenes of an international exhibition,the first part of which was at St Saviour’s Convent in Jerusalem…

In early May 2023, the usual calm of the Custody’s Curia was interrupted by the arrival of huge wooden crates… They are waiting to receive the precious objects from the collections of the Terra Sancta Museum, after they have been wrapped up very carefully. The objects chosen by the curators of the exhibition, André Afonso and Jacques Charles-Gaffiot, are first of all meticulously examined by the professionals who draw up the Condition Report on each of the works, on the lookout for the slightest imperfection which is then carefully recorded. 

An unusual procession in the Custody…

No fewer than 74 objects will be on display in Lisbon ; they include archive documents such as the magnificent Ottoman firmans, but also ancient liturgical works or the original seals of the Custody. The majority of these objects however, are works of art, many of which are from Portugal, in particular a sanctuary lamp offered by John V and an impressive basin, a gift of King Peter II of Portugal.

The exhibition will also take its visitors to the whole of royal Europe, with the masterpieces such as this pastoral crozier from the period of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem or this splendid eucharistic ciborium offered by the Kingdom of Naples in 1754 ! 

The works are moved in a large procession, through the whole convent. Everybody is mobilized for their energy: the transporters of the Sonigo firm, the friars and volunteers. Fr. Rodrigo Machado Soares, Guardian of the convent and Master of Ceremony of the Custody, directs the operations with great competence.

The bas-relief of the Resurrection on tour

The works of the Terra Sancta Museum have the particularity of having been donated for the Holy Sepulchre. Tourists in the Old City and pilgrims to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre witness the unhanging and transport of the monumental bas-relief of the Resurrection (1736), until then on display in the Latin Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. Under the guidance of  friar Stéphane Milovitch, Superior of the Holy Sepulchre and director of the Cultural Heritage Department, the employees of the Technical Dept. of the Custody move these “276 pounds of silver” extremely delicately. It has to be said that the work had not budged since its return from the exhibition at Versailles in 2013. A few streets further on and thanks to the feats of agility of the Custody employees, we find the bas-relief in its crate, ready to fly off to Lisbon.

Experts at the service of the works

Rui Xavier, a conservator-restorer from the Gulbenkian Foundation, stops at a cross in lapis lazuli offered by the Kingdom of Naples in 1757. He explains, while noting the imperfections of the object, the methods that will be used to restore the precious cross. It is mounted on a wooden base which, with the passing of the years, has been damaged. The exhibition at the Gulbenkian Foundation will allow the restoration of 18 objects which, on their return, will be put in the showcases of the Terra Sancta Museum. It’s like giving them a new youth ! 

Mafalda Fernandes delicately wraps the textile collections in tissue paper. As they are the least voluminous objects, they are the last to be packed in the crates. One week of work later, the mobilization of about twelve maintenance operators and two lorries, the works are now on their way to the airport: the departure for Lisbon is any time now!

See you at the next stage, the restoration campaign of the objects, coordinated by the experts of the José de Figueiredo Laboratory. We look forward to seeing you for the grand opening of the exhibition Treasures from Kings: Masterpieces from the Terra Sancta Museum to be held in Lisbon from 10 November next !!

Watch the video here :

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