The department is currently involved in two major fieldwork projects – a collaborative project with English Heritage to conserve the important medieval murals at Longthorpe Tower in Peterborough (UK), and another at Nagaur Fort in Rajasthan (India), undertaken in partnership with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.
Longthorpe Tower, Peterborough (UK)
Hidden under layers of limewash until 1945, the wall paintings at Longthorpe Tower are an extraordinary survival of 14th-century wall painting and one of the most important mediaeval secular schemes in northern Europe. The paintings depict an exceptional array of scenes that mix religious and didactic themes with morality tales, heraldry, images of birds, animals, mythical creatures and a rare depiction of the Wheel of Five Senses. While the interpretation and meaning of the paintings are still debated, the scheme offers insights into the priorities and ambitions of a socially aspirational family, and a very personal view of the mediaeval world.
Unparalleled in their completeness, the survival of so much painting from this period within a secular context is remarkable. Working in collaboration with English Heritage, and building on investigations carried out by The Courtauld in the 1990s, the department has begun a new project to address the conservation and presentation of the paintings. Find out more about the project:
Nagaur Fort, Rajasthan (India)
Nagaur Fort in Rajasthan is one of the finest surviving examples of Rajput-Mughal architecture. Dating primarily from the 18th century, this large fortified palace complex had fallen into disrepair. With the help of a series of grants from the Getty Foundation, the Mehrangarh Trust embarked upon a major initiative for the conservation of the fort. In 2005, The Courtauld began its long-term involvement in conserving the site’s important wall paintings.
You can find out more about the wall paintings at Nagaur Fort here, as well as information about the conservation of the wall paintings in the Sheesh Mahal and Hadi Rani Mahal. In 2012, as part of this project, the Leon Levy Foundation Centre for Conservation Studies was established at Nagaur with the aim of fostering professionalism in conservation.
Previous fieldwork projects
While wall painting conservation at The Courtauld is deeply rooted in the painted heritage of the British Isles, the past two decades have seen our interests and engagement expand across the globe. The Courtauld has been instrumental in pioneering improved conservation in Malta where the department has lead a number of fieldwork projects including the conservation of the Baroque ceiling paintings in the church of Our Lady of Victory, Valletta, the 16th-century Grand Master’s chapel paintings in the Presidential Palace, and an 18th-century scheme in the Grand Masters’ crypt of St John’s Co-Cathedral. For over a decade we worked in Cyprus to conserve some of the most important Byzantine and post-Byzantine painted churches in the Troodos mountains, most notably the painting cycles at Agios Sozomenos in Galata and Agios Ioannis Lampadistis monastery in Kalopanayiotis. In the cave monastery of Vardzia, Georgia, the internationally important 12th-century wall paintings in the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin were investigated in a collaborative venture with the country’s National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the Tbilisi Apollon Kutateladze State Academy of Arts.
In more recent years, The Courtauld has sought to engage with the conservation of wall paintings in Asia and has been undertaking numerous projects in northern India, not only at the 18th-century Nagaur Fort but also at Garh Palace at Bundi, home to some of the finest and earliest surviving wall paintings in Rajasthan. In China, The Courtauld works in a close partnership with the Dunhuang Academy and the Getty Conservation Institute to conserve the extraordinary Mogao Grottoes. It is arguably the most important site of Buddhist painting in the world, with 45,000 m2 of painting dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries. Collaboration with the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs in Bhutan has enabled two major projects to conserve some of the country’s spectacular wall paintings. Dating to the 16th century, Tamzhing monastery has one of the earliest surviving painting schemes in the country, and those at Tango monastery are the work of exceptionally accomplished 17th-century artists. The international reach and local-level engagement evidenced by these projects are testament to the department’s core principles and underpin The Courtauld’s commitment to raising standards in the conservation of wall paintings.