Conserving a Piece of Marble House History
In the summer of 2015, a rare, 15th century Sienese gold ground cassone (chest) original to the Vanderbilt collection at Marble House was returned to the Gothic Room after a lengthy restoration that combined the scholarly curiosity and technical expertise of now-retired Preservation Society Chief Conservator Jeff Moore.
Purchased from an antiques dealer by the Preservation Society in the spring of 2014, the cassone was in poor condition, and has endured a series of repairs--some more expert than others--over its several centuries of existence.
The cassone is significant to the Preservation Society because of its connection to Marble House. One of a series believed to have been created in Siena around 1475, it eventually resided in the Paris apartment of collector-dealer Emile Gavet, where it was seen by and sold to Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt in 1889, along with some 300 other pieces of Medieval and Renaissance art. The collection was displayed in the Gothic Room of Marble House until 1926, when most of it was sold by Mrs. Vanderbilt. Most of the major pieces of the collection have ended up in major American museums; the rare offering of such a significant piece of the collection on the private market was an important opportunity for the Preservation Society to recover an object original to one of its houses.
Moore spent the ensuing months researching and examining the piece, and beginning the careful repair of surface abrasions, chips and losses. After undertaking wood identification and microscopic finish analysis, and following discussions with other conservators and staff about this complex piece, the decision was made to accept the cassone’s layered surface history. The most severe and disruptive losses to the geometric pastiglia were, however, restored. Restored surfaces and other small losses were filled, colored, gilded, and toned to blend with the surrounding area. Further, some historic evidence was preserved by protecting wood surfaces with a paper barrier before the filling process.
The cassone is now displayed in the Gothic Room of Marble House, adding to the accuracy of the presentation of the house to the public, and advancing the Preservation Society's mission to protect, preserve and present important aspects of Newport's architectural and artistic heritage.