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Restoring a Sculpture’s Majesty

Harvard Art Museums conservator Susan Costello recently completed restoration work on Virgin and Child in Majesty (“Seat of Divine Wisdom”), a French wooden sculpture from the 12th century. Sculptures of the Virgin and Child were often carried in celebratory processions, so it was no surprise that the figure of Mary was ornately decorated in her day. Cleaning revealed a dress painted in blue, red, and gold leaf and evidence of jewel settings along her neckline.

Susan’s main task was to minimalize the sculpture’s inconsistencies in the surface color (due to paint loss over time), which she did with artist’s watercolor paints. An upcoming X-ray scan may confirm Susan’s suspicion that there is a hidden reliquary compartment behind Jesus’s head.

The sculpture is currently in the hands of Senior Exhibits Specialist Peter Schilling, who will reconstruct its base in preparation for display in our new facility.

See photos, paint sample analysis, and X-rays from the restoration on Flickr.


  • 01 Objects conservator Susan Costello performs restoration work on Virgin and Child in Majesty. Photo: Antoinette Hocbo.
  • 02 Detail of the sculpture. Photo: Antoinette Hocbo.
  • 03 Paint sample from the Virgin’s dress. Photo: Lucretia Kargère.
  • 04 X-ray of the sculpture.