The Palatine Flag was the representative flag of the Palatine Honor Guard, featuring bright white on the right side and yellow on the left. At center, in sharp contrast, a coat of arms surrounded by decorations of branches, racemes and bows stands out. The upper right corner bears a large, white ribbon embellished with an inscription reading, “Palatine Honor Guard.” The Guard was a military unit of the Vatican formed in 1850 by Pope Pius IX who ordered that the two militia units of the Papal States be amalgamated. The corps, expanded to include nearly 750 soldiers by 1860, was formed as an infantry unit and took part in keeping watch over the city of Rome. The only occasion on which it saw active service was on September 20, 1870 during the resistance to the occupation of Rome by Italian government troops. The Corps, along with the Noble Guard, was abolished in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as part of the reforms of the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Former guardsmen were invited to join a new group called The Association whose statutes were approved by the Pope on April 24, 1971. This civilian association supports charitable, educational and religious programs in Rome.
Item Description/Form of Composition:
The work comprised of two identical faces sewn together along the edges. On both sides, there are two vertical bands of taffeta, one yellow, the other white. At the center stands the coat of arms of Gros de Tour, painted directly on the fabric, surrounded by a metal medallion containing the crossed keys and the cross of Sant’Andrea. The four corners contain foliage. The bands are sewn together in the central part of the flag with handmade string. The fringe is blocked by a seam between the two faces. The central medallion was probably replaced, as the restorer noticed residues of a previous material in the metallic yarn bordering the drawn oval medallion.
The condition of the work can be defined as poor, given the bad condition of both faces. The taffeta background is in an advanced state of decay due to various factors such as the technique of execution, frequent use, previous interventions, and the method of exhibition. The silk used in the creation of the flag shows the degredation typical of silk products loaded with mineral substances, such stiffness and cracks in the fabric. The use of the flag has naturally caused lacerations and cuts, that were treated with numerous vegetable glues (starch paste) in previous resorations. These previous interventions worsened the state of the silk. Weighed down by glue, it has become even more rigid and fragile.
The ivory fabric also has dark spots probably due to the effect of localized oxidation. The lacerations and deformations are widespread across the whole surface. There are many many unrelated lacerations, that have been mended with yarns of different types (probably synthetic yarns or yarns of coarse vegetable fiber). The last exhibition of the flag has worstened its condition. The artefact was nailed to display panel with metallic points, spaced between the 30 cm gold. This type of exposure has caused the fabric to fail from the top down, resulting in the formation of tears and various other lacerations and deformations around the anchorage point. Several animal exoskeletons were also found, evidence of a biological attack. The mettalic yarn is in mediocre condition. The front part, having been exposed to the environment, appears to be more oxidized than the rear, which rested on the display panel and was therefore more protected. They show evidence of slegature, pleats, embroidery and lifting-off of previous interventions performed with yellow cotton thread.
Thanks to the Illinois Chapter, the restoration was completed according to the future, vertical display of the work and was also conducted vertically, allowing both sides to be visible. The original silk fabric could no longer support the embroidery because of its vast state of decay. The original taffeta was, therefore, replaced and kept in storage, after a stabilizing intervention. Some fragments of the original fabric were used to test products that were to be used during the restoration. The stored silk will provide evidence of the original appearance of the work and will provide an important material on which to experiment.
The conservation of the work was carried out in the following stages:
- Removal of dust and sampling of surface stains for diagnostic purpose
- Removal of the metallic embroidery and separation of the two faces
- Cleaning of the metallic embroidery and examination of its fitness
- Preparation of the new support fabric
- Application of the new fabric to support the embroidery
- Application of the lining and construction of the new display
Removal of dust and sampling of surface stains for diagnostic purposes
Surface dust was removed with a micro-controlled vacum from both faces of the work. Powdered metallic yarn was removed from the bottom of the fabric. Deposits were well sampled at the GRS in the Vatican Museum to verify their composition. During this phase, surface stains were selected and sampled for diagnostic testing. One aim of the investigation wass to identify the composition of the metallic yarn and silk fabric and ascertain their condition. The metallic yarn was studied for corosion in order to develop a subsequent method of wet cleaning. Given the condition of the silk fabric, the diagnostic campaign was also aimed at consolidating a method of testing products on the material. Small fragments on both the front and back were used for tests. All samples and their results are included in the diagnostic analysis of this report.
Removal of the metallic embroidery and separation of the two faces
The embroidery was removed from both faces of the flag by cutting the original fabric close to the metallic yarn with the aid of short blade surgical scissors. After removing the decorations from the rear face of the flag it was able to separate the rest of the material. As said in the description of the condition, the two parts of the flag had undergone various tie-off interventions to repair rips and tears, including the application of patches with starch glue which has inevitably saturated the fabric. Steam was applied to humidify the cold glued areas of the posterior surface and fascilitating the insertation of milinex and tissue paper under the detached fabric. This further facilitated the transport of a mock graphic made before any intervention with the embroidery. The fabric was transported and locked to a support non-woven fabric (TNT), located above the melinex, and seams were applied to bridge the gap. After removing the rear face of the flag restorers descovered twenty-five glued-on patches on the back of each side (17 on the white portion, 8 on the yellow). The patches were wetted with cold vapor to lightly reactivate the starch paste and mechanically remove the patches with steel paddles.
Cleaning of the metallic embroidery and examination of its fitness
Once separated from the base fabric, the embroidery was wet cleaned at low pressure. The cleaning system was developed alongside the GRS. The embroidery was then positioned on a low pressure table and rested on a TNT support before being humifidied by nebulized distilled water. The water was left to gently impregnate the material. The embroidery was then sponged gently with mild soap (saponin Carlo Erba diluted to 0.1 g / L in distilled water). The oxidized embroidery was brushed with an application of 5% sodium bicarbonate in distilled water. The embroidery was then rinsed several times and the water was sampled to verify that all the baking soda and soap had been remobed. The embroidery was then left on the table until it was completely dry.
Preparation of the new support fabric
The original fabric of the flag is a taffeta and the same material, silk taffeta, was used to replace the old fabric. The same process was also repeated. The search of a fabric of new manufacture that retained the same visual characteristics as the original is not successful. The natural aging of the work, which affected both the silk metallic yarn, limited the search for the new material, as a newly manufactured fabric obviously cannot have the same appearance as the aged material. Moreover, the colors found in the current market were significantly different from the color of the original fabric. Replacing the silk with redyed material was considered essential, as it would become an obvious carryover from the ancient object. In order to preserve the image and historical accuracy of the piece, it was decided to dye the new taffeta in the laboratory. With this dye, the Tapestry restoration workshop was able to achieve a color very similar to the original that would harmoniously blend into the “patina” of the original piece.
Application of the new fabric to support the embroidery
After the preparation of new taffeta was completed, the restorers have been able to proceed with the application of metallic embroidery. First, they reviewed the stability of the yarn and repaired the parts that needed it. The tie-off metal wires were unbound with two number 3/945 heads (in the laboratory)/ After the taffeta was found to support the embroidery, it was dyed on the back. Subsequently, the embroidery was “cleaned up” around the edged by removing the excess original fabric and placed on the new support fabric. In order to ensure the correct placement of the embroidery, the fabric was tensioned on a frame and the embroidery was positioned by referring to a grap made on melinex prior to being removed from the original fabric. In order to attache the central medalion, it was necessary to remove the fabric from the tame and streetch it on the tabletop with fabric weights. The painted portion of the central medallion was inserted after the embroidery had been reattached. The outer fringe was sewn to the front of the work and tidied by passing the repated passing of a long nylon thread. All these operations were performed separately for both faces of the flag
Application of the lining and construction of the new display
Once the embroidery had been reattached on both sides of the work, restorerers set about designing a new system in which the flag could be displayed, in order to ensure the visibility of the work from both the front and back. The newly designed display structure is constructed of a metal rod with two welded crossbars. The bars are the same size as the flag (ca. 120 cm) and were covered with canvas onto which was sewn bits of velcro. The back of the flag was also covered in canvas and velcro. The velcro maintains tension in the piece and allows the frame and the flag to remain two parts that are easily separated.