The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) is one of Ireland’s best known history paintings. Executed in 1854, when Maclise was at the height of his powers, the work depicts the marriage of princess Aoife, the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, to the Norman leader Strongbow, following the capture of Waterford. Presented to the Gallery in 1879, today it is one of the most popular and celebrated works in the collection.
In 2010 following the decision to restore the Gallery’s Dargan wing it became apparent that it would be necessary to take down the painting while the renovation works were completed. De-installing the painting presented a good opportunity to address the painting’s structural issues which had been a concern for a number of years.
Thanks to the assistance of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme, a comprehensive and ambitious conservation project on the painting commenced in October 2010 with the aim of preserving the cultural value of this significant work for future generations. Over the course of the project, this vast painting has undergone full-scale analysis and conservation. This offered an excellent opportunity for an in-depth examination of the painting and the materials and techniques used by Maclise. The project presented many exciting conservation challenges on an exceptional scale given the history, execution and unusual size of the painting (315 x 513 cm).
Problems presented by large scale paintings during conservation, where just moving a painting becomes a complex operation proved to be major factor in the initial and final stages of treatment. Once the painting was taken down it had to be installed in the conservation studio where the only access was through a series of low doors and up a long flight of narrow stairs. This was achieved by protecting the painted surface, detaching the painting from its wooden stretcher and rolling the canvas on a trolley-mounted drum. A large number of staff assisted in this part of the project, as well as to the specialist firm of transport engineers who were employed for the task.
The conservation project allowed us the opportunity to investigate the materials and techniques of the painting closely. The Gallery collaborated with the University of Perugia, Italy, and the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Louvre Museum, Paris, under the European-funded MObile LABoratory (MOLAB) access programme within CHARISMA (Cultural Heritage Advanced Research Infrastructures: Synergy for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Conservation).