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'New' Figures For Chichester Cathedral's Nativity Scene... (posted 12 December 2017)

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'New' Figures for Chichester Cathedral's Nativity Scene...

West Dean College Post Graduate Conservation Team
West Dean College Post Graduate Conservation Team

This year visitors to the Cathedral over the Christmas period will see some striking 'new' nativity figures...but surprisingly they are not new at all! The thirteen figures were discovered under tarpaulin stored on the Cathedral's triforium where it is thought they have lain for over thirty years. The figures, which include the Holy family, a Green King, Red King and White King, three shepherds, two sheep, a ram and a dog, are thought to be made of groggy clay which has been fired and cold painted.

The Post Graduate Ceramic Conservation group at West Dean College, were delighted to be invited to assess and care for the set of figures, which they describe as being 'full of character' and created by a talented artist (although the artist is unknown). Five students were involved in the conservation and repair including Emily Thomas who said of the project:

'As a whole, the set was in reasonable condition, however, a thick layer of surface dirt coated all the objects and had become ingrained in some areas. Small areas of loss were visible on Mary, two of the kings, the shepherds, the two sheep and the dog. Some paint had delaminated at the base of one of the kings and a shepherd. The team made three visits to the Cathedral to dry clean all the figures using soft brushes and museum vacuums as well as filling and retouching missing areas with acrylic resins. We were set up in the North transept and enjoyed organ music as we worked. Surface cleaning immediately improved the appearance of the figures and filling and retouching completed the task. Perhaps one of the most challenging figures was a sheep. A replacement hoof needed to be made so that it could stand with its flock as well as replacement ears being modelled.'

The Conservation group from West Dean really enjoyed the experience and Chichester Cathedral is indebted to them for their excellent work.  

But there is a mystery surrounding these beautiful figures and the Dean and Chapter would love to hear from anyone who has any information about when they were last used or who sculpted them.

The figures will be on display from Sunday 24th December until Friday 12th January.   

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