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Restoration of the Zsolnay tiles on the entrance and ceiling of the main foyer of the Museum of Applied Arts

March-June 2010

The Museum of Applied Arts was designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos, and its opening ceremony in October 1896 was the final event of the Hungarian Millennium celebrations.

The building has served well over the century since then, but urban atmospheric pollution and other harmful agents, compounded by substandard renovations, have severely deteriorated the appearance of the building, especially the breathtakingly beautiful pyrogranite tiles made by the Zsolnay company.

The Zsolnay tiles adorning the foyer were fully restored in 2010. The interior walls are decorated by crimson-lustre eosin glaze pyrogranite tiles set in a pyrogranite frame. Their special variant of the Zsolnay eosin glaze developed by Vilmos Zsolnay and chemistry professor Vince Wartha was named the "millennium technique" in honour of the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest. Its most striking feature is the crimson lustre, first achieved by the Gubbio master Giorgio Andreoli and re-created by Zsolnay and Wartha through research and experimentation carried out between 1892 and 1896.

The micron-thick crimson layer responsible for lustred tiles' visual effect is extremely sensitive, and demands very special handling. The slightest mechanical impact can cause irreversible damage.

The main aspects of the restoration work were:

  • Restoration of the terracotta and crimson-lustre tiles of the foyer
  • Cleaning and restoration of the ceramic ceiling adornments
  • Cleaning and restoration of the rhombus-shaped exterior ceiling elements
  • Impregnation and hydrophobisation of the restored surfaces

Restoration of the terracotta and crimson-lustre tiles in the foyer

Many of the lustred tiles had visible damage. After cleaning, the restorers replaced the damaged parts where the glaze was missing. Replacement involve materials that resist the vicissitudes of the weather and provide sufficient UV protection. The restoration concentrated on the original aesthetic effect and providing surface durability.

Restoration of the granite memorial plaques

The ceramic-framed granite memorial plaques beside the entrance had, over time, become almost illegible. The original gilding of the letters had mostly disappeared and been replaced with unsightly repairs. The plaques were cleaned, the unsatisfactory repairs removed, and the engraved lettering re-gilded.

Cleaning and restoration of the ceramic ceiling adornments

The ceiling of the foyer is decorated with glazed and modelled tiles with pyrogranite borders. At first sight, the glazed ceramic surfaces did not appear to be in bad condition, but high-resolution photographs showed up serious structural deterioration, damage, substandard repairs and overpainting with imperfect colour matching.

Restoration started with thorough surface cleaning to remove the ingrained effects of atmospheric pollution and ad-hoc overpainting and additions. After structural testing and conservation of the tiles, the missing parts were replaced in their original forms and the original tiles retouched by appropriate techniques.

Impregnation and hydrophobisation of the restored surfaces

The final stage of restoration was to impregnate the surfaces. Facing the busy road of Üllői út, the foyer is exposed to an atmosphere of dust and pollutants which constantly attack the ceramic surfaces of the facing tiles. The original manufacturers could not have prepared the tiles for the corrosive effects of the 21st century environment, and providing atmospheric protection was an important part of the restoration of this irreplaceable decoration.

Lead restorer: László Czifrák

Contractor: Dream World 96. Bt.

Restoration gallery in the news archive here.

Last modified 2018. January 18. 15:00:14

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