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Title: De vroeg-christelijke graftombe van Koninksem (Tongeren)
Subtitle: Archeologie, museologie et conservatie/restauratie
Author(s): VAN DIJCK, Linda
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 38    Date: 2012-2013   
Pages: 15-27
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.38.0.3139353

Abstract :
In late December 1880 workers from a brickyard near Tongeren discovered a double tomb made of plastered and painted masonry, which contained the bones of a man and a woman along with a number of grave goods. The find was situated in a burial ground to the south-west of the town, near the road to Koninksem, so that from the earliest publications on the tomb has been known as le tombeau de Coninxheim. The grave goods, and in particular the wall paintings whose iconography pointed to Roman examples, were examined with great enthusiasm by experts of the time and the whole find was dated to the fourth century. The then owner of the site, Mr Christiaens-Vanderyst (himself a passionate amateur-archaeologist and collector), donated the tomb to the bishop of Liège at that time. The masonry was sawn into three pieces and transported by cart to Liège where it was reassembled in a space adjacent to the Cathedral of St Paul, which subsequently became part of the Musée d’art religieux et d’art mosan (Museum of religious and Mosan art). In 2005 the plan was conceived to dismantle the tomb and to transfer it to the Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren, which was due to be renovated, as were the rooms of the Cathedral Treasury in Liège. In order for it to be moved a second time the solid masonry had to be divided up once more, which required a thorough preparation. Archaeologist Denis Henrard, Christine Bertrand and I investigated the condition of the masonry and the paintings as well as the potential impact of a second traumatic intervention on the survival of the ensemble. Stratigraphic study showed that the structure is still largely made up of the original material, but that the decoration currently visible is largely based on fragments of original plaster with remnants of the 4th-century painted scenes that are almost completely concealed beneath restorations from the 19th and 20th centuries along with a fully repainted decoration. The present state of the object is the result of a number of irreversible interventions and of a particular way of dealing with archaeological and art-historically valuable heritage that was removed from its original context and displayed in a museum for reasons of permanent accessibility. The opening of the tomb and the interest in its historical significance accelerated the deterioration of the physical structure carrying this information. Attempts to preserve the structure have altered the information it carries. In their current state the wall decorations provide us with more information about the history of archaeology and conservation practices than about painting in the 4th century. How can we show this complex history in the new display and what is our attitude towards these material remains from both the distant and recent past? The radical and technically complex interventions that made it possible to transfer this tomb should be an exception within our modern-day vision of conservation and restoration.

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