Charles Talbot, 1660-1718, Earl of Shrewsbury (1668), Duke of Shrewsbury (1694)

In early August 2016, Plowden and Smith took delivery of this head made of bees wax, with eyelashes and eyebrows made of hair. The effigy was in the original collection of Richard, Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, the founder of the Fitzwilliam Museum in the University of Cambridge.

The head is a death mask of Charles Talbot, The Duke of Shrewsbury. The head very likely formed a part of his funeral effigy in 1718.  It was the custom, at the time, to carry a life-like figure of the deceased on top of, or following, the coffin.

Charles Talbot had some influence on the make up of our Royal Family today.  He took part in the instigation of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688-89, being one of seven  leading English statesmen who signed a document in 1688 inviting William of Orange to seize power from the Catholic king James II of England.


The fragile condition of the Duke’s head was revealed when it was inspected with a view to including it as part of the exhibition ‘Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment’, in 2015 at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

The head had been broken and repaired in the distant past. At the time of inspection the head was lying in its original display case and it was clear that the old adhesive had given way on several of the old joins resulting in some new breaks.

The wax is quite thick, making the head heavy and it is suggested that this, with the breakdown of the adhesive, resulted in its poor state. The internal, last pour of wax appeared to be tinted pink to give the face a translucent flesh tone.

There were two main pieces and two loose fragments broken from these.  The top of the head was free enabling inspection of the interior where the dark adhesive was apparent, much of which was brittle and lifting from the break edges and adjacent surfaces. Tests suggested the adhesive was animal or fish glue.







Dismantling and cleaning

Dismantling and cleaning of the old animal glue joins; a major concern was the preservation of the right eyelid.

The fragments were numbered in the sequence in which they were removed.  One large fragment consisted of several smaller fragments that were identified with letters 3A to 3G, some of which had to be further ‘qualified’ with lower case lettering, e.g. Da & Db.

Inevitably there were some stubborn joins that had to be soaked with neutral pH water on tissue overnight to soften the old adhesive.







The right eye

The break across the eye was ill-fitting and very disfiguring, and there were very vulnerable fragments; four separate fragments from this location each had lashes attached.

The image of the right hand side of the face, taken in ultraviolet light, shows excess old over-filling.  It was possible to reduce this mechanically, using a dull scalpel, as the interface with the later applied wax was distinct.

The neck had one ‘sprung break’ – instead of fragmenting, the break edges had moved so that it was difficult to align correctly; but generally the removal of old adhesive and excess fills helped with the fit of the pieces and improved the overall appearance of the head.

The eye detail had to be carefully preserved during the dismantling and rebuilding of the final pieces.

Smaller fragments were supported in a tray of rice while the bonds set

The re-build

While relatively easy access through the top of the head was possible, the neck and base perimeter of the head were reinforced where many fragments joined, including the awkward neck break.













The final attachment of the multiple ‘fragment 3’ required help to adjust a ‘step’ in the join.









The temporary neck reinforcement was removed and replaced with an improved version in wax.  The existing isolating layer of fine lawn applied with Lascaux 303 to the break edges, was retained.

The eyelashes on the right eyelid have been a little problematic, not only to preserve them but to ‘tease out’ the lashes to even out the clumps held with old animal glue.  This was tricky, but there is a noticeable improvement.

It was noted that the lashes on the left eyelid are of a finer quality; suggesting that both eyebrows and right eyelashes were replaced during the earlier programme of restoration work.

Work continued with filling the most obtrusive gaps.  The principle being to make them less obtrusive where losses interfere with the aesthetic appreciation of the head.  The new fills also inhibit the accumulation of dust in breaks.  Edges of the breaks are isolated with Lascaux 498, before filling with beeswax coloured with artist’s pigments if necessary.  Any retouching is with water colours used with a surfactant.









New fills can be readily detected using ultraviolet light.



Report by Valerie Kaufmann, Director & Senior Restorer, Plowden and Smith Ltd.

For visiting times and to find out more about The Fitzwilliam Museum, click here


Analysis and Samples

During the current programme of work (2016), samples were sent for analysis by Dr. Brian Singer, Northumbria University.  (Dates refer to the relevant photographs listed chronologically in the separate digital record provided).

Samples sent for analysis-

4. Adhesive fragment, animal glue – not actually analysed as it was thought to be too generic

5. White wax – wax I.D (23-9-16)

6. Pink wax – wax and pigment I.D. (23-9-16)

8. Old fills – R. cheek- wax and pigment I.D. (2-9-16)

9. Seeking evidence of pigmentation on the lips. (15-9-16). possibly wax with gum Arabic?  Availability very limited, size may be too small for use.

The following is a précis from the report by Dr. Brian Singer, Northumbria University:

Samples Investigated to date:

Sample  number Description of sample Analytical methods used
S5 White wax FTIR, Py-GC-MS
S6 Pink wax FTIR, Py-GC-MS, EDX analysis, PLM
S8 Old fills FTIR, Py-GC-MS
S9 Pigmentation on lips EDX analysis

Table 1 List of samples from no. M.6 & A-1816-wax samples

Brief Summary

The results are summarised below in Table 2.

Sample  number Description of sample findings
S5 White wax beeswax
S6 Pink wax Beeswax, trace of drying oil, gypsum , red lake on alumina, litharge
S8 Old fills Beeswax, trace of drying oil
S9 Pigmentation on lips Elements suggesting the presence of talc, silica, ochre, chalk, gypsum  clay and a lead pigment such as litharge, red lead or lead white

Table 2 conclusions

Samples 5 & 6 are beeswax.

Results relating to the red lake on alumina in Sample 6, pink wax, indicate that a red colour was added to the wax, possibly in the form of oil paint.  It was common to use a colour in the last pouring of molten wax, during fabrication, to create a realistic pink tone in the skin.  In this instance, the colour seems to have faded considerably, taking the ‘life’ out of the face.

Sample 8 is bees wax with some drying oil.  Oil may have been used to create a soft wax for filling.  It is possible there was some paint used to try to match the filling to the face.

Sample 9 analysis results show the presence of pigments that indicate the lips were painted at some time.  Given the condition – barely visible, minimal remnants – this was applied at a very early date, possibly at the time of creation to enhance the realistic appearance.

Possible further work: EDX and PLM on sample 8 to identify the pigments present and PLM on sample 9 to identify the lead pigment and give further evidence for the suggested pigments.


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