The Holy Trinity ‘Doom’
The ‘Doom’ wall painting (c.1435), Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
Hidden for much of its life, a rare and extraordinary early fifteenth century wall painting depicting the ‘Last Judgement’ was revealed after almost a decade of work by a cross-disciplinary team of conservation specialists. The monumental painting which has come to be known as the ‘Coventry Doom’ dominates the nave of Holy Trinity Church and depicts Christ in Majesty weighing the souls, some of whom ascend the steps of heaven, while others are dragged to the dramatically depicted mouth of hell.
An initial examination in 1995, in response to falling pieces of plaster, revealed widespread instability of the surface and raised the possibility of there being extensive remains of the painting. The excitement about the potential value of the hidden painting was tempered by the daunting task of recovering it from beneath the dark and flaking surface.
Investigations between 1995-7 showed that while the painting was an exceptional surviving example of national importance, the environmental conditions within the church and the presence of a severely darkened and shrinking Victorian (megilp) varnish were leading to its progressive loss. A conservation plan was consequently developed to remove the varnish and improve the environment.
Throughout the project, the data we gathered was assessed and the results were used to inform subsequent stages. Unusually for a private-sector project, comprehensive scientific support was available throughout, resulting in a number of targeted research studies. A collaboration with Dr. Nicholas Eastaugh of the Pigmentum Project yielded a wealth of new information and techniques, including the development of safer methods of varnish removal and the creation of an on-site computer database, detailing the evolving analytical picture as well as daily transcripts of treatment and observations.
The treatment of the painting was weighted towards conservation, and only work considered necessary was undertaken. The paint and plaster was stabilised, the varnish and some overpaint removed, and limited retouching was undertaken. In response to a programme of environmental monitoring, modifications were made to the heating system, and plans to reduce air exchange through the west door and install ultra violet/infra-red filters on the clerestory windows are now well advanced. In addition to this, a new fibre-optic display lighting system was installed to illuminate the ‘Doom’.
The Conservation Awards are prestiguous awards for the preservation of the UK's cultural heritage. This project was short-listed for the Award for Conservation, 2005, which “celebrates excellence in completed conservation or restoration projects in museums, galleries, historic buildings, libraries and archives.”