Restoring the lost murals of Gabriel Pippet, The Oxford Oratory

Cliveden Conservation has uncovered and restored the lost murals of Gabriel Pippet in the sanctuary.

Project overview

Project Overview
The Grade II listed Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga was built in 1875 by architect Joseph Hansom. Between 1902-07 the sanctuary was decorated with stained glass and polychrome decoration, including two murals by Gabriel Pippet. During the 1950s the sanctuary was reconfigured, the high altar was simplified and moved forward, and all the polychrome decoration was over-painted. Following on from their initial trials to remove the modern paint layers, Cliveden Conservation were invited back to uncover both murals.

Summary of work carried out
The church had been under the impression that the murals were in poor condition and that redecorating with a new scheme may be the best option. However, the trials carried out by Cliveden Conservation with Owlsworth IJP in 2022, revealed the original scheme beneath the modern paint to be in good condition.

In 2024, Cliveden Conservation returned to the church to uncover both murals. Tower scaffolds were erected either side of the sanctuary to enable conservators to work on the murals simultaneously to limit disruption to the church services.

Arbocel (paper pulp) was used to hold de-ionised water against the surface to soften the modern paint so it could be carefully peeled away without damaging the underlaying paint layers.

The two murals were uncovered and found to be in good condition. Conservators discovered an area of loss on the North wall to the non-figurative decoration that had to be repaired and recreated by tracing existing motifs and transferring them to the repaired plaster surface using acrylic paints. The damaged figurative scene on the South wall was painstakingly reinstated.

Results
Cliveden Conservation has successfully restored the lost murals of Gabriel Pippet and three of the four figurative scenes in the roundels are in excellent condition. This completes the first phase of major works to reinstate the lost beauty of the church in time for its 150-year celebrations in 2025. The vibrant colours, gold leaf and exquisite pattern of the paintings represent some of the finest decoration of the Catholic Arts and Crafts movement.

Project details

Client:

Father Benedict Manning on behalf of the Fathers of the Oratory

Specialist Contractor:

Cliveden Conservation 

Category:

Advisory and material analysis | Decorative arts

What we did