Gelatin Sizing – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

What is Gelatin Sizing?

Gelatin sizing is a technique used in art conservation to protect and preserve paper-based artworks. It involves applying a thin layer of gelatin, a protein derived from animal collagen, to the surface of paper to improve its strength, durability, and resistance to moisture.

Gelatin sizing creates a barrier that prevents pigments and other materials from penetrating the paper fibers, reducing the risk of damage from water, acids, and other environmental factors. This technique has been used for centuries to enhance the longevity of artworks on paper.

History of Gelatin Sizing in Art Conservation

The use of gelatin sizing in art conservation dates back to the Renaissance period, when artists and craftsmen began experimenting with various methods to protect and preserve their works on paper. The technique became more widespread in the 19th century with the development of industrial gelatin production.

Art conservators have since refined and adapted gelatin sizing techniques to meet the specific needs of different types of paper-based artworks, from delicate watercolors to robust prints and drawings. Today, gelatin sizing is a common practice in the conservation and restoration of paper-based artworks in museums, galleries, and private collections.

Benefits of Gelatin Sizing in Art Restoration

Gelatin sizing offers several key benefits in art restoration, including increased paper strength, improved color retention, and enhanced resistance to environmental damage. By creating a protective barrier on the surface of the paper, gelatin sizing helps to prevent fading, discoloration, and deterioration over time.

Additionally, gelatin sizing can improve the handling and framing of artworks, making them more stable and less prone to damage during storage, transportation, and display. This technique is particularly useful for preserving valuable and fragile artworks that require extra care and attention.

Application of Gelatin Sizing in Art Conservation

The process of applying gelatin sizing to paper-based artworks involves preparing a solution of gelatin and water, heating it to dissolve the gelatin, and then carefully brushing or spraying the mixture onto the surface of the paper. Conservators may apply multiple layers of gelatin sizing to achieve the desired level of protection and reinforcement.

After the gelatin sizing has dried, conservators may further treat the artwork with additional techniques, such as deacidification, flattening, or inpainting, to address any existing damage or deterioration. The goal of gelatin sizing in art conservation is to stabilize and preserve the artwork while maintaining its original appearance and integrity.

Challenges and Limitations of Gelatin Sizing in Art Restoration

Despite its many benefits, gelatin sizing also has some challenges and limitations in art restoration. One of the main drawbacks of gelatin sizing is its reversible nature, which means that the protective layer can be easily removed or altered with exposure to moisture or solvents.

Additionally, gelatin sizing may not be suitable for all types of paper-based artworks, especially those with sensitive or fragile surfaces that could be damaged by the application of gelatin. Conservators must carefully assess the condition and composition of each artwork before deciding to use gelatin sizing as a conservation treatment.

Alternatives to Gelatin Sizing in Art Conservation

In recent years, art conservators have developed alternative sizing techniques to address the limitations of gelatin sizing and meet the evolving needs of paper-based artworks. Some common alternatives to gelatin sizing include acrylic sizing, methyl cellulose sizing, and synthetic polymer coatings.

These modern sizing materials offer similar protective benefits to gelatin sizing, such as increased strength, durability, and moisture resistance, while also providing greater flexibility, stability, and compatibility with a wider range of paper types and conservation treatments. Conservators may choose to use alternative sizing materials based on the specific requirements of each artwork and the desired conservation outcomes.