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The Restoration of the Tobsdorf Choir Stall

17.09.2021 - 06.02.2022

In 2006 restorers from Hildesheim discovered a valuable work of art, lying completely inconspicuously in a church attic in the Transsylvanian region of Siebenbürgen. They are members of a degree course for conservation and restoration on an excursion from the Hildesheim University of Arts and Applied Sciences. What appears at first glance to be a rotten pile of boards, turns out to be a magnificent, late gothic, two-part choir stall – ornately carved seating for clergy and dignitaries. This special exhibition documents the fascinating restoration work involved, also posing the question as to who built it.

The church furniture, dating back to 1537, has been stored for the past five centuries in the fortified church of Tobsdorf/Dupus. Following the departure of the German-speaking community of Siebenbürgen, Saxony, after the Rumanian Revolution of 1989, the church building increasingly deteriorates. In 2002 the choir stalls are dismantled and stored some 80 kilometres away, in the attic of the fortified church tower at Großau/Cristian, a kind of central depot for endangered cultural heritage from other churches. 

Video: Restorers at work

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At that time restorers from the Hildesheim University travel every summer to Siebenbürgen, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, for the purpose of unearthing the rich historical heritage of this country and to document and preserve it. In 2006 the Tobsdorfer choir stall, or rather parts thereof, is discovered. The wood has already been extensively damaged by dampness and infested by insects. According to the restorers, the wood resembled a sponge consistence which disintergrated on touch.

However, the experts recognise the potential of this discovery. Together with the regional church, they arrange for the restoration of the choir stall, an extensive work programme, stretching over seven years.

Following extensive research, further choir stalls of this type in Siebenbürgen are discovered. One of these proves to be the work of master craftsman, Johannes Reychmut from Schäßburg. Is it possible that the Tobsdorf choir stalls also originate from his workshop?  A direct correlation cannot be initially established. First, a thorough examination and comparison of the structure and technical work involved in the choir stall – in particular of  the inlay work, will bring this to light. 

Video: the reconstruction of inlay work

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Simultaneously, the securing and restoration of the structural damage to the church furniture necessitate the use of the most modern conservation techniques. 70 students, 23 professors, assistant lecturers and colleagues, as well as external experts have been involved in this project and now the choir stall has been returned to Siebenbürgen. Today, it is a decorative part of the church in Mediasch.

With this informative, touring exhibition, the University of Hildesheim has succeeded in bringing this exciting project to light – and thus the value of restoration work to the forefront, an area which often remains in the background.

For almost 10 years, our Museum for Art and Cultural History has cultivated a very successful cooperation with the Department of Arts and Applied Sciences for conservation and restoration of the University of Hildesheim. Projects of many different kinds are involved, contributing to successful scientific research, as well as the care and preservation of the Gottorf collections.

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Schleswig-Holstein State Museums
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