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 | Keishla Espinal

Antique Tabernacle is Being Preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg

The Museum of Fine Arts, in St. Petersburg, has acquired a Spanish tabernacle that is approximately 500 years old and the staff is working to conserve this precious artifact. Conservation is the practice of preserving and restoring works of art to maintain their aesthetic, historical, and cultural significance for future generations.

“We found the tabernacle at a public auction in Sarasota, FL, which was very surprising,” said Stanton Thomas, Chief Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts. “Generally speaking, you don’t look for a Spanish Baroque Tabernacle in auctions in Sarasota, Florida, or anywhere in Florida. It was a wonderful fluke that it appeared there.”

The Spanish Baroque Tabernacle is part of the museum’s Live Conservation Collection, and people can watch the conservation in action until June 23, 2024, when a new project will be brought in. The work will then be finished behind the scenes until the final product is displayed in the new acquisitions exhibit.

A tabernacle is a sacred vessel in which the Blessed Sacrament is reposed. The meticulously crafted paintings and carvings adorning the tabernacle's surface, range from depictions of Old Testament Prophets Elijah and Moses to the moving scene of The Transfiguration of Christ, and serve as poignant reminders of the enduring significance of the Christian faith. 

Luis Seixas, a specialist conservator of objects and sculptures, is tasked with cleaning, consolidating, and restoring this precious artifact.

“Everything that I do is done carefully and is reversible,” said Seixas. “The reversible aspect of conservation is in place because so many mistakes were made in the past. Each thing that I do is documented, so if in 20 years someone says something doesn’t seem right, it can be fixed.”

The time frame for the conservation of an object varies from one piece to another, depending on the object and its condition.

Seixas stated, “This whole thing will take roughly three months.”

If you would like to see the conservation of the tabernacle, visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Tuesday through Friday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a break around noon. A special Saturday session is offered each month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. You can visit mfastpete.org for more information.

Thomas stated, “Every single day there is a surprise, and it is a fascinating process to watch. We encourage everyone to stop by.”

Originally, the tabernacle might have been a large-scale altarpiece prevalent in Spanish Roman Catholic churches over the centuries. Courtesy photo.
Originally, the tabernacle might have been a large-scale altarpiece prevalent in Spanish Roman Catholic churches over the centuries. Courtesy photo.
Originally, the tabernacle might have been a large-scale altarpiece prevalent in Spanish Roman Catholic churches over the centuries. Courtesy photo.
Originally, the tabernacle might have been a large-scale altarpiece prevalent in Spanish Roman Catholic churches over the centuries. Courtesy photo.