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Polychrome, a decorative technique that involves the use of multiple colours, has a rich history in the world of art and craftsmanship. While it is commonly associated with porcelain, this article will explore the captivating history, rising value, and proper care of polychrome artefacts made from wood, such as figures and candlesticks.


The Origins and Methods of Polychrome

Polychrome as an artistic technique dates back to ancient times, with its roots traced to civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. However, it gained significant popularity during the Mediaeval period and the Renaissance, when artisans began to experiment with vibrant pigments and intricate designs on wooden objects. The use of polychrome on wood allowed for detailed expression and added visual appeal to religious and secular artworks.


The methods employed in polychrome varied across regions and periods. One common technique involved applying layers of pigmented paint or glazes to the wooden surface, often followed by the application of gold leaf or other decorative elements. The colours used were typically derived from natural sources, including minerals, plants, and insects.


The Rising Value of Polychrome Artefacts

Over the years, the value of polychrome artefacts has soared, transforming them into sought-after items for collectors and investors alike. This increasing value can be attributed to several factors.


Rarity and Historical Significance

Antique polychrome pieces are often unique, crafted by skilled artisans who employed intricate techniques and designs. As time passes, the number of well-preserved examples diminishes, enhancing their rarity and historical value.


Artistic and Aesthetic Appeal

Polychrome objects display a captivating blend of colours, adding vibrancy and visual interest. The artistry and craftsmanship involved in their creation make them highly desirable to collectors and art enthusiasts.

17th Century Italian Polychrome Painted Terracotta Jesus Child Putto Figure

17th Century Italian Polychrome Painted Terracotta Jesus Child Putto Figure

Cultural and Art Historical Importance

Many polychrome artefacts represent the cultural and art historical heritage of specific regions, making them valuable not only for their aesthetic qualities but also for their contribution to broader narratives and artistic movements.


Caring for Antique Polychrome Artefacts

Proper care and maintenance are essential to preserve the beauty and value of antique polychrome artefacts. Here are some guidelines to consider:


Handling and Display

When handling polychrome objects, it is advisable to wear clean gloves to avoid transferring oils and dirt to the surface. Display them in a controlled environment, away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and high humidity, which can cause colour fading, cracking, or warping.



Regularly dust the surface of polychrome artefacts using a soft brush or a clean, lint-free cloth. Avoid using water or cleaning solvents, as they may damage the delicate paint layers. If necessary, consult a professional conservator for appropriate cleaning methods.


Restoration and Conservation

If your polychrome artefact shows signs of damage, such as flaking paint or structural issues, consult a professional conservator specialising in wood and polychrome restoration. Attempting repairs without the necessary expertise can lead to irreversible damage.


18th Century Polychrome Carved Head of a Bishop

18th Century Polychrome Carved Head of a Bishop

In Conclusion

The history of polychrome on wood is a fascinating journey that spans centuries. From its origins in ancient civilizations to its popularity during the Mediaeval and Renaissance periods, this decorative technique has evolved into highly valued and sought-after artefacts. To ensure the longevity of antique polychrome pieces, proper care, handling, and conservation are crucial. As the demand and value for these colourful treasures continue to rise, preserving their beauty becomes not only a responsibility but also an investment in the rich history they embody.

At Shackleton Fox, we curate a remarkable collection of antique polychrome artefacts, including wood figures, candlesticks, and more. Our catalogue showcases the craftsmanship and artistry of these rare pieces, allowing you to immerse yourself in their vibrant history. Whether you are a seasoned collector or a passionate admirer of fine art, our selection offers a diverse range of polychrome treasures waiting to be discovered.

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