The history of restorationtoday we call it conservation in order to distinguish it from a misbegotten 19th-century notion of returning the work of art to some imagined pristine original stateis fraught with controversy.
Question: if you dont know how a picture was painted, how is it possible to give it an attribution?
The modern role of a professional paintings conservator has, in many ways, been shaped by controversy.
What comes to mind when you think about conservation? Perhaps you heard about the $177 million restoration of St. Patricks Cathedral in 2015, the conservation of Leonardo da Vincis Salvator Mundi before its record breaking sale at Christies in 2017, or maybe you read about the Dia Art Foundation repairing Nancy Holts monumental Sun Tunnels in May this year.
I first discovered painting conservation while on a tour of the Getty Museum. I remember entering the conservation lab and seeing Old Master paintings on easels and tables right there in front of me. The conservators, oblivious to our little group, were intent on their work.
For as long as we derive any kind of aesthetic or emotional pleasure from a painting, almost every act of conservation can be loaded with subjective interpretation; furthermore, many of the discrete phases of a given conservation treatment are inextricably bound with others.
I knew nothing about Leonardos late work. Robert told me that the painting was a version of a lost painting, known only from a 17th-century engraving, two drawings, and numerous copies.
Artists make art and conservators preserve that art for posterity. The creative impulses differ but the engagement with material, sensitive regard for appearance, exquisite play with intention, and flat-out work bear a comfortable familiarity that enables intellectual interplay between them.
Just because the experts have misunderstood the relationship between painting and sculpture since the Renaissance, there is no reason to continue misunderstanding it in our own age of technological infatuation.