Restoration


by Katharine DeNinno January 22, 2018

Since the very earliest days of human prehistory, mankind have always placed enormous value in art as a form of defining their sense of place and identity, their values as a culture and as individuals. Even in our earliest days when there was little time to do anything other than survive, people still found a need for artistic expression. The need to hunt and the complexities of life and death illuminate the caves at Lascaux (15,000 BCE).  Sculptures like the Venus of Willendorf (25,000 BCE) and the Venus of Moravany (22,800 BCE) existed as desperate pleas for good fortune in fertility and successful births at a time where delivering a child was one of the most dangerous things a person could do, yet absolutely imperative to survival.

 Conservator cleaning of Giambologna's Abduction of a Sabine Woman:

A rare object of antiquity or an artistic masterpiece have obvious value.  They are examples of the rarest of highest achievements of mankind, and testaments to the cultures they belong too.  However, artistic masterpieces and cultural monuments are not the only forms of artwork that enrich our lives.  As individuals, private historic and artistic objects serve to illustrate our past, give us a sense of place in the present, and inspire our future.  Consider an old black and white photograph of a relative, a painting that belonged to a favorite uncle, or even your father’s old army trunk. These are objects that we value as individuals and and as a society.  Paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and other objects serve as a living history, weaving our past into our present. They give us a sense of place and tell our stories when we cannot.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever.  Every day that goes by the materials in our historic and artistic works are aging, breaking down, and fading. On top of having to suffer the ravages of time, our artworks are often asked to endure risky situations and natural disasters; floods, fires, kids playing ball in the house, not to mention the countless victims that are damaged during a move to a new home, or even a new spot on the wall. This is where art conservation and restoration come in.

Art conservation is a science based discipline that also relies heavily on artistic skill to preserve historic and artistic works. When an item is restored, the aim is to the bring it back to its original appearance with minimal impact to the piece. Common art restoration treatments include cleaning and repairing damage while toning in repairs to blend in with the original material.  Cleaning discolored varnish can give an oil painting brilliant new life. Colors that once seemed muted or faded suddenly appear vibrant and alive. Details that were difficult or no longer possible to make out suddenly become apparent. Removing distracting stains and losses can restore an old photograph to its original and unique integrity. Viewers can focus on the portrait or subject matter and the unique beauty that can only be found in an antique black and white film photograph, rather than all of the distracting areas of damage and deterioration. Mitigating water damage can be the determining factor in the life or death or an important paper piece. Even professionally cleaning the glass in a frame can restore a surprising amount of clarity to artwork.  Restoring artistic and historic works brings items back to their original, intended state. Restoration treatments more often than not involve halting the process of deterioration, thus preserving and ensuring the future of the item, allowing our stories and values to live on.  

oil painting before treatment:

oil painting mid-treatment:

oil painting after treatment:




Katharine DeNinno
Katharine DeNinno

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