Human beings have learned to preserve the value or usefulness of the objects they cherish. Examples of human efforts to keep certain items “alive” date back many millennia.
This themed tour uses 20 selected pieces to illustrate the different repair and restoration techniques developed over the ages.
We will identify several different intervention categories:
Popular period repairs (from prehistory to the mid-20th century): done to recover a deteriorated object and ensure its continued usefulness. We find numerous examples of such interventions, made by artisans or professional repairmen such as tinkers and china-menders..
Artist-restorers and the birth of a profession (from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century): the first restorations were done at the request of collectors, using the same materials as the original to ensure that new and old were indistinguishable. In the mid-19th century, the appearance of specific restoration methods and the first archaeological interventions gave rise to a new professional field.
New criteria, new materials (second half of the 20th century): in this period, it became common practice to treat pieces with respect and acknowledge their social value. In Spain, the Central Institute of Conservation and Restoration and its associated school (now the ESCRBC) were founded. Pieces began to be studied from a scientific perspective, and natural resins and glues were replaced by more stable, reversible synthetic materials.
The 21st century. Higher education and new technology: today there are official bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes in this field, offered by the Madrid University School of Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. These courses of study are based on a profound knowledge of cultural assets, scientific research and the understanding that preventive conservation is preferable to direct intervention.
Each section is identified by a different colour. When a piece has undergone restorations in more than one period, the colour codes for each are shown.