BY VENIZELOS G. GAVRILAKIS | Senior Expert Artworks Conservator & Restorer
Art conservation and restoration constitute a nuanced and intricate field that demands a comprehensive understanding. Thus, it is imperative to grasp the precise implications of these practices and their underlying purpose. This comprehension is vital for acknowledging their indispensability and the substantial contributions they make to the realms of cultural heritage, society, art, and history.
To fathom the essence of “conservation and restoration,” a preliminary exploration of their purpose and the specific circumstances prompting the preservation of artworks is necessary. The inexorable deterioration of artifacts—whether a result of the passage of time or environmental factors—has spurred the development of an art form dedicated to safeguarding our cultural legacy and transmitting it to posterity in an authentic and resilient condition. Throughout history, humanity’s endeavors to salvage artworks have underscored the necessity for an “ethic code of preservation.” This imperative has been further emphasized by the emergence of private art collections since the 17th century. Over centuries, this ethical code has evolved in tandem with the perspectives, ideologies, and practices of conservators and artists from each era, culminating in the formal establishment of the Conservator profession in the 18th century. In the present day, this “art” has evolved into a scientific discipline that strives to reinstate and preserve each impaired or altered artwork to its original state, ensuring its endurance and conservation over time.
Consequently, conservation and restoration involve meticulous scientific research, specialized methodologies, and comprehensive care, all geared towards reinstating an artwork to its primal form while ensuring its longevity. The role of conservators and restorers encompasses not only the rectification of damages, alterations, and changes wrought by time, natural elements, storage conditions, or human intervention, but also extends to proactive measures aimed at forestalling or decelerating future deterioration.
The interventions within conservation and restoration can be classified into those primarily concerned with conserving the artwork’s authenticity and those directed solely at aesthetic restoration. The former entails the rescue and preservation of an artwork and its structural integrity, as previously outlined, while the latter strives exclusively to enhance its visual appeal. Both conservation and restoration are interdependent, often erroneously dichotomized as separate entities – conservators and restorers. This divisive perception disregards the essential synergy between the two, where the fusion of scientific understanding and artistic sensibilities forms the cornerstone of their symbiotic relationship.
In any scenario, the extent of an artwork’s restoration to its original state necessitates an assessment grounded in the artwork’s “authenticity” in portraying its subject matter. For instance, in a painting, if varnish oxidation due to temporal and climatic conditions has obscured the artwork, surface cleaning becomes imperative to reinstate its clarity and “legibility.”
The execution of conservation and restoration endeavors invariably rests in the hands of adept and experienced conservators and restorers, operating within well-equipped studios and employing both mechanical and chemical methodologies. Every intervention is conducted with unwavering regard for the artwork’s aesthetic, cultural, historical significance, its authenticity, as well as its potential functional and utilitarian value.
Determining when an artwork necessitates conservation and restoration mandates meticulous research and analysis by seasoned and proficient conservators and restorers. However, certain evident indicators, such as a “dimmed” or obscured rendition of the artwork, discernible blemishes, “blistering,” or detached portions, can be recognized by anyone. In such instances, immediate expert conservation interventions are imperative; the neglect of these issues over time could culminate in the irreversible loss of the artwork.
To forestall such a dire outcome, the intervention of an expert art conservator and restorer, akin to a medical practitioner for art, becomes imperative. The services rendered by professional conservators and restorers extend beyond contributing to the sphere of art; they serve as guardians of history, culture, and humanity. The transference of an artwork across time underscores the profound link between the art of its inception and the art of its preservation. Through conservation and restoration, conservators and restorers establish a dialogue with the original artist-creator of the artwork through subtle artistic cues.
Together, by preserving the artwork, they bridge the gap between eras, carrying the essence of the past into the future. The preservation of each artwork is an essential endeavor for its enduring recognition. As articulated by Cesare Brandi in “The Theory of Conservation & Restoration,” “In reality, even if its recognition (the work of art) must take place each time in individual consciousness, at that very moment, the work of art belongs to cosmic consciousness. The person who enjoys this direct revelation feels the need, as compelling as a moral need, for preservation. Conservation extends across an infinite scale, starting from simple respect and leading to the most radical intervention, such as the case of detaching frescoes or transferring paintings onto wood or canvas.”
In summation, the roles of conservators and restorers emerge as pivotal for the preservation of our historical and cultural heritage, safeguarding it for posterity. These roles underscore the profound interplay between the act of creation and the act of preservation, ultimately serving the interests of future generations.
Venizelos G. Gavrilakis is a highly esteemed senior expert in the conservation and restoration of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons, historical oil paintings, artworks, and antiquities, renowned worldwide for his exceptional expertise. With a strong academic background, Venizelos graduated from a Ministry-certified conservation and restoration faculty in Greece, specializing in the preservation of artwork and antiquities. He further honed his skills through dedicated studies in paintings restoration and conservation at the prestigious Conservation Fine Art Faculty of Palazzo Spinelli in Florence, Italy. Since 1994, Venizelos has served as a senior expert conservator and restorer, undertaking numerous noteworthy projects across the globe. His remarkable career includes managing director positions at conservation laboratories in renowned institutions, collaborations with galleries and private collectors, and contributions to conservation journals. Mr. Gavrilakis is a member of KMKD Kültürel Mirası Koruma Derneği (Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage). Currently, he is at the helm of VENIS STUDIOS, a leading conservation and restoration company headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey. The studio is dedicated to delivering exceptional services worldwide, ensuring the preservation and restoration of historical artworks and monuments at the highest level of craftsmanship.
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