the conservator-restorer 

Meet David Bugejaa Maltese conservator-restorer of paintings and sculptures who created this website to diffuse correct information about his profession. Many individuals still assume that conservation and restoration is an art or a craft. This explains why damaged and deteriorated artworks are sometimes entrusted to craftsmen and artists who scratch, re-paint, modify and re-gild the artwork to make them look like new. Such harsh treatments cause irreversible damage, alter the artefacts' appearance and decrease their financial value. One may recall, for example, how the re-painting of an old Hecce Homo depiction (at the Santuario de Misericordia Church in the Spanish town of Borja) captured worldwide attention in 2012. Journalists also tend to diffuse incorrect statements. When reporting a completed conservation project, the media often state that an artwork was "restored back to its former glory" or that it was "given a complete make-over". Conservators are not make-overs and certainly do not possess a time machine that can revert the effects of time. A 400 year old painting, for instance, should still manifest its age after treatment. Perhaps it is time, however, to end this intense myth-busting session and start stating the facts.

Conservators-restorers strive to establish means of preserving works of art. When a conservator visits a museum or a private gallery, he inspects the artworks to see whether they are at risk of being damaged or deteriorated. After all, prevention is better than cure. Upon identifying the risks, the conservator then tries to isolate the artworks from those risks and to provide them with a safer environment. Paintings, for instance, can be better preserved inside internal rooms that typically feature the most stable air temperature and relative humidity. Keeping artworks evenly distanced from a wall can also make a big difference. This is referred to as preventive conservation. 

However, in most cases, conservators-restorers are called only after noting damage or deterioration. A painting manifesting flaking paint, for instance, needs to be treated with an adhesive to prevent further paint losses. Likewise, a weakened statue can be reinforced to prevent it from falling apart. Such treatments are referred to as conservation. 

The loss of paint or the darkening or yellowing of an artwork, for instance, may often present an aesthetic problem. Such aesthetic problems may prevent viewers from noting and appreciating the work of art. In such cases, restoration may be considered. Restoration refers to the aesthetic improvement of an artefact. This could consist in the removal of very dark and yellowed varnish layers to uncover the beautiful colours of a painting. Paint losses may also be filled and individually retouched to reduce the aesthetically-disturbing lacunae. Still, one must stress that such restoration treatments are not always necessary. Retouching is also kept to a minimum, following strict modern conservation ethics. After all, one should be reminded that the prime aim consists in conserving rather than restoring a work of art. Because, as already stated, prevention is always better than cure. 

In order to better understand the artwork, the conservator starts by examining the artwork to determine how it was made by the artist. During this preliminary investigation, the conservator is also capable of establishing whether a particular artwork has been altered during past restoration interventions. When deemed necessary, conservators treat paintings and statues to limit further deterioration and extend the artworks' lifetime. Obscured and yellowed artworks can be also treated to uncover the original paint and restore the artworks' beauty. 

Deterioration of artworks is mainly manifested by cracked, detached or powdering paint. One may also note small round holes that is indicative of insect infestations. Such deterioration often result when artworks are exposed to unfavourable environments. Paint will start to crack and detach, for example, upon hanging paintings close to external windows or just above fireplaces. In such circumstances, the conservator will not only re-adhere the detached paint to limit further deterioration, but is also obliged in providing the necessary recommendations on how to provide a better environment for the painting.  

Artworks can also be damaged during handling and transportation. Accidents and vandalism also cause paint loss, punctures, tears and cracks. The conservator can inspect and treat the damaged areas to stabilise the limit the artefact from eventual deterioration - such as deformation and paint loss.   

Apart from conservation, it is also possible to restore paintings and sculptures. The colours of aged paintings and sculptures may appear dark and yellowed. It is possible to remove the aged varnish in order to uncover the original colours and possibly expose additional details which were obscured by the dark yellow varnish. 

The conservator-restorer also inspects artworks with scientific equipment to detect the areas of the artwork that were re-painted during past treatment. When necessary, the conservator can remove the re-painting to uncover the original paint. 

Paint losses can also be filled and retouched following modern conservation ethics. The conservator makes sure that all the materials used during his treatment are: compatible with the artwork; durable; and reversible. 

But, it is important to note that conservators should not be called in only upon noting damage and deterioration. Conservators can also be requested to inspect an apparently preserved art collection. The conservator can thoroughly inspect the condition of artworks and determine if there is the need of improving the artworks' environment. [read more].

Everyone is encouraged to take a closer look at artworks. And it is not just to better appreciate the artistic quality of the artefact, but also to check if there are signs of damage and deterioration. Reporting damage and deterioration at an early stage can save an artwork from irreversible losses and alterations. It is equally important to provide a safer environment for our treasures in order to preserve them better. [read more].

When in doubt contact a qualified conservator-restorer. Read more on the anatomy of paintings and further your research by downloading publications 

deskrizzjoni bil-malti

L-awtur ta din il-websajt huwa David Frank Bugeja, restawratur kwalifikat malti. Is-sajt hija fuq ir-restawr u konservazzjoni ta' pitturi u statwi impittra. L-awtur inkluda gwida semplici ta' kif wiehed jista jiehu hsieb xogholijiet ta' l-arti. 

Creative Commons License by david frank bugeja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Malta License. 
first site version: 2003 
site location: malta - europe