Romoe Conservators Network

What is an art conservator-restorer?

Conservation and restoration of historical cultural heritage as a profession

The profession of a Conservator-restorer is defined by the protection of cultural heritage in order to preserve historical testimonies and thus irreplaceable originals for future generations.

 

Present-day Conservators work not only in craftsmanship and art, but also scientifically. This standard only became established at the end of the 20th century. The most important aspect of restoration is respect for the art and cultural object at hand. A Conservator learns background information on restoration, working methods and more in a pratical training. [1]

General overview of the modern job description of restorers

The essential task of a conservator is the responsible protection of artistic and cultural assets in order to preserve them authentically and sustainably for future generations. Existing paintings, statues and other objects must not simply be altered at will, because almost all works are irreplaceable originals and real testimonies of the history of mankind. A conservator must be aware of the age and history of each object in his hands. Therefore, a lot of background knowledge in the fields of art and culture is necessary.

Conservators work according to scientific and methodological standards, for example by observing important findings from the fields of chemistry, physics and microbiology. Every prospective conservator receives the necessary knowledge and craftsmanship in a training course. In their daily work, conservators also work together with experts from other scientific disciplines such as natural scientists, art historians, architects or monument conservators. [1][2]

Examples of typical specializations:

Typical working methods of a conservator

What does the daily work of a conservator look like in detail? After the assignment, conservators work according to a specific scheme. As a rule, they begin with an extensive examination and inventory of the object at hand. They carefully document the findings they have gathered by means of pictures and texts. In a critical examination, they weigh the consequences of possible interventions. On this basis, a detailed conservation or restoration concept can be prepared if required.

AAfter the extensive assessment, they carry out the conservation and restoration measures themselves. During the work they are also responsible for documenting extensively the measures carried out on the object. The documentation ensures that the restoration carried out can be traced at a later point in time even without consulting the restorer. [1][2][3]

Differences between conservation, preventive conservation and restoration

A conservator does not only deal with the restoration of objects. In addition, there are two other fields of activity to which a restorer devotes himself much more frequently in his daily work: conservation and preventive conservation. Each area is characterised by specific challenges.

Conservation

The term is derived from the Latin word "conservare" which means to preserve or conserve. The aim of preserving an object is to stop it from aging or decaying, so that it is preserved for posterity. Chemical and physical decay processes are slowed down or even prevented by suitable processes. The measures necessary for this can be learned by prospective conservators in a training course.

Conservation does not include the removal of already existing signs of aging, as the object's history should be respected. The importance of conservation for the professional field of conservators is shown by the quotation of the famous art historian Georg Dehio: "Conservation, not restoration". According to this, conservation has the highest priority for a conservator and should always be preferred to other measures. [1][2][3][4]

Preventive conservation

In addition to the direct conservation work on the object, conservators also influence the external conditions if necessary, which should also slow down or interrupt the aging process. Then it is a matter of the so-called preventive conservation. Such measures can include, for example the control of the ambient climate: Objects are constantly exposed to influences such as room temperature, humidity, incidence of light and emissions, which accelerate decay. In addition, protection against theft or catastrophes (e.g. fires, floods) is part of preventive conservation. [1][2]

Restoration

During restoration, the conservator also works directly on the object. In contrast to conservation, the work should improve the readability of the object or secure the substance. The conservator respects the aesthetics, historical background and material properties. Restoration is only carried out if the history of the object has already changed the object to such an extent that it's meaning or function can no longer be recognised. However, the object should always be worked on as little as possible during restoration.[1][2][3]

Prerequisites for training as a conservator

Before you learn the profession of conservator through professional training, you should be sure that the job profile suits you. First, you should get a comprehensive overview of the main tasks of a conservator. You will have to deal again and again with the careful written documentation, the technical and artistic measures, as well as the technical control of various environmental influences. An honest interest in art, culture and history is standard. You will also need a sense of responsibility, because you will often have to deal with irreplaceable objects, the loss of which would cause great material and immaterial damage. [1][2][3][4]

For working on an object, good eyes, a steady hand and artistic skills are also essential. Depending on the order, you must also have a basic physical fitness, because not every object can be restored sitting at the worktable. Sometimes, for example, you have to work upside down on a ceiling or have to carry heavy objects. In many cases you should also be interested in research, analysis and documentation. Furthermore, a basic talent for understanding chemical, biological and physical processes, which are essential for modern working methods, pays off. Finally, you must be ready to work as part of a team and be able to communicate constructively with clients and scientific contacts. A prospective conservator also requires a certain level of education: depending on the institution, the technical school cerficate, the general university entrance qualification or even just the high school diploma is required. In some cases, internships or craft training are also a prerequisite.[1][2]

The professional title of the conservator is not protected everywhere

A legal professional title protection (professional protection) for conservators has so far only applied in the federal states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt. Amongst others, the Association of Conservators (VDR) advocates a national professional title protection. A professional training is always recommendable, because only then can you be really sure to learn an extensive specialized knowledge and to be able to pursue responsibly your activity. In addition, training increases your chances for a better paid and secure permanent position in the public sector, for example in museums. Conservators also work as freelancers or run a private business. [2][4]

Training: Academic and technical

If you want to learn conservation and restoration professionally, you can choose from a variety of possible training centres. You can choose from nine German universities. In addition, universities all over Europe offer a corresponding course of study. Depending on the training, the job title to be acquired also differs:

  • Bachelor and Master of Arts (BA/MA)
  • Diploma restorer (Dipl.-Rest.)
  • State-certified restorer
  • Doctorate Dr. phil. or Dr. rer. nat. in Conservation/Restoration [4]

Due to the enormous complexity of the restoration, an academic education including an internship of several months or previous training as a craftsman is recommended.

Training places to learn professional conservation and restoration

For further information on studying at (technical) colleges, universities as well as training and further education at other educational institutions, please refer to our overview under Education and Studies. Learn more about it:

Source directory

1. Silvia Behle, Master of Arts (FH)
2. Association of Restorers Germany: https://www.restauratoren.de/
3. Information brochure "Restoring Crafts" from the Central Association of German Crafts https://www.zdh.de/
4. Wikipedia: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restaurator



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