Accueil Polychromies Secrètes
musée des Augustins
Mairie Toulouse

Restoring works of art : a historical overview

Detail of the infrared photograph of
the Crucifixion.

Before the 19 th Century, works of art were only repaired, reworked or retouched according to the taste of the time, not by specialists but most often by artists, without any consensus of thought or teaching framework. Restoration as an autonomous discipline only really emerged in the 19 th Century, although its practice has been referred to from Antiquity: the historians Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius were already recording the transport of frescos.

In the Middle Ages and the 16th Century, religious works, liturgical objects, were “restored” for utilitarian purposes or in accordance with new religious requirements: thus the nudity in the Sistine Chapel frescos painted by Michelangelo was concealed during the Catholic Counter Reformation. From the 16th to the 18th Century, occasional intervention took place: sculptors such as Michelangelo, Bernini and Thorvaldsen worked on antique sculptures.

The modern concept of restoration emerged in the 19 th Century in parallel with the awareness of historic heritage, threatened
Stratigraphic section carried out at
C2RMF by Sandrine Pages-Camagna.

Sample taken from the upper moulding
of the base.
by the phase of revolutionary vandalism. But it was only in the 1950s, after major technical progress had been made in the 20th Century, that technical and artistic know-how was combined with a truly scientific dimension.

Only since the 1980s has the application of scientific processes been accompanied by real questioning: restoration has become a collective work uniting restorers and conservators, scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists), art historians and archaeologists in a common dialogue.