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How can a restoration method alter our view of an object?

Over time changes of understanding, emphasis and fashion have favoured different approaches to conservation. Athenian vases are objects with rich historical, archaeological, cultural and artistic significance. Different levels of reconstruction and restoration will reflect different aspects of the object’s identity. This display introduced the challenges faced by the conservator and curator and showed how the final result affects our understanding and perception of the object. Here are four possible ways to restore an Athenian vase (GR.1.1889).

More information about conservation history and techniques can be found in Gallery 21, Case 6.

1. ‘Archaeological’ approach to restoration

Wine jar (neck-amphora): (A)
warriors leaving home and woman
with child, (B) battle scene. Made in
Athens c. 550-525 BC; attributed to
the Princeton Painter. GR.1.1889.
© The Fitzwilliam Museum.

 

The ‘archaeological’ approach is the most commonly seen method of repair applied to archaeological objects in museums today. It is a technique that focuses on an object’s archaeological past and on preserving its original material. Missing areas may be reconstructed and these fills are painted in one unified colour. The chips and break lines on the vessel are not disguised.

The image on the left shows an area of loss that has been filled using the archaeological approach. The break lines are still visible and the missing area has been filled with plaster and painted the same red-orange colour as the clay background. The plaster fill stops a few millimetres lower than the original surface of the vase, making the difference between original material and restoration even more obvious.


Advantages

  • Shows how much of the ancient material has survived
  • Preserves the original material and the contextual information of the jar
  • The new repair is easily distinguishable from the original, which shows the object’s actual condition and identity
  • It follows the fundamental conservation principle of minimum intervention.

Disadvantages

  • It is difficult for the viewer to understand the fragmentary patterns and images
  • The object has lost its original aesthetic significance.

2. Interpretive outline reconstruction of the decoration

Figure of a priest
© The Fitzwilliam Museum.

 

The shapes of the missing images are painted on to the jar, but no detail is added. The interpretation here is based on examples of other vases attributed to the Princeton Painter.


Advantage

  • The method has allowed the designs of the vase to be comprehensible while keeping the repair distinguishable from the original.

Disadvantages

  • The images on the jar are only partially restored and can be distracting and confusing
  • The restorer is imposing his or her interpretation of the image on the viewers.

3. Restoration using the puntinato technique

Figure of a priest
© The Fitzwilliam Museum.

 

The puntinato restoration technique uses small points of colour to create an image that blends in with the original design when viewed from a distance. It presents a more complete image than method no. 2 (interpretive outline reconstruction of the decoration). The interpretation is again based on examples of vases attributed to the Princeton Painter.


Advantage

  • The technique is intended to create an aesthetic and comprehensible result while still keeping the new repair easily distinguishable from the original material.

Disadvantages

  • The restorer is imposing his interpretation of the image on the viewers
  • This method is very time-consuming to carry out.

4. Full restoration

Figure of a priest
© The Fitzwilliam Museum.

 

Full restoration is a technique that is used to ‘improve’ the appearance of an object. The aesthetic value of the object is emphasized over its archaeological past and material integrity. The image restoration of this vase was based on examples of other vases attributed to the Princeton Painter.


Advantages

  • A better visual result
  • The images on the jar become more comprehensible for the viewer.

Disadvantages

  • It is very difficult to distinguish between the original surfaces and the restored areas
  • The restorer is imposing his or her interpretation of the image on the viewers.