To the Cleaners

Nicholas Penny

  • The Ravished Image: Or, How to Ruin Masterpieces by Restoration by Sarah Walden
    Weidenfeld, 174 pp, £12.95, April 1985, ISBN 0 297 78407 2

Do you remember when children’s tonsils were removed at the slightest pretext? Extraordinary reversals in official treatment have done little to shake faith in modern medicine. Forty years ago the approved, the ‘scientific’ solution for warping and splitting painted panels was to construct elaborate ‘cradles’ of wooden crossbars behind them to hold them tightly in place. This, it is now agreed, created far more problems than it solved and, at considerable cost, ‘cradles’ are being removed. Other processes cannot be reversed. In the second half of the 18th century (when picture restoration first obtained official status with the creation of the first national museums), specialist skills for transferring the skin of paint from a panel to a canvas support were developed in France, and some of the greatest paintings in the royal collection were destroyed. Most tragic of all has been the fate of stone sculpture and architecture submitted to chemical cures far more damaging than the diseases afflicting them.

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