Conservation versus Restoration
Coming back to Panjim, it felt as if we had left town not just for a week but for a month. The work achieved by all the volunteers, the Fathers and seminarians last week was nothing short of a miracle; it was all done in such harmony that we all left energized with an inner sense of pure joy.
And so we came back to Panjim sad to leave Rachol but thrilled to be back at the Archbishop’s House. As the Emeritus Archbishop said to me last Friday night when we had the most pleasant evening ‘Rome is my second home’. Christopher and I are feeling that Panjim has become our second home.
We had left with the first four paintings we are conserving on this trip in need of new stretchers, as the portraits had in the past been cut out and glued onto cotton fabric with PVA glue. All of them had been surface cleaned by Joe, Sandesh, Eveny, Milena, Rhea and Caetano this last year after we had left in the spring, but we can see that in the past the portraits have undergone drastic treatments by previous restorers. We are faced with choosing our treatments with immense care so as to intervene as little as possible and to bring out the best of each portrait. All the previous treatments have been done with irreversible materials which take hours upon hours to unpick, but cannot be removed 100% without interfering with the original fabric, and so residues are left.
We have been extremely lucky that we are working here with an international team of volunteers (UK, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Canada and India), which enables us to discuss all the problems in depth. Therefore despite the huge problems, and with an excellent team, we are moving slowly forward with the object of conserving this unique collection for posterity. The key word is conservation, with minimal intervention. Years of study, observing bad practice through the generations and learning from natural disasters like the flood in Florence in the 1960’s (which was a turning point in the attitude to conservation rather than restoration, as set out in Umberto Baldini’s famous book) all enable us to focus on the real problems with accurate delicate treatments.
My greatest wish is to increase our team and bring out as many experts from around the world as possible. As they say, many hands make light work.