St Anne, pre-restoration. St Anne, after cleaning.
“All cleaning controversies turn on the extent to which pictures suffer during restoration. Even among those who authorise restorations, some concede that there are losses as well as gains and frankly admit to seeking the best trade-off between improved legibility and pictorial injury. Defensive restorers insist that pictures cannot be harmed by their own “advanced”, “gentle” and “scientifically underpinned” methods. Making a fetish of the “safety” and the “science” of restoration methods attempts to shelve restorers responsibility to identify and account for all material and aesthetic changes. Given that all restorers’ methods cannot be superior, none should be held beyond question. With the physical alteration of art, aesthetic appraisal is essential to scholarship and art’s protection. In appraising restorations, the comparison of like with like is of the essence.”
“In visual arts, appraisals are necessarily made by visual comparisons. Pictures are made by eye, hand and mind, to be viewed by eye and mind. Because each cleaning destroys the earlier state, comparisons can only be made between pre and post-restoration photographs. While straightforward cleaning might always be expected to achieve a greater vivacity of pictorial effect, it should never be made at the expense of the pictorial relationships, patterns, or gradations made in the service of modelling, that can be seen to reside in the uncleaned work. If the relationships can be seen it is because they are there – whatever chemical analyses might suggest to the contrary. The aesthetic production of pictorial values by artists is the proper science of art. Unfortunately, in such terms, the values that were formerly evident in this great picture seem not to have fared well in this last cleaning.”
Putting my two pence in, I don’t see how a restorer can proceed without an aesthetic sense, or some knowledge of the protocols of traditional connoisseurship. As art historians, we’re trained in the comparative method: to look at images side by side with a view to determining differences and similarities; the tonal differences, variations in colour, light and shadow etc. A restorer should be sensitive to the operations of the painter, the passage of their brush, their painterly presence, which they can check by reference to the historical visual record; but MD is right, restorers seem to make a fetish of their scientific methods with disastrous results. Surely there’s a balance to be struck between preserving pictures that are “sick”, whilist retaining the original intentions of the artists. While some individuals decry traditional connoisseurship and stylistic analysis, it’s just as essential to restoration as the chemicals and test tubes. As for using medical metaphors to describe the restoration process, I’m tempted to say that in the case of the Leonardo, the operation was successful but the patient died.
Just compare figs 5 and 6, (shown above). Where are the those Leonardo shadows? This is a travesty- it’s not the same picture anymore. This will undoubtedly happen again, which is why ArtWatch exists.