Painting Restoration Before the Restauration: The Origins of the Profession in France Aby A. Massing The art of painting restoration is almost as old as the art of painting itself. Accidents and time inevitably alter the appearance of a painting, and these changes begin as soon as it leaves the artist's easel. Purposeful alterations due to changes in taste have also contributed to transformations that paintings often underwent. Clearly the type of restoration procedures considered ethically acceptable have changed over the centuries. From the Renaissance until the end of the nineteenth century, European paintings were considered as two-dimensional illusions of a three-dimensional space, and any disruption to this illusion was considered as damage requiring repair. There was no acknowledgement of painting supports as an integral part of a picture; only the paint layer and the subject represented were appreciated. As a result, panels were often thinned and cradled in order to flatten the painted surface so that the image depicted could be viewed with less distraction. Supports were even considered replaceable. Total transfer of a painted surface onto a new surface was an acceptable procedure in the eighteenth century even until the mid-twentieth century. Invisible retouching was used with the intent of returning the illusion of the painted surface to its original state; the history of the work was not important. Until recent times, it was even acceptable to alter the format of a work of art to fit a frame or a space on the wall. Traditionally, if a painting was accidentally damaged or if adjustments were required, a painter was entrusted with this task. In the past, the professions of painter and painting restorer overlapped, and both were trained as apprentices. Gradually the professional painting restorer appeared in Europe, and by the mid-eighteenth century, the profession was established. Earlier examples of professional restorers, especially in Italy, have been recorded while in other European countries, such as Britain, the career of the professional painting restorer began much later. During the later part of the eighteenth century in France, the painting restorers of the French Royal Collection became celebrated throughout Europe for their achievements. The political situation had an important influence on the development of the profession in France. The reigns of Francois I (1515-47), Louis XIV (1643-1715), Louis XVI (1774-93), and then the coup detat by Napoleon Bonaparte and the First Napoleonic Empire (1804-14) led to an increasing centralisation of the French Empire. The arts were meant to reflect the power of the state; thus Louis XIV and his political advisor and Surintendent from 1661 to 1685, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83), became the patrons of the French Academie de Peinture et Sculpture founded in 1648. A revision of the Academys statutes in 1665 required students to submit annually drawings that focused on the heroic actions of the king. Paintings conferred status on their owner in this instance the king and the French nation. It then became a necessity to have the paintings on display looking their best, and the skill of the French painting restorers was even used as a justification for Napoleons policy of confiscation of works of art from all over Europe. The relationship between the French governments administration, firstly under the Ancien Regime, then under the new Republic, and the painting restorers they employed and supervised is related in this book. The manner in which changes occurred involves colourful personalities whose stories are often amusing and sometimes poignant, but above all they help us to understand the present-day situation. For during the turbulent years of the French Revolution new patterns emerged, which to a large extent remained in place in France for over two centuries.
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