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Is the actual damage of an object considered part of its historical evidence?

January 29th, 2013

Is the actual damage of an object considered part of its historical evidence?

William Sassorossi

A precious piece of sculpture is housed in a building about to be bombed by an oncoming invader.  The building in which it is housed is almost completely leveled by these bombs, yet somehow, most of the object remains intact.  Sadly, a piece of the arm and leg are both destroyed, but the majority remains the same.  What remains is then scooped up and taken away, until some years later it is revisited, and decisions for the possible restoration are considered.  It is important that this part of the sculptures history is considered during the decision making process for its conservation.  “Repairing the damage means that the historical evidence that the damage itself conveys will not be available to future users of the object.  Restoration always has this deleterious effect: it hides or transforms the true nature of an object – it works against historical truth by destroying its evidence,” (Munoz-Vinas, 2005).  The decision in this case is to either restore the object back to its original state, with its true intent, or, leave it as is with the scars of war.  Both options provide positives and negatives.

            To restore the object, for argument’s sake, to its original state prior to the bombing of the building could be considered the correct choice.  The public expects to see objects, like sculptures, in as complete a physical state as possible.  By restoring the sculpture to its original state the true meaning of the object can once again shine through.  This would also allow for all recovered pieces to be kept together, without a threat of losing pieces or further damage done to the sculpture.  Some would consider this a positive development.  Conversely, by making the necessary changes to restore the sculpture, all history of the trauma gone through is completely lost forever.  However upsetting this destruction may be, it is now part of the sculptures history and can be told along with the other information it contains.  The recovered pieces that had been damaged can just as easily be displayed, thus depicting this chapter in the sculptures history.

            With the progression of time comes the progression of deterioration on material culture.  Some are expected, as in deterioration of ink on paper, while others are not, as in this outside destructive force upon our sculpture.  War, unfortunately, is a common occurrence and objects are continually threatened, but this has to be included as part of each objects historical record.  Considering the role of the conservator, every piece of historical evidence must be represented in this case.  Stabilization of the sculpture, after the destruction it went through, is how it should be conserved and presented to the public.  Include all pieces from the sculpture that can be recovered, stabilize their condition along with the main sculpture, and include all pieces in the presentation for the exhibit.  The narrative of the sculpture will include this unfortunate instance, but it is a necessary story to tell.  Everything which can be documented for this object should be presented to better inform the observers as well as to not shy away from the past.  History can be upsetting, but as conservators, it is not our place to pick and choose which history to display.


Munoz-Vinas, S. 2005. Contemporary Theory of Conservation. London:Butterworth-Heinemann.


General Conservation

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