The restoring of paintings was something that excellent painters of the past frequently devoted themselves to, let us mention at least Jan Jakub Quirin Jahn in the second half of the 18th century and many others.

In the 19th century restoration work was also carried out by second-rate painters and craftsmen using routine techniques which often damaged the paintings. They used drastic means to take off the surface dirt and remove the varnishes (from onion, potato, garlic, milk, etc. to alkalis – lyes, ammonia, potash, ashes, or the removal of varnish by mechanical abrasion). They carried out the regeneration of varnishes with a balsam of copaiva which softens the paint layer, or the so-called Pettenkofer method with the aid of spirit fumes which from the long-term point of view is ineffective and with subsequent removal of varnish damage is done to the actual paintwork, softened by the spirit. With the exuberant removal of varnishes and overpaintings there occurred damage to or washing-off of glazes, sometimes including the top of final layer of the painting. The damage caused to paintings in this way then was the reason for subsequent overpaintings. Also the retouching of small defects was carried out in an original fashion, using oil paints and covering far more than the original blemish. The approach to filling was similar and so we often find beneath oil putty applied generously with a palette-knife a system of several smaller blemishes. All these procedures then caused further damage to the work or at best the deformation of the artistic intention of the author.

One is not, therefore, surprised by a critical memorandum of the thirties of the 19th century in which the famous painter Antonín Machek draws the attention of the municipal authorities to the dubious method of restoration of precious altar paintings in Prague churches, especially the painting by Karel Škréta in the Týn Church. He demands that such work be entrusted only to qualified artists and adds that »the artist must then be conscientious and not ask more than is proper.«
This situation led art historians, the founders of the Vienna School Alois Riegel and Max Dvořák, in the effort to prevent this damage, to the theory that it was better not to restore, merely to conserve. The basic work for the execution of the conservation concept of care for the cultural heritage is the Catechism of Care of the Cultural Heritage, published in Vienna in 1916, in which Max Dvořák developed and summarised Riegel´s ideas.
The effort for precise and safe delimitation of restorers interventions on the basis of exact investigation led us, around 1930, to the beginning of the introduction of natural science methods in restoration.

It is roughly here that we may seek the roots of the formation of two differing concepts of restoration. The first concept developed in our lands. It arose thanks to the fortunate conjunction of two strong personalities with exceptional artistic talent and exceptional esthetic sense, Academy Painter and restorer Bohuslav Slánský and art historian Dr. Vincenc Kramář, who each in his own field were exceptionally well-educated, grounded and sensitive professionals and who dealt with esthetic problems of intervention by restorers on a high level in mutual discussions. From this branch there developed the tradition of the Czech School of Restoration and the esthetic principles and technical and professional requirements formulated at this time are still practically valid today.

The founder figure of modern restoration in this country was Bohuslav Slánský. He studied painting at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts under Professors Pirner and Švabinský and then studied restoration in Munich, Vienna, Dresden and Haarlem. There he paid particular attention to questions of technology, the development of historical techniques of painting and natural-science methods applicable for the investigation of paintings. In his 1931 article »On the Restoration of Paintings« he expressed the basic requirements and principles of modern restoration which are in many respects still applicable today. The basic requirement is the restoration of a work in a way which does not disrupt the original, the use of reversible materials, absolute respect for the damaged original in retouching, etc. He further pointed out that restoration is a highly demanding and responsible task which calls for a widely educated and qualified artist restorer. It cannot be carried out by everyone who knows a bit about painting; in restoration scientific methods of investigation must be used. From today's point of view these requirements appear completely natural and are already generally respected, but at the time they were very modern principles.

Professor Slánský implemented these principles in his work. His theoretical opinions and the practical results of their application were published in professional articles.
After 1936, when he took the post of restorer in the State Collection of Old Art, his discussions and cooperation with the Director of the Gallery were also of great importance for the theoretical formation of the field. During the time he was working in this collection, later to become the National Gallery, he discovered and restored many Gothic panel paintings which he verified through his technological investigation and helped to categorise. In the investigation and discoveries of famous Czech Gothic Madonnas which Professor Slánský restored in the gallery use was already being made of all the methods still used by restorers today, such as x–rays, investigation under UV and IR radiation and investigation of the colour layers under a microscope. Even before 1930 conservation and restoration procedures were gradually being given a scientific basis. The suitability of conservation materials was critically investigated not only on the chemical side, but also on the optical side. The basic requirements were absolute respect for the preserved authentic state of the original, the precise definition of retouchings and fillings by the extent of the blemishes and the easy removal of retouchings and varnishes without risk of damaging the original colour layers.

We can, then, state that even before the Second World War there was in this country a clear theoretical and technological opinion in the spirit of modern restoration, but these principles were used only by a few of the leading restorers. Let me mention at least Adolf Bělohoubek, who was working with Vincenc Kramář even before the arrival of Professor Slánský in the restoration studio of the Gallery on the liberation of many works in the collection from the deforming yellow fllter of thick layers of varnish giving a flattening monochrome gallery tone to the paintings. This advanced care was, however, limited to the restoration of topquality works which were the centre of interest of the professional public. The other works were left to the care of the most varied workers, often without even the simplest craft skills.

The effort to broadcast modern principles throughout wide restoration practice led Bohuslav Slánský to found in 1946 a restorers´school of university level in the Academy of Fine Arts. From the beginning the teaching was based on a combination of art training in the painting studio and theoretical and practical professional studies in the restorers´studio.

The restoration of works of art then developed in this country into a speciflc independent art field, fully accepted by associations of artists and legislature.

A considerable part was played in the consistent implementation of the quality of restoration work in practice and the gradual inclusion of young graduates on the basis of detailed knowledge of their specific abilities and skills by the system of distribution and supervision of work and its approval by a single professional restorers´commission.

This system proved its worth and the results of the work of our restorers are generally highly valued in the world because of their sensitive artistic approach to restoration and to the interpretation of the damaged work. They are usually given the overall name of the »Czech School of Restoration«.

The Czech School of Restoration sees a work of art complexly as an indivisible whole, the material base of which is merely the vehicle of the spiritual artistic significance. An untrained technician without art training cannot fully understand and respect a work to the fullest extent of the authoťs intention. Not even a trained restorer who lacks the actual artistic preparation is capable of creating and realising the artistic concept of the restoration intervention or the artistic concept of the presentation of the damaged work. The Czech School of Restoration fully respects the authentic artistic form and material basis of the work, which retouching makes whole only to the extent necessary to make it accessible to the beholder. A quite natural requirement is an exact, one might say scientific approach to the work, cooperation with the scientist and the art historian in the investigation work, the use of reversible techniques and the preservation of the traits of age - here we have in mind the traces left on the painting by time - the patina and tiny, not quite suppressed blemishes, or the leaving of slight unevenness on the surface of the painting during the relining – in brief the subordina-tion of the entire restoration to maximum respect for the authenticity of the work. Also based on this is the artistic concept, created on the basis of the investigative work, which must be respected at all stages of the restorer´s intervention, whether during the removal of the darkened varnishes or overpaintings, or during retouchings and interpretation of the damaged work.

The second concept of restoration began to develop in countries where restoration carried on from a craft tradition and where restoration was still seen as a craft many years after the 2nd World War. In these countries unqualified restorers, without an university education, were guided in their work by art historians and technologists. These professions, which de facto participate in the execution of restoration work, began here to emphasise out of all proportion their importance for the actual work of restoration and at the same time to belittle the requirement that the restoration of a work of art should be dealt with by a trained artist-restorer who is capable of understanding the work of art fully, deciphering the delicate nuances of its painting technique and respecting all the phases of the author´s construction of the work. The requirement of the university education of the restorer is understood in those countries somewhat differently than here, because there they admit to their schools applicants without study of painting and with only preliminary education either in the history of art or in chemistry or in some cases in any university field. Restoration is taught in the form of post-graduate study.

In particular, however, it is reflected in the understanding of the work of art as such. Technicians speak of a work of art as material, a material structure which must be repaired by some technical process. They declare that for diagnosis of disease technical means alone are sufficient without artistic ability and actual painting experience of the restorer, which help him to penetrate the author´s handwriting, the author´s intention, the structure of the work.

In this country now we have a confrontation between these two concepts of restoration - the technical and what we might call the artistic, using scientific methods.
The technical branch, promoted by technologists, naturally emphasizes the technical side of restoration, which leads to the unhealthy and impious handling of works of art, to an exaggerated multiplying and development of analyses and to the excessive expansion of investigative research, developed from the technical viewpoint.


Questions are placed by the interest of the technologist, possibly also of the art historian, in information not directly connected with restoration but which broadens our secondary knowledge of the work.

It is certainly necessary to weigh things up carefully and decide if it is necessary to have this detailed information on the side, obtained at the expense of the work because of the greater number of samples which must be taken.

It is not possible to take 30 samples from a single Gothic panel just because this irresponsible taking of samples is being carried out by a technologist or even art historian ignorant of the problems of restoration from the state studio preferred by the communists, as happened in the case of the enforced investigation of the Theodoricus panels from Karlštejn Castle before 1989 simply because there was a greater statistical chance of confirming certain hypotheses.

For restoration we need to acquire from a few carefully taken and suitably selected samples the most precise and complete information possible directed towards the actual restoration.

I am fundamentally against the so-called large-scale statistical verification of some hypothesis, whether of an art historian or a technologist. We do not have the right to destroy a work in order to expand our own knowledge, to deal with a work with unbridled sovereignty merely as an interesting material structure. People who see a work of art as a technical material structure basically need more humility and a pious approach to the work. The restorer sees a work as a living organism where the matter is only the vehicle for an idea and he is educated towards this approach by his training and the whole of his work.

In this country, too, there occurred in the eighties a paradoxical effort, at complete variance with the tradition of the Czech School of Restoration, to promote a technical concept of restoration. By a decision of totalitarian political power the State Restoration Ateliers (StRA) were established as part of a planned network of state restoration workshops in which there were to be obligatorily employed, within the framework of so-called socialisation, freelance graduate restorers. In this way the almost fifty-year tradition of university-level artistic restoration was to be gradually liquidated and replaced by unqualified workshop craft work, controlled by technologists. In other words, the liquidation of the principle of the Czech School of Restoration.

Of this entire plan the totalitarian administration and interested technologists and art historians managed to realise only the centre – the State Restoration Ateliers, whose unqualified work disgraced them completely and they were boycotted by graduate restorers and the majority of investors.

The beginnings of this attempt coincided basically with the period of the teaching of the technology of restoration in the Chemical-Technological University (VŠCHT). Here they established the training of technologists for the StRA and the planned network of state restoration workshops.

Graduates from the Chemical-Technical University (VŠCHT) were trained on an implanted platform of opinion which is de facto foreign to the tradition of the Czech School of Restoration.

It is, of course, connected with the countries which have a different tradition, which I have already referred to, a tradition based on the technical understanding of restoration. The examples of these countries, better equipped for their profession, then serve them as an argument to throw doubt on the importance and present level of the Czech School of Restoration due to the insufficient instrumental equipment for detailed definition of the analysis of materials (e.g. binding media); such analyses, however, are not absolutely necessary for the actual execution of the restorer's intervention. From their technical position they do not fully appreciate the progressive nature of the concept of the Czech School of Restoration, emphasising the artistic nature of the work and the real cooperation of the restorer with the natural scientist and the art historian.

The result of this politically motivated and directed process was not only considerable damage to the cultural heritage, but also the deformation of relationships, the establishment of distrust and often even antagonism between graduate restorers and participating technical professions which, until then, had cooperated as partners each in his own field in the interest of the restored works of art. The fruits of this twenty-year anomalic situation deeply marked the cli-mate in the entire sphere of care for the cultural heritage and help will have to come from maintenance of cooperation in professional fields and a clear legislative limits.

After the forced departure of Professor Slánský from the school, caused by the impatience of his younger colleagues and implemented by political means, the continuity of the passing on of Slánský's opinions was disrupted for 20 years. His two-volume publication, a basic work of its time, which came out in 1955, and a reduced and supplemented re-edition of the first part on painter´s and restorer´s materials of 1977 were the last comprehensive publications issued here. A certain degree of stagnation was also caused by other factors: the inaccessibility of foreign literature and the insufficient contact, based only on individual relations, with technological development abroad, and last but not least the inaccessibility of new materials for the critical testing of their use in comparison with classical techniques.

This is, then, the present situation and also the task we are faced with: to gather all the new technological findings, to test their utility under present conditions here, to acquire the missing literature, store translations so that they are available to restorers and students in the Archives of Historical Art Technology (AHVT) and publish up-dated and expanded study material. This task is certainly great in extent and, if it is to be fulfilled to the required standard, it will call for the cooperation of a team of leading experts which will, I hope, work in the interest of the further development of the restoration field.

The realisation of this task will also call for considerable financial means which exceed the possibilities of the budget of the Academy of Fine Arts. To cover this expenditure I have just submitted an application for a grant from the Czech Government. The theme of the second grant, which the Academy of Fine Arts has submitted jointly with the Research Institute of Audio, Video and Reproduction Technology (VÚZORT), is the remote investigation of paintings using non-destructive multispectral optic methods. The programme for a digital computer record of a painting and its filling in a database, which is a condition of the project, would be an important step in the equipment of the Archives of Historical Art Technology (AHVT) and its connection with the database of the National Gallery. Apart from the already mentioned Archives of Historical Art Technology, which came into being under the auspices of the Academy of Fine Arts on the initiative of the Association of Restorers with the cooperation of the Institute of Art History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in 1990 and which publishes the annual Technologia Artis, the Academy of Fine Arts also strove to create a scientific-technical hinterland for the field of the restoration of works of art which would serve both the requirements of teaching expanded by the methods which the laboratory of the Academy of Fine Arts lacks, and also for the requirements of the National Gallery and as a service for the wide practice of restoration work. This project has not yet been realised for financial reasons. The equipment of the laboratory for our field, bought on the basis of the requirements of restorers by the Ministry of Culture in the eighties, was, then, on the basis of a dubious project of the State Restoration Studios (StRA), installed in the laboratory there; in spite of the fact that the StRA have disintegrated, the present Ministry of Culture has decided to maintain the laboratory for the wide sphere of the cultural heritage and refused its specialised use for the sphere of the restoration of works of art in the scientific-technical centre of the Academy of Fine Arts by a transfer from the Department of the Ministry of Culture to that of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Physical Training. The Academy of Fine Arts has, then, still got its own laboratory, very well equipped for microscope work (we have UV-, polarising and stereo-microscopes, including a stative binocular magnifying glass for restoration work) and thin-layer chromatography. We also have a relatively good x-ray for paintings, ramps with UV lamps and photographic equipment which are so far sufficient for the operation of the school and the normal requirements of tuition, but do not allow us to find the answers to more detailed questions concerning, for example, binding media, etc.

In order to allow our student´s to become acquainted with other investigative methods used at present we have reached an agreement on cooperation with the Natural Science Faculty of Charles University where we intend jointly to consider the use of still further methods of investigation.

In conclusion allow me oné topical comment on retouching. I think that today it is possible to observe both abroad and also in this country a certain shift in opinion on methods of retouching in the direction of imitative making whole of a fragmentary work. I would like to comment in this connection that the characteristic trait of the Czech School of Restoration was always a sensitive and artistic approach to a work which meant a middle path between the extreme of mere conservation of the preserved state of the work and the other extreme of imitative covering-up or even renewal of the original appearance without respecting the traits of age.

In my sporadic field-trips I see that there is often excessive retouching even in places where it is not necessary and often imitative retouching is used in a surprising manner, even though localised only to blemishes and differentiated by shading, from a distance it gives a very full, completely healed impression; it completely suppresses the basic authentic traits of ageing, the blemishes which the painting acquired in the course of the centuries. I speak of a distance for the reason that distance is an exceptionally important factor, especially in the retouching of wall paintings or in the retouching of polychrome reliefs in an interior, especially in the interiors of large churches. Here it is necessary to proceed in a similar manner to wall paintings, i.e. to count on the optical fusing of the shading of the retouching as a result of distance, to be humble in the amount of retouching and piously leave the small blemishes so that the retouched painting does not lose the authenticity of age and does not fuse into an unblemished whole.

I am not talking here of the tendency to »help« the original colourwise, typical of amateurs, or the shocking interchange of restoration and reconstruction typical of countries where it was necessary after the war to considerably reconstruct damaged historical works.

Karel Stretti, AHVT A 050