Over the past few decades, heated debates in the field of conservation have probed the principles underpinning art restoration. Though controversy among restorers may be partly justified by the complexity of the profession, the discipline’s main problem is arguably lack of rigorous self-analysis – i.e. of an understanding of why the activity is performed in the first place. At a time when preservation of cultural heritage is promoted as a universal cult, philosophers are urged to re-examine the conceptual assumptions that guide conservation practice, assumptions that too often go unnoticed. In this paper, I put some of these ideas under the spotlight to test their conceptual consistency. I argue that a notion of restoration as a “truth-based” activity groundsmany professional charters around the world and is widespread in much ordinary discourse. From this perspective, conservation’s primary aim is to help maintain or reveal an artwork’s true, authentic, original nature. However familiar these expressions sound, they are nonetheless philosophically puzzling. Which material state is the “authentic” state of an object? What condition deserves to be called “original”? What “truth” are we trying to restore? It seems that what we consider the “true” condition of an art-object is often just the preferred condition we have in our mind or taste. Restorations executed in the name of truth result from the social expectations determined by the cultural framework that is predominant in a society. Despite the alleged objectivity of the language used to describe it, conservation is driven by subjective considerations, decisions and values. Choosing one or another solution depends upon interpreting which meaning of an artwork should prevail at the expense of the others (the historical over the aesthetical, the functional over the archeological, etc.). To this extent, as Cesare Brandi puts it, restoration has a critical rather than technical mission.
Giombini, L. (2020). For the Sake of Authenticity: Philosophical Concerns in Art Conservation. In R. Zoltan Somhegyi (a cura di), Aesthetics in Dialogue: Applying Philosophy of Art in a Global World (pp. 203-221). Berlin : Peter Lang Verlag.