Complementary to “preventive conservation” is the definition of “remedial conservation”.

ICOM-CC defines “remedial conservation” as follows:

“all actions directly applied to an item or a group of items aimed at arresting current damaging processes or reinforcing their structure. These actions are only carried out when the items are in such fragile condition or deteriorating at such a rate, that they could be lost in a relatively short time. These actions sometimes modify the appearance of the items.”

According to ICOM-CC following examples are typical for remedial conservation.

“Examples of remedial conservation are disinfestation of textiles, desalination of ceramics, de-acidification of paper, dehydration of archaeological materials, stabilization of corroded metals, consolidation of mural paintings, removing weeds from mosaics.”

This list is far from complete since techiques and treatments are often used in different fields where they are adapted to the specific material concerned.

Who can be involved in remedial conservation?

The diversity of materials and the complexity of problems posed by cultural heritage objects demand a thorough knowledge of materials and processes of deterioration. It also demands specialist theoretical knowledge and practical skills on a high level for accurate treatment of this heritage. Although there are common elements, each material demands a specific plan of action. In practice there is no doubt that remedial conservation is the playing field of conservator-restorers with a material-specific education.

In some cases remedial conservation includes a number of technical interventions in which not-conservators can be of assistance. This is only possible and acceptable when these persons have received beforehand a thorough theoretical and practical basic training and formation. Moreover these persons will always only be allowed to work under the immediate supervision and guidance of a professionally schooled conservator-restorer. Decisions about what intervention is necessary or desirable for an object will always be the prerogative of a conservator-restorer specialised in this kind of object. The conservator-restorer will always remain responsible for outlining the course of action of the treatments, the necessary conditions, the appropriate techniques and the materials used.

What are the costs of remedial conservation?

The cost of remedial conservation will be dependent on multiple factors including: the number of affected objects, the nature and the gravity of the damage, the necessary infrastructure, the fact that the treatment is performed in-house or out-house, the treatments and materials used.

In how far is it possible to perform remedial conservation in-house?

Any institution can perform remedial conservation in-house provided the two following conditions are fulfilled: the execution has to be done by a conservator-restorer and the necessary infrastructure should be available.

If, due to circumstances, the institution does not employ a conservator-restorer but happens to possess the necessary infrastructure it is always possible to hire a conservator-restorer to do the job. If the institution employs a conservator-restorer but does not have the proper infrastructure, it might be possible to rent it for the time necessary to perform the treatment. If none of these are available in-house the instution will have to outsource the job to an outside partner.

In how far is performing remedial conservation in-house preferable?

Performing treatment in-house is only an advantage as both abovementioned conditions are fulfilled. The advantage consists of keeping control of the collection all the time. It means that the objct or the collection does not have to be transported, which limits the risk of damage by manipulation and transport. Even so the risk of theft should be minimal, although professional conservator-restorers, working independently, take also all necessary precautions to avoid theft and break-in.

What happens after remedial conservation?

Following remedial conservation it is normal procedure to implement preventive conservation. What this implies depends on certain factors: the housing of the object or collection, the way of preserving, the character of the ofjects…

For example: suppose a severe mould grow on furniture due to rising humidity from the ground up. The cause, which is due to a problem with building physics, has to be tackled and remediated before thinking of putting the object or collection in this room again. If it would seem that there is no amelioration of the situation, even after an intervention, the objects concerned should not be put back in their usual place, but should be transferred to a new location.

There is no sense in performing a treatment on an object or a collection when these are put back, after treatment, in identical conditions of those who caused the damage and where the risk of a new or similar event can be expected.

Exempels of remedial conservation


Foto: treatment of paper (Guy De Witte) 


Foto: panel painting - before treatment (Bart Verbeke)

Version 2

Foto: panel painting - after treatment (Bart Verbeke)

Naaien katern

Foto: attaching a loose quire (Guy De Witte)


Foto: treated archaelogical ship (Guy De Witte)

Copyright for all pictures on this site unless stated otherwise

Author: Guy De Witte



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Although conservation has been a concern from the Early Ages on, conservation as a scientific discipline took off after the second World War, especially in English speaking countries as the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Later other countries stepped in, conservation gathered momentum and is now applied worldwide.

Anybody working in conservation nowadays has to be able to work in international context and has to keep himself informed of new evolutions in the field. Since publications are not only published in English it is very important that people understand each other when discussing conservation topics.

During these years many terms came into use: preservation, conservation, passive conservation, active conservation and many others. Because of the different languages in the world the terms did not always mean exactly the same thing in different countries. This lead sometimes to misunderstandings and confusion.

Therefore the Committee for Conservation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC) proposed some terms and definitions to be used in international context. This terminology was accepted during the 15th Triennial Conference of ICOM-CC in Delhi (India) in 2008 by the attending members. This terminology is now being used in all current contacts and literature. It was approved in English and French and translated in Spanish. By now it has found its place in many languages.

The general term “conservation” is defined by ICOM-CC as:

all measures and actions aimed at safeguarding tangible cultural heritage while ensuring its accessibility to present and future generations. Conservation embraces preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration. All measures and actions should respect the significance and the physical properties of the cultural heritage item.”

The general notion “conservation” was refined by 3 other definitions, each of them well specified. These are:

  • Preventive conservation
  • Remedial conservation
  • Restoration

Moreover all measures taken have to taken into account the “meaning” and the properties of cultural heritage. We will come back to this when we talk about historical and material context of cultural heritage.

In French the current terms are now:

  • Conservation préventive
  • Conservation curative
  • Restauration

In Spanish the terms are:

  • Conservación preventiva
  • Conservación curativa
  • Restauración

Similar terms are now being used in Italian , German and many other languages.

This terminology is quite similar to the one used in medicine, where a distinction is also made between preventive and remedial actions. In medicine prevention is everyone’s concern, while the act of curing or stabilizing processes is the prerogative of specialists. We find this distinction also in conservation. In a broad sense conservation can be considered as the health care for cultural heritage.

In a next post we will explain the difference between preventive conservation, remedial conservation and restoration.


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The fact that you read this blog shows that you are involved or interested in collection care and safeguarding cultural heritage. So you are just the public we are trying to reach: from professionals to private people interested in the Art of Conservation.

“We did not only inherit our cultural heritage from our ancestors, we are also borrowing it from our children”. This free interpretation of the quote “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our childeren” and found originally in a slightly other version in a book of Wendell Berry:”The Unforeseen Wilderness: an Essay on Kentucky’s Red River Gorge”, is what it is all about. A responsibility and respect for our past, the delight of enjoying much beauty and the moral obligation to pass this on to future generations so that they can, with their own eyes, see where past, present an future merge together.

Maybe you will ask yourself “Why another blog/site about conservation?”. There are lots of good sites around from all kinds of organizations concerned with collection care of cultural heritage. So why this extra blog/site?

As co-developer and teacher of the “Cultural Heritage Staff Training”, organized by the Flemish Department of Education in Belgium I noticed that people have a constant and even growing need for knowledge about the “how” and “why” of deterioration processes, composition of art and cultural objects and assessments of materials and techniques. These are also the questions I continuously have. Therefore my aim with this blog is to provide more insight in the underlying science and scientific laws governing the survival of art and heritage.

In the 25 years I have been professionally involved in the field of conservation I have realized that safeguarding art and cultural heritage objects are a very complex matter comparable to a 3-dimensional building. Here we can consider all aspects of conservation as being in the horizontal plane, vertically linked to each other by the pillars of science as physics, chemistry, biology, climatology and a score of other disciplines working and interacting globally.

Conservation is not only a scientific and technical discipline, it is also an “Art”. For a good conservation empathy with a collection object or building is absolutely necessary. The feeling for the object, its composition, its history, its properties are a conditio sine qua non to achieve an adequate conservation. A boy of 7 years old, for whom I repaired one of his favourite books, called me his book doctor. This is one of the most beautiful compliments I ever received. Taking care of books is like taking care of people. Feeling out the patient or the object go beyond the necessary scientific discipline. Conservation is more than a profession, it is a way of life.

Want to know more about me? Just look at “About” or click on the following link


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