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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