Restoration in Slovakia Past and Present

by Eva Ševčíková

An aspiration to save, cherish and renew old and beautiful things and artistic creations is a manifestation of human culture and civilized man since time immemorial, from era of ancient advanced cultures. The restoration process of monuments and works of art in collections has acquired many different forms in course of history, ever until the 20th century, when it formed, in context of rising demands for quality and professionalism of conservation and restoration of cultural heritage, a separate professional discipline with its own legislation, organizational platform and educational base.
The restoration of monuments and collection of artefacts is one of the essential components of the overall system of their protection and it represents a wide range of activities. One of them is the restoration process itself – a unique, challenging and highly specialized way of recovery. It is considered such also by the current legislation. The Act No. 200/1994 Coll. on Chamber of Restorers defines the restoration process as follows: “By restoration activity … is meant a specific creative action, which is a summary of works performed at cultural monuments or collection artefacts, which are artistic creations in the field of painting, sculpturing or applied arts… The restoration work in particular includes the examination of the work of art, its preservation, interpretation of the aesthetic value and documentation. “(§ 4 section 1).
Subject to restoration as a specific type of reconstruction are primarily works of visual art (paintings, sculptures, reliefs, murals…) and handicrafts (stucco decorations, goldsmiths’ items, smith works or carvings, furniture, textiles…). To answer the question why these artefacts are subject to restoration we have to examine especially the manner of their creation: if they were created by visual artists (painters and sculptors in particular), or they were made by artistic craftsmen (carvers, plasterers, goldsmiths, stonemasons, etc.), while these craft products often have, in addition to their aesthetic expression, also a functional value. In conclusion or simply said – the way of their recovery by restoration or preservation, optionally by handicraft rehabilitation or treatment, stems from the fact that as they were created by artists or artistic craftsmen, they should be cared for and restored in the same way.
However, besides visual art and handicraft works, especially in recent decades, more and more often also other historical elements and components of buildings (stone articles, historic plasters, tiles, etc.) become subject to restoration, which is associated with an increasing demand on quality and professionalism of recovery and an overall protection of historic architecture. At the same time, recently the restoring demand has been expanding to other kinds of objects such as glass and window-panes, books and printing, leather articles, historical musical instruments, photographs and textiles etc.
In the same way, in which restoration has evolved into a separate discipline, also the single profession of the restorer has developed into a separate category of an irreplaceable vocation. Since restoration in its current sense a unique process, creative and scientific at the same time, the profession of restorer requires high professionalism and talent. It can be affirmed with certainty that in no other profession nor any other process where creativity, science and technology are equally represented and mutually interlaced. As we are talking about restoration of art works, obviously a predisposition of the restorer for artistic work, sensibility, creativity and talent are necessary. Compared to artists freely forming their own production, the restoration process itself is much more demanding – restorers must be able to give up the proper artistic view, be able to free themselves from their own creative way of expression, and in turn must be able to understand the intention and the idea of the original author of the creation, identify themselves with the artistic perception of the author and with his/her way of artistic expression. This is the condition for being able to restore the disturbed or damaged creation into the most authentic form and as close as possible to the original expression, so as to make it possible to revive and retrieve the unique artistic and spiritual message of the creator, the aesthetic experience and the spiritual content of the art work.
However, talent and artistic skills are not sufficient for performing good restoration. The restorer must be prepared, not only from the humanitarian aspect, but must be also scientifically and technically capable. This is valid despite the fact that nowadays there are standing, so to say, side by side with the restorer other experts and specialists from different disciplines and technical fields. Also restorers themselves must be acquainted not only with the history of art and handicraft, but also with currently and historically used materials and must be familiar with historical and current techniques and technologies. They must also be familiar with modern research methods and be able to evaluate and implement their results.
Currently the claims on restoration process are high, and with increasing quality requirements for historic preservation and restoration in its complex, also requirements on professionalism and quality of restoration rise. The process of restoration is considered to be an interdisciplinary matter. Other than the restorers themselves, art historians and theorists, historians and archivists, but also natural scientists – physicists, chemists, petrology and mineralogy experts, biologist and also technology experts are always more frequently getting involved in the restoration process. Increasing emphasis is put on the initial stage of restoration – the restoration research, as well as on the importance of preciseness and exactness of all acquired knowledge about the art work. The best available knowledge of the item is another essential prerequisite for a successful realisation of the restoration with a positive result.
Restoration in Slovakia is currently on a high quality level; it is comparable with other industrialized nations, which have a long tradition in restoration. There are good preconditions and framework assumptions for a qualified execution of the restorer profession in Slovakia – the existence of vocational education has gradually built up a large base of skilled restorers, organizational and institutional framework and legislative standards governing and regulating the restoration of monuments and artefacts do exist.