Connoisseurship, aesthetics, and ethics: Factors influencing the conservation of the decorative arts

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Smith, Sandra; Derbyshire, Alan; Oakley, Victoria;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number S1, p.279-285 (2012)


Decorative arts are not only the result of the finest craftsmanship but also a reflection of innovation, experimentation, the culmination of enquiry, and exploration. Their aesthetic beauty has ensured their continued preservation, but the market imperatives to develop new fashions have transformed them through time. Many decorative art objects exhibit successive interventions which cause change not only to their decorative surfaces, but sometimes their structure. Consequently, decorative art objects have many ‘values’ which have to be considered and balanced during their conservation. Conservators treating these collections must have an understanding of original technology and be able to interpret stratigraphic restoration history, as well as determine which iteration of the object's lifetime should be presented. Using conservation case studies, the paper explores the importance that material type, analysis, historical context, aesthetics, and ethics have on deciding what treatment decisions are made, and highlights the particular ethical and technical challenges found in a museum dedicated to design and decorative arts.