Pictorial restorationPictorial restoration.
Max Friedlànder (1867-1958) argues that the art historian, for whom the work is a document, can fully oppose any restoration that goes beyond the conservation and removal of additions: “he wants to see clearly what there is of the original, but he does not want what is no longer there “.
However, the work of art cannot be considered only a testimony to be safeguarded for the benefit of specialists: its use, today more than ever, concerns large groups of the public, most of the time unprepared to read a painting characterized by a gap in the pictorial fabric, as would happen in most cases if the restoration interventions were limited to the pure conservation of the physical data.

Pictorial integrationPictorial integration.
Notwithstanding the fact that it is necessary to evaluate how much and how a gap, in terms of size and position, can damage the vision of the work, it has been observed that the pure and simple conservation of a mutilated image can spur the observer to a fantastic reading and, in any case, based on the degree of culture of the user, therefore extremely varied and difficult to predict. Conversely, the reintegration of the image, when performed on the basis of certain indications, avoids the possibility of false or inauthentic interpretations, by adequately communicating the figurative and historical contents that the work testifies. As regards the possibility of leaving the gaps in sight without carrying out any type of intervention on them, it can also be objected that, if with this choice the full historical respect of the work is implemented, the intervention is not sufficient to guarantee the best transmission to the future: the parts not protected by the preparation layers tend to absorb humidity more quickly, generating conditions of instability inside the work.

skinningIf restoration theorists and art historians have argued for a long time on these problems, no less complex has been the debate around the methodologies to be used in the case of a pictorial restoration, as is understandable given the complexity of the problem. This is certainly not the place to dive into such a topic, but any restoration intervention involves, whether we like it or not, a decision, even in the choice of non-intervention or in the event that integration appears to mediate the various points of view that have historically been outlined: “you can also take a middle path – suggests Friedlander albeit with some doubts – that is, plug the flaw so that the gap does not jump to the eye, disturbing the overall effect, but still reveals itself to a careful examination “. Generally valid and prevalently adopted criterion, without prejudice to its difficult application in cases (see the image on the side) in which the gaps are not well defined.

RetouchingThe first phase of reintegration involves filling the gap, generally performed by pouring gypsum and hot glue onto the affected area. This process is called “in-filling”. Once dried, the gypsum is brought to the level of the pictorial surface by scratching the excess with the blade of a scalpel. The brush strokes and imperfections of the original surface are then imitated with chalk and glue diluted in a larger amount of water. In some cases, a certain amount of colored pigment can be added to the plaster, in order to give a similar tone to that of the original preparation.
There are particular situations in which it may be decided not to carry out any further intervention on the in-filling, thus obtaining a neutral reintegration, in the hope of obtaining something not too evident.

NeutralA neutral color differentiated from the shades surrounding the gap (undertone) is also a used solution; in this case an attempt is made to re-establish a formal and chromatic connection between the parts of the work and, at the same time, to obtain the cancellation of the “figures” that the gaps, as areas of enclosed surface and usually smaller in size, tend to create making the surviving areas of the work go less noticed as their background. In the relationship between figure and background that is created between the painting and its gaps, there are, in fact, elementary conditions that determine the appearance of one of the two figures in the frontal plane. As it has been said, the smaller area and the enclosed surface tend to be perceived as the figure, but also the lighter area, the warmer and more saturated colors and the greater density of the texture.

Reintegration Rigatino In-painting

In the event that it is planned to proceed beyond the neutral reintegration, the gap will be connected with the original color, using watercolor, gouache and “varnish” colors (pigment mixed with mastic resin), thus ensuring the most absolute reversibility of the operation, a fundamental condition whatever integration technique has been chosen. This also applies to the rigatino and color selection inpainting: the connection of the color and, in this case, also of the shape, is performed with a parallel hatching whose texture, clearly visible at close range, disappears when moving away from the work (the same, of course, applies when the pictorial restoration has been carried out with the pointillist technique).

Pictorial ReintegrationSubject to the most varied criticisms – even if not devoid of supporters and in any case widely used in some particular situations – is instead the imitative, mimetic or competitive restoration, terms used to indicate an intervention that once completed does not allow to distinguish the restored parts from the original painting. This method of integrating gaps, in fact, directly clashes with one of the fundamental postulates of the restoration of works of art: recognizability. This, together with the reversibility of the intervention and respect for the original, must always guide the choices of the restorer.

Manfredi Faldi – Claudio Paolini

ArtisEstratto da: Artis (Art and Restoration Techniques Interactive Studio), Direzione scientifica: Manfredi Faldi, Claudio Paolini. Cd Rom realizzato da un gruppo di istituti di restauro europei, con il determinante contributo della Commissione Europea nell’ambito del programma d’azione INFO2000.

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Technical notes:


Xylene, the solvent commonly used to dilute colors on the restorer’s palette, can easily be replaced with isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol). The solvent power of isopropanol on varnish colors is less effective, it will therefore be necessary to insist more with the brush on the palette but this solvent has the advantage, in addition to being much less toxic, of making it easier to apply a glaze of color on another without the latter moving.


The optical phenomenon of metamerism can create many problems for the restorer in the phase of integration of the lacunae, in particular when the pictorial intervention is performed on light blue colors such as the sky of a landscape or the blue mantle of the Madonna.

Metamerism, an optical phenomenon whereby two materials that appear to be of the same color in particular light conditions, by changing lighting, are different. The human eye, in fact, perceives color in relation to the light radiations that strike it and transmits to the brain the color corresponding to the dominant wavelength, so they can be perceived as similar materials that actually reflect a different spectral composition.

The phenomenon is of particular importance for the restorer who has to integrate lacunae on a painting that can then be exhibited under different lighting conditions: retouching carried out in artificial light and indistinguishable when observed under the same lighting conditions can, even if rarely, result in different tone than the surrounding area if illuminated by sunlight or artificial light sources with different spectral emission.

French: Métamérie – Italian: Metamerismo – Spanish: Metamerismo