Conservation and restoration
Preserving, protecting and promoting cultural heritage for the present and future generations are the core tasks of the conservation specialists at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA).
From expert advice to restoration
A team of 35 experts makes every effort to optimally preserve, protect and promote our cultural heritage. Our conservators are specialised in specific objects, materials or periods, such as panel painting, paintings on canvas, stone sculptures, wooden sculptures, textiles, ceramics, glass, wall painting, polychromy and preventive conservation. They have extensive experience and a broad international network.
They are divided into two research units and six conservation studios. Thanks to their interdisciplinary approach, they can advise, carry out and follow up on simple and complex conservation projects.
Our conservation studios and research units
The greatest masters from the 14th century to the present day have passed through the skilled hands of our painting experts, from the Van Eyck brothers, Pieter Bruegel, Lambert Lombard, and Peter Paul Rubens to Claude Monet or Constant Permeke. We study, conserve and restore their work with meticulous care.
We study and treat polychrome wood sculptures, but also sculptures made of ivory or of wax. We have a double mission: to gain a better understanding of sculptures and to ensure that they are optimally preserved for future generations.
From monumental gateway buildings to small museum pieces: our team gives each stone sculpture the customised study and treatment it deserves. Our team leads research on materials and techniques, conducts pilot restorations and carries out conservation-restoration projects.
At the Textiles Studio, or Conservation Studio for Historical and Contemporary Textiles, Clothing and Accessories, we focus on a wide variety of heritage items. Our starting point? Interdisciplinary research to understand the object's materiality and the context in all its dimensions. This results in treatment with minimal intervention and maximum respect for the historical and present-day function.
Belgian heritage also includes many items made of glass. Our glass experts devote themselves to the study, conservation and restoration of these gems. Since 2021 we have also been focusing on ceramics.
The Wall Painting Studio performs pioneering work in interdisciplinary research, prevention and conservation, oriented towards scientific study and practice.
Window and door frames, ironwork, stucco, wallpaper... They give historic façades and interiors their unmistakable character. Our expertise on these pieces of heritage is indispensable in many restoration projects of listed buildings.
Prevention is better than cure. The Preventive Conservation team maps out all the risks of damage to an item or collection and advises you on avoiding problems.
Sustainability is a broad theme that is an inherent part of our work, yet it requires a change in our mindset and daily practices. With the creation of the Sustainability Unit, KIK-IRPA puts emphasis on a sustainable transition through interdisciplinary collaboration within its own walls and for our Belgian Cultural Institutions.
ArtGarden: Research Enclosed Gardens and preventive conservation of Mixed-Media objectsDiscover this project
How do you preserve items made of various materials, such as the Enclosed Gardens (Besloten Hofjes) in Mechelen? Within the ArtGarden project, an interdisciplinary research team determines the ideal preservation conditions for these kinds of historical mixed-media items. We make the results accessible to the broader heritage sector through an online tool.
Who can contact us?
We focus on high-quality works of art with a significant art-historical value or with added value for scientific research. We work for the most diverse clients: churchwardens, public collections, private collectors, regions and municipalities, managers of protected monuments, etc.
Fundamental values of international ethics
To adequately conserve heritage, it is essential to understand its historical, material and immaterial context. Regarding the practical implementation, we adhere to the international code of ethics of the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers Organisations (E.C.C.O.). Our guiding principle is that the interventions must be minimal, reversible and recognisable out of respect for the history of the object:
- Conservation treatment is limited to the bare minimum. Conservation should not be confused with renovation or reconstruction.
- Only products, materials and techniques that do not damage the heritage item, even in the long run, are used. The intervention may not in any way impede subsequent treatments and research.
- Any intervention or addition must be recognisable either to the naked eye or through examination methods.
How does a conservation process work?
Defining preventive conservation for the works of art in a church, examining the original layers of paint in a historical house, desalinating a sculpture, devising the correct way to display a historical costume, fighting woodworm, etc. Each project is different, but a conservation process usually consists of the following five steps:
- Prior research on the materials and techniques used, the place of conservation, etc.
- Diagnosis: we map out the damage and examine the storage conditions, the ambient climate and the set-up – all factors that may have contributed to the deterioration and might well cause further damage.
- Test phase: through small-scale tests, the most appropriate interventions are proposed, discussed with the parties involved and elaborated.
- Intervention: we take the necessary steps to conserve the heritage item.
- Intervention file: we describe, justify and document every project in detail.
The intervention file: invaluable transfer of knowledge
For each project, we compile an extensive file with a report of the research carried out, the techniques and products used, damage drawings, photos before, during and after treatment, and advice on preservation conditions.
The documentation of the scientific imaging (such as U.V. photos, infrared reflectography, X-rays, MA-XRF) and the analyses (cross-sections, dendrochronology, etc.) are also added to the file.
It is the conservator-restorers who gather the know-how of the various experts – chemists, art historians, physicists, engineers, geologists, dendrochronologists, etc. – to better understand, treat and valorise the heritage item.
The files are important for future restorations and art history studies. They allow us to know exactly how an object was handled.
Lectures and publications
We transfer knowledge in the most diverse ways. Regular information sessions are held at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage or project sites. Our experts attend workshops and study days, and numerous projects are published in specialised literature and through the press and social media. You can get a behind-the-scenes view of the conservation of Saint Martin’s Church in Aalst, for example.
Are you the owner or manager of a work of art or a heritage site and concerned about its conservation-restoration? Please contact us!
Or contact our research units or conservation studios directly.