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Conservation-Restoration education and the development of the profession

René Hoppenbrouwers
Les formations en Conservation-Restauration et le développement de la profession [fr]


This article traces the evolution of the conservation-restoration profession as well as the role played by the professional organisations in defining high level training programs (university training programs or equivalent). While stressing the importance of interdisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity and the diffusion of knowledge- and this in particular by means of scientific and Open Access publications, the author outlines the decisive role of ENCORE in the field of education in conservation and restoration at European level.

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I am greatly indebted to Prof. Wolfgang Baatz (chair ENCoRE) and Dr. René Larsen, both founding fathers of ENCoRE, for their contributions to this text. The documents referred to in this text can be found on the website of ENCoRE,

1Over the past 60 years, the profession of the conservator-restorer has changed dramatically. Apart from some museum institutions and academies with an older reputation, it is noticeable  that shortly after the Second World War in many countries conservation shifted from a craft towards a more academically oriented occupation. The development of a more formal education of conservators ran parallel with the development of ethical guidelines and codes of conduct.

2During the past decades conservators, whether working in a museum institution or private, are also more and more involved in multi- and interdisciplinary projects working together with art-historians and scientists to unravel complex issues related to the preservation of our cultural heritage. Strengthening links with Conservation science has created valuable partnerships with the academic conservation-restoration programmes. Many schools have integrated research, testing of alternative conservation techniques and the application of new materials within the specific curricula. As a result, graduate, post-graduate and PhD students have delivered a huge contribution to the conservation field.

3Subsequently, knowledge dissemination is crucial for the further development of the profession and it is wonderful that also in this respect students keep playing an important role. The annual Gerry Hedley symposium is an early example where paintings conservation students from the Hamilton Kerr Institute Cambridge, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle and the Courtauld Institute in London share experiences and research. More recent is the initiative of the students’ conference on object conservation, a collaborative effort between several European conservation education schools. The earlier students get in contact with their future work field, the better. For this reason many professional bodies and conservation organisations offer special student memberships.   

4CeRoArt is the only magazine that on a regular basis dedicates a full issue to student’s publications. The papers sent in for this special students issue of CeRoArt testifies clearly where conservation and education stands now. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

5Although the value and often uniqueness of cultural heritage is recognised widely, it is still astonishing that the profession of the conservator-restorer is not protected. Apart from a handful of countries that by law has restricted work on cultural heritage objects to well educated and equipped professionals, in most countries the terminology ‘conservation-restoration’ unfortunately is still used by all kinds of craftsmen and technicians and for work that can better be described as ‘reconstruction’ or ‘renovation’ than conservation. As politicians are obviously not interested in more strict and clear regulations, the protection of the profession and consequently our irreplaceable heritage, is in the hands of the professional bodies, for instance by stimulating continuous professional development and through self-regulation and accreditation procedures. Parallel, the improvement of the quality of the profession lies in the hands of conservation-restoration education programmes. Raising public awareness concerning the meaning and importance of heritage and the necessity of maintaining high standards for the profession also plays an important role.

6For the first time in history, the profession of the conservator-restorer was defined at an international level in 1984 by ICOM-CC in the document The conservator-restorer:  a definition of the profession. During the following three decades, the Conservation-Restoration profession issued a number of European documents and position papers. In 1994, the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations (E.C.C.O.) drafted its Professional Guidelines:  the description of the profession of the conservator-restorer was refined and extended. Simultaneously a Code of Ethics as well as the prerequisites and necessities of education were defined. In 1997 a European conference was organized in Pavia with the title Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Towards a European profile of the conservator/restorer. This meeting resulted in the famous Document of Pavia that defined the conservation profession more fully and also paid attention to education and professional competencies.

7In the same year the European Network for Conservation-Restoration Education (ENCoRE) was established. ENCoRE promotes the academic level of the education of the conservator-restorer and research in the field of conservation-restoration of cultural heritage, according to the Professional Guidelines of E.C.C.O. and encouraged by the Document of Pavia.

8The 1998 Document of Vienna (the outcome of the FULCO project: A Framework of Competence for Conservator-restorers in Europe) represents the consensus in the European conservation-restoration community on verifiable professional standards for conservator-restorers and a number of related issues. It was also recommended that there should be a  harmonisation of conservation-restoration education at university level and at ‘recognised equivalent’. The clarification of the issue "university level and recognised equivalent" became a task for ENCoRE in the three years to come.

9At its third General Assembly in 2001 in Munich, ENCoRE delivered its contribution to this clarification in the form of the document Clarification of Conservation/Restoration Education at University Level or Recognized Equivalent. The clarification document took into consideration the 1999 Bologna Declaration on the European Higher Education Area.

10Ever since, the ENCoRE clarification document played an essential role in the protection of our profession. It also proved to be a valuable tool for endangered education programmes or as a weapon against negative developments in specific European countries. The document states that the quality, democratic control of, and public insight into conservation-restoration education can only be guaranteed by governmentally-validated academic education at university level, leading to protected and internationally recognized academic titles. It also puts forward that educational institutions which are not called universities, but which offer programmes of study which in length, content and quality are regarded by the governmental validating bodies to be equivalent to university degree provision, should be recognised as being at that same level.

11Further, it declares that being an academic discipline conservation-restoration is per definition based on the highest level of research, and that the basis of education consists of an appropriate balance between integrated theoretical and practical teaching. Moreover, the document defines that the conservator-restorer licensed for independent practice is per definition a graduate at Master’s level from a university or governmentally recognised equivalent institution, or doctoral research level (PhD), and that the overall length of study for entry into the profession or to continue to doctorate level should be five years.

  • 1 The European Qualifications Framework for Life long Learning, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publi (...)

12In 2006 the European Qualification Framework (EQF) was introduced by the European Commission, generically classifying levels of qualification on the basis of knowledge, skills and competences1.  According to the ENCoRE Clarification Document, the E.C.C.O.-ENCoRE Joint Paper  and the 2004 update of the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines III, the entry level for independent practice as a (fully professional) conservator-restorer is defined as being at Master level. Corresponding to annex 2 of the EQF recommendation, level 7 relates to the Master degree, whereas level 6 relates to the Bachelor degree and level 8 to the PhD. According to the EQF the required level for independent practice as a conservator-restorer is therefore level 7. The conservation-restoration profession was one of the first groups of professionals to respond to the EQF system and to work on a scheme that would apply as well to education as within the profession itself. The work E.C.C.O. dedicated to the development of definitions resulted in the publication of the description of the Competences for Access to the Conservation-Restoration Profession (2011), enabling to show the complex interrelation of knowledge and skills inherent to independent practice.

13At present, most European countries have recognised academic Conservation-Restoration education programmes accredited at level 7 according to EQF. ENCoRE represents a total of 41 of these programmes. Due to the hard work done in the past three decades, it is now possible to compare the different programmes based on defined learning outcomes, the quality of teaching and didactic methods. Also the exchange and mobility of teachers and students is better facilitated, although traditional language barriers are still an issue. Initiatives such as international symposia, conferences, periodicals and network organisations guarantee a better exchange of knowledge and improvement of mutual understanding. Introducing students at an early stage into these arenas, is extremely valuable and stimulating. Therefore, it is to be praised that again CeRoART offers the opportunity for students to publish the results of research and interesting treatments to the professional field by issuing a special "european graduates" volume. This initiative will definitely encourage students to be active in an international context which in the end will be beneficial for the care of the local heritage.

14The next step that needs to be made is to develop descriptions and definitions of those parts of the conservation-restoration educational programmes devoted to practice. Comparing the content of different education programmes is especially challenging as large parts of the teaching, training and performance of practice are based on tacit knowledge which needs to be transformed into meaningful written and spoken language and terms. Moreover, experience shows that in addition to the quality of content, high quality practice education and training also depends on the length of learning time and the teacher/student ratio.

15The present aim of ENCoRE is that all these necessary requirements can be specified on the basis of a clear and universally agreed definition of practice in conservation-restoration education. Therefore, ENCoRE has drafted the paper On Practice in Conservation-Restoration Education that will be discussed with all member institutions in March 2014 during the General Assembly to be held in Liège at Saint-Luc École Supérieure des Arts (departement Conservation, restauration des oeuvres d’art). During this meeting students will play a vital role composing posters concerning ongoing projects and using CeRoART as a podium for the conservation profession and academic research.

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1 The European Qualifications Framework for Life long Learning, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2008, ISBN 978-92-79-08474-4

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Electronic reference

René Hoppenbrouwers, “Conservation-Restoration education and the development of the profession ”CeROArt [Online], EGG 3 | 2013, Online since 14 May 2013, connection on 23 September 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

René Hoppenbrouwers

Trained as art historian and several teaching jobs at the faculty of Art History and Archeology at the Catholic University Nijmegen (1980-1989). Specialisation in 16th century panel painting. Trained as paintings conservator at the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (1990-1995). Working experience in studio’s of  the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in Enschede. From 1995 until 1999 research conservator in MOLART (Molecular Aspects of Ageing in Painted Works of Art), an interdisciplinary scientific research project funded and supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In 1995 he was employed by SRAL, also as co-ordinator of the curriculum of the Education and Training Programme on Conservation of Paintings and Painted Objects. This programme merged eight years ago with the University of Amsterdam. Since 2009 Hoppenbrouwers is director of SRAL. He is internationally active in conservation education organising training course at SRAL and as assistant working group coordinator of the Working Group Education and Training in Conservation of ICOM-CC and vice chair of ENCoRE (European Network of Conservation-Restoration Education) .

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Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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