Students observing a stained-glass panel

Conservation-Restoration Education in Europe in General, and at the University of Antwerp in Particular

Prof. Dr. Joost Caen, FIIC

Until now conservation-restoration education at academic level is mainly situated in Europe. In many countries this is a way to reflect on the own history and the local identity in relation to a globalising world. Building museums, protecting historical monuments and sites, establishing archives and libraries, etc. involves, among others, the contribution of well-educated conservator-restorers. With this paper I want to present the recent evolution in the field of conservation-restoration education in Europe and explain the present ‘state of the art’ at our school for conservation in Antwerp.

Posted 19 March 2015

Share this:

Recent developments in Europe[1]
Conservation-Restoration education in Europe evolved significantly since the Second World War. Some decades ago ‘restoration’ of cultural heritage was in many cases a crafts based activity and training was merely a matter of co-operation during these activities. In many countries it became clear that the level of these interventions was very often quite low, as the knowledge of materials and techniques got lost more and more. Moreover there was often neither any ethical background nor basic scientific research.

Later it became also increasingly evident that the conservation of cultural heritage poses problems too complex to be solved within the then existing systems of practise, based on craft skills supported by related academic disciplines e.g. art history, science, etc. Therefore in many European countries new programs were established at universities or at schools with similar academic levels.

During this time many academic study programmes in conservation-restoration of cultural heritage became established in Europe and graduates from these institutions began to enter the field of conservation-restoration. Although different in level and quality of provision, all these study programmes aimed to draw together the necessary practical and technical skills with those of related humanistic and scientific disciplines. They were designed to provide structured programmes of study where practise was supported by a clear underpinning of knowledge, and where research could be supported and fostered. The science of conservation-restoration became established which is the basis of practical skills (both preventive and interventive) necessary for the conservation of cultural heritage.


[1] Parts of this text are based on the following article: R. LARSEN, A. BACON, J. CAEN: ‘The European Network for Conservation/Restoration Education; promotor of research and education in the field of cultural heritage’ in Cultural Heritage Research: a Pan-european Challenge, Cracow, 2002, p.169 -172.

The dangers of commercial interests and pressures, which could result in poor quality conservation-restoration with potentially disastrous and irreversible results, were also acknowledged. The Document of Pavia recommended “the establishment of a regulatory framework to guarantee the quality of intervention on cultural heritage or its environment in order to avoid the negative impacts of market forces…” [1]  e.g. in Greece, a law was passed on education and practice in conservation/restoration[2] and an Act of Protection of the professional title “Restorer” was passed by the Parliament of Mecklenburg Vorpommern, Germany, to ensure necessary quality in the protection of cultural heritage.[3]
Although conservation-restoration is now well established as a subject area within universities and other academic institutions in many European countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, United Kingdom) in others it is less well established although some courses offered may have the same ‘level’ of provision as a university. In the last 15 years, there has been a clear move towards a more common agreed level and structure to courses supported by the Bologna agreement to implement a common European higher education system.[4]
More than ever, cultural heritage has become a matter of global importance and interest. The study and conservation, or the lack of study and conservation, of this heritage has become an issue with political and ideological implications. This reality urges us to act more carefully towards our cultural heritage. UNESCO defines cultural heritage as the entire corpus of material signs either artistic or symbolic, handed on by the past to each culture and so to the whole of mankind. Cultural heritage is not only a source for business and economy but a fundamental condition for the maintenance and development of society and its economy. The preservation and presentation of cultural heritage should therefore be a corner-stone of any cultural policy. This policy can not longer depend on separate actions from individuals. Also the historic gap between theoretical and practical people has to become closed. Therefore it is of the highest importance that we educate specialists of the highest level who are able to work together with specialists in related fields and to bring together the three most important parameters to conserve cultural heritage. These parameters are: ‘knowledge’ gained by research; ‘skill’ gained by exercise and above all the correct ‘attitude’ gained by developing carefulness, critical sense and maturity.


[2] Banik, G.: Dentist, Cook and Washerwoman. Models for Training Co-operative Skills in Conservation Science and Practical Restoration. Conservation-Restoration. 25 Years School of Conservation. May 1998. Konservatorskolen, Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi 1998. ISBN 87-89730-25-9. p. 29.
[3] Schiessl, U.: A Law for the Protection of the Professional Title “Restorer”. ENCoRE Newsletter 4/2000, p. 17.
[4] The Bologna Declaration. The European higher education area. Joint declaration of the European Ministers of Education. Bologna 19 June 1999. (Published in ENCoRE Newsletter 4/2000, p. 23.).
[5] Conservators-Restorers of Cultural Heritage in Europe: Education Centers and Institutes. A Comparative Research.  CON.BE.FOR. Associazione Giovanni Secco Suardo, Lurano (BG), Italy, 2000, ISBN 88-8420-001-6.

Prof. Dr. J. Caen and students in the Glass Conservation Studio

Students at work in the Glass Conservation Studio

Students at work in the Glass Conservation Studio

Since governments decided to start conservation studies at academic level in order to educate conservator-restorers with a good knowledge of historical materials and techniques; modern conservation materials and techniques; human sciences; natural sciences; ethics and of course also manual interventions, the main goal is to conserve the object ànd its history as a “unity”, this in opposition to treatments in the past where too often only aesthetic or commercial parameters were dominant. Furthermore the conservator-restorer became a full partner in the family of specialists (art historians, archivists, architects, conservation scientists, …) who is presenting objects of cultural heritage to the public in a comprehensive way. Especially his or her knowledge of the materials and techniques can contribute now to the better understanding of the object; the designer of craftsman behind it, and the initial (and sometimes also later) cultural context.
Since these programs started we notice a growing consensus about the content and the required quality of the courses as well as about the necessary competences to run a ‘Conservation School’.
At the meeting in Vienna (1998) held between 43 representatives of European educational institutions, research institutions and organisations within conservation-restoration, the need for clarification of university level and recognised equivalent in conservation-restoration education was expressed (FULCO project).[6] In the document of this meeting it is stated that this task should be co-ordinated by ENCoRE[7], in association with the CON.B.E.FOR. project. This has now been achieved in the form of the document “Clarification of Conservation-Restoration Education at University level or recognised equivalent” carried unanimously at the third General Assembly of ENCoRE in Munic, June 2001.[8]
This document is the contribution of ENCoRE to this clarification taking into consideration the Bologna Declaration on the European Higher Education Area, and it states that the necessary existence, access, and protection of cultural heritage as a right to all humankind  make great demands on the quality as well as democratic control of and public insight into all aspects of cultural heritage activities and management including education. 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 recognised academic titles. Moreover, the clarification document defines that educational institutions, which are not called universities but which offer academic programmes of study which in length, content and quality are regarded by the respective governmental validating bodies (such as Ministries of Education) to be equivalent and/or compatible to university degree provision should be recognised as being the same level.
In the ENCoRE-clarification document, the discipline of conservation/restoration is defined as an empirical science, devoted to the prevention and treatment of the decay of objects of cultural heritage. It is characterised by being a mixture of theoretical.


[6] The Document of Vienna. European Conference “A framework of competence of conservators-restorers in Europe”, 30 November-1 December 1998.
[7] European Network for Conservarion-Restoration Education.
[8] Clarification of Conservation/Restoration Education at University Level or Recognised Equivalent. ENCoRE, Munic, June 2001.

Conservation of Archaeological vessel glass

Conservation of a Art Nouveau panel

Workshop glass blowing with the students at the 'Glazen Huis' in Lommel

knowledge and practical skills, and includes the ability to judge in a systematic way on ethical and aesthetic issues. It has its origins in arts and craftsmanship as well as in the humanistic, technical and natural sciences. Cognitive and systematic analysis, diagnosis and solution of problems as the basis for practical conservation and restoration skills is what differentiates the conservator-restorer from the artist and the craftsman. The strong basis in practical skills and knowledge of the complexity and interactivity of object material behaviour and information including environmental influences is what differentiates the conservator-restorer from professionals in other related academic fields. These definitions form the basis of, and characterise education and research in the field of conservation-restoration.
Conservation Studies in Antwerp (Flanders, Belgium)
Since 2013 ‘Conservation Studies’ has been integrated in the University of Antwerp (Faculty of Design Sciences). This program was established in 1988 and consists of a three year Bachelor Degree and, at present, a one year Master Degree. The program is based on four essential pillars:

1 Object-oriented thinking and a contextual treatment approach
2 Research and accumulation of knowledge in the human and natural sciences
3 Acquisition of ethical insight and professional attitude
4 Development of technical competences and skills 

These pillars are strongly linked with one another and as such they constitute the basis of an integrated Conservation Studies program.
The BA offers a basic package of practical and theoretical program components which familiarise the student with the appropriate methods and attitudes. Students mainly study the history and the materiality of the objects to be conserved, develop manual skills, study modern conservation-restoration techniques, are confronted with collection-management problems and learn how to document a conservation process with the purpose of making correct diagnoses and recording the treatment approach for future scholars. All this fits into a broader framework of research in the humanities and the natural sciences, as well as the acquisition of the ethical insight that will ultimately enable to develop a comprehensive conservation concept. Step by step, the student compiles his own curriculum whereby he or she evolves to a specific area of expertise. A broad range of possible majors is available: ceramics; easel paintings; glass and stained glass; metal objects; mural paintings; paper and books; photographic documents; polychrome objects; stone sculpture; textiles and costumes; wooden sculpture and furniture. If at all possible, this may be adapted or extended in accordance with own interests or with the requirements of the heritage sector.
During the MA degree the student focuses on a ‘master project’ and a ‘master dissertation’. A specific aspect of the major has to be deepened and is mainly situated in one of the following three areas:

1 Conservation-restoration practice
2 Conservation research and conservation science
3 Conservation management and policy making

All program components are taught and supervised by an expert team of professors and assistants. Several of them have a PhD-level, either in conservation-restoration or in art history or chemistry (conservation science). The students’ work and methodology is continuously assessed to ensure constant progress. A more in-depth evaluation is made at the end of each semester. At least once per academic year our students must present their work to a jury, open to the public. This provides an opportunity to demonstrate the mastered skills, integrated with theoretical and practical insights. Theoretical program components are assessed separately, usually by means of an oral or a written program.
Our program demands a lot from students, as the (prospective) conservator-restorer must inevitably work with unique and irreplaceable objects belonging to monuments, archaeological sites, museum and private collections, archives and libraries, etc. In order to attain the required standard of work, Conservation Studies in Antwerp aims at combining a broad cultural baggage and aesthetic sensitivity with manual skills and scientifically sound research methodology within a strict ethical framework. In addition our students have to make study tours and visits to museums and monuments, as well as to other study programs, research centres and exhibitions and specialised fairs. Such visits help them to broaden their perspectives and pave the way for a future apprenticeship or professional career. The conservation-restoration sector is very dynamic in Europe, witness the many conferences, colloquiums and workshops that are organised in Flanders and abroad. As our program intends to offer students up-to-the-minute information, we stimulate strongly our students to participate in such events. Conservation Studies in Antwerp is also involved in exchange and apprenticeship programs with other European schools through the Erasmus-framework. Of course, we strongly hope that we will be able to enlarge our students and staff exchanges in a more global way, thanks to the present contacts with Conservation Studies at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts.
Our program produces skilled individuals with very specific competences. Graduates are appreciated in the professional field, not only for their technical and scientific knowledge and expertise, but also for their ability to develop appropriate conservation concepts. There is currently great demand for highly-skilled conservators in Flanders, the rest of Europe, and without any doubts, also in other parts of the world.
For all these reasons we have to continue our efforts to improve the quality of conservation education everywhere. From our side we are willing to do whatever possible in order to contribute to the request from your institute. We believe that conservation of cultural heritage will not only strengthen the local or regional identities but inevitable also mutual and global understanding and respect.
Other references:
1 E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines (II). Code of Ethics. Brussels, 11 June 1993.
2 E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines (III). Basic Requirements for Education in Conservation/Restoration. September 1994.
3 Document of Pavia. Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Towards a European profile of the conservator/restorer. European summit. Pavia, 18-22 October 1997.
4 The ENCoRE Document of Constitution. Dresden, 1997.
5 I.C.O.M. The Conservator-Restorer. A Definition of the Profession. Copenhagen, September 1984.
6 I.C.O.M.O.S. Guidelines on Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles and Sites. Colombo, 30 July – 7 August 1993.

Read Artists' Portrait Joost Caen>

University of Antwerp
Faculty of design Sciences - Conservation Studies
Blindestraat, 9
B-2000 Antwerpen, Flanders, BELGIUM
+32 (0)3-2137134

Leading up a stained-glass panel

Chemical tests

Copying a 17th century pane

Copyright © 2013-2019  Glass is more!        Copyright, privacy, disclaimer