The Anatomy of Art

A glimpse behind the scenes at the Rijksmuseum

Tucked behind the Rijksmuseum is a more modest design of Cuijpers. A chocolate- coloured villa that once housed the Safety Institute. Since 2009, the Ateliergebouw has housed all of the restoration departments of the Rijksmuseum. But appearances can fool. Behind the facade is a slender hypermodern building designed by Cruz and Ortiz. Wide corridors, plenty of light, no mess and a quiet scientific endeavour. This could equally be a medical research laboratory!

From barber surgeon to medical specialist
And the comparison is not that far fetched. Gone are the days of ad hoc restoration based on gut feeling and personal opinion. A modern art conservator is more akin to a skilled physician diagnosing and treating a patient than the hit and miss practices of medieval barber surgeons. A conservator’s training therefore bears many similarities with that of his medical counterpart: a long training postgraduate training period (5 years) with a lots of hands on experience, and the need to specialise in a certain field (books, wood, furniture, glass, metal, textiles, photos, painting, etc.). Just like physicians conservators need a strong knowledge base (art history, restoration techniques and technology) but the focus is always on the art object (the patient) as no two objects are the same.

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