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Conservation concepts and practice

A number of concepts guide conservation practice. These have developed over the last half century, but are rooted in earlier thought and deliberation (Ashley Smith, 1982; Stanley Price, 1996; AIC, 2016; ECCO, 2016; Icon, 2016). It is often argued that the most ethical approach to conservation is to accept an object in its current material state and, as far as possible, to prevent further change (preventive conservation). This normally involves modifying and controlling the environment in which objects are housed or displayed (Williams, 1997; Caple, 2012; Staniforth, 2013). However, few objects are stable or undamaged – there may be a spot of corrosion, or a loose component, which needs to be dealt with in order to ensure the safety of that object. It is generally agreed that as conservators we should aim to retain original material, and that conservation treatment should involve doing only what is necessary to ensure the desired safety and stability of the object, and no more. This is often described as ‘minimum intervention’ (Muñoz Viñas, 2009). Just because we could do something more is no justification unless it would make a real difference to the long-term stability or understanding of the object. The concept of minimum intervention may sometimes seem contradictory in practice because in some cases the condition of an object is such that it actually requires very extensive treatment, and regular maintenance, to ensure some form of continued existence and accessibility. This is the case with highly degraded waterlogged wood, which would simply shrink and collapse unless fully treated – the Tudor warship the Mary Rose being a good example (Pearson, 1987). Although lengthy and complex, the treatment given was still the minimum required to secure the future of the ship and to provide some form of access to visitors.

Figure 3

Colour photograph of the wreck of the Mary Rose ship during renovations

Conservation of the Mary Rose

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160608/004