Last year at the British Museum’s Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greece exhibition, one of the most outstanding pieces was the Apoxyomenos, see: The Croatian Apoxyomenos. It was a relatively recent find, discovered by a tourist diving off the sea in Croatia, which was lifted from the seabed and then conserved by the Croatian Institute of Conservation in Zagreb.
This reminded me of the impressive work of the Croatian Institute of Conservation at the time I was there in the late 90s, researching my final year conservation dissertation. The work and expertise of the conservators at the time was concentrated on the conservation and restoration of pieces damaged during the war surrounding the break up of Yugoslavia. Sadly now this topic seems rather apposite. As in does my final year dissertation thesis, which was on the subject of the vulnerability and destruction of cultural heritage in conflict, disaster planning and the role conservation could play in this context. This was particularly with reference to the break up of former Yugoslavia and lessons learned through the ensuing conflict by conservators in Croatia.
A lot of the practical post conflict work of the Institution, and the area I was researching in particular, was the damage to polychrome sculpture – which had been removed from churches to prevent destruction, but often then suffered damage, either in the emergency removal or in temporary damp storage conditions. The work of the institution and the conservators there was highly impressive. Due difficulties finding copyright holders I am unable to share the actual images from the time, but the images below, by Ms Larisa Pervan Čizmić in 2009, show a piece from the Tabernacle from the Church of our Lady of Annunication in Hvar, similar to the type of pieces treated at the time and showing similar problems with flaking, loss and damage. The images are copyright of The Croatian Conservation Institute with many thanks to the Institute director, and to Sasa Tkalec for permission for their help and permission to use them in this blog. The final image is from the time, of myself working on a section of polychromed altarpiece.