Restorers’ training at the Hungarian
Academy of Fine Arts

The training of painting conservators at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts started in 1948, which is a very early date even internationally. Sculpture conservator training began in 1970. Later, new fields were also introduced within these degree courses, like restoration of mural paintings for instance, in 1972. As opposed to the other degree courses at the Academy, where the training lasted for four years, it took five years of full-time courses for the students of the Department of Conservator Training to receive a degree. The Academy obtained university status in 1971, and since then it gives a university degree (Master of Arts, or MA degree), but the name of the establishment was changed from “Art College” (colleges give BA degree) into “Art University” only on 1 January 2000. The Object Conservation Department was established in 1974. It offered four-year part time courses. They were changed into five-year university degree courses in 1991, yet, they remained to be part-time programmes. Hopefully they will soon offer full-time programmes as well.

At present, only the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts can give a degree in conservation in Hungary.

The Development of Conservator Training

Works of art were _repaired” by painters and sculptors for centuries, since they were the people who knew the materials and the techniques, and they were the ones who had the necessary artistic talent for such a task. As the appreciation of the objects of the old times increased, it brought along the development of this activity into a field of study on its own right, the appearance of the profession of restorer - conservator. At the beginning, only works of high art were restored by professionals, it took time to realise, that every single object left to us from our ancestors is a precious and irreplaceable relic of times past, and that is why we must ensure their preservation at the highest standard. Conservator training started usually at art academies (Vienna 1908, Vilnius 1922, Torun 1946, Prague 1947, Warsaw 1947 etc.), generally only as a supplementary programme, and was confined to the treatment of works of high art. This is in fact the answer for a question often asked: why it is not at the Academy of Applied Arts where conservators are trained.

The contents of the profession of the conservator, and along with it, the training have changed enormously with time. At the beginning, conservators were artists who dealt with repairing paintings and sculptures besides creating their own works, only as a supplementary occupation, to earn money. Their activity was compared to that of a performing artist who creates new artistic values by the masterly interpretation of someone else’s work of art.

The Present

There has been a complete change in the attitude towards the work of conservators. The international professional organisations all agree that the profession of the restorer-conservator represents a new, interdisciplinary field of study. The conservator must be in possession of a decent level of fundamental knowledge in natural and social sciences, and at the same time, he/she has to be able to intervene on the objects on a high artistic level, in excellent quality. A new requirement is also emerging: the best restorers should equally stand their ground as researchers in this new, special field. Today, the activity of a restorer - conservator extends over the whole range of our material heritage. There is general accord that only a person who is in possession of a university degree in conservation can be considered a conservator, and the only appropriate training system is the one which provides a further opportunity for students to obtain a University Doctor (PhD or DLA) degree in this field. More and more universities in Europe offer this opportunity, including the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts which has alredy launched its DLA program.

At the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts students can obtain a degree in conservation at three different degree courses. They are all five-year, full time programmes, which end in defending the student’s degree thesis. They are the following:

- Painting Conservation Degree Course
- Wood Sculpture Conservation Degree Course
- Stone Sculpture Conservation Degree Course

The Professional Content Of Art Conservator Training

The proportion of theory and practice is approximately equal in our training system. The number of students’ weekly hours is many, around 40 hours a week.

Practical Education

In the first two years, conservator students, as well as the students of the other art departments (eg. sculptor, painter) develop further their fundamental artistic skills. They draw, paint, and model applying a variety of different techniques. The requirements are set by the standard of the Academy. The continuation is slightly different at the three conservator degree courses, but they are designed along the same guidelines. Students copy works of art applying the original techniques, later work on the conservation of original works of art. The tasks are planned to be gradually more and more difficult. The assignment of the last year is the complete conservation of a highly valuable work of art. In the course of this process students are required to solve difficult problems, do preliminary research and scientific examinations, set up professional plans and finally, prepare a thorough documentation.

Theoretical Education

The system which has been evolving for several decades, and which is still subject to continuous development, leaves little room for elective courses.

The systematically planned obligatory material is so vast, that special interests may rather be satisfied in the last year, or at postgraduate courses.

There are subjects which are compulsory for all the students of the Academy. They are the following: art history (10 semesters), artistic anatomy (4 hours a week/4 semesters), history of architecture (4 semesters). Students can choose one or more from among courses at different levels in four foreign languages, of which English is recommended.

There are special subjects for conservators:

- Physics
- Chemistry
- Analytics
- Materials Sciences
- Protection of Objects of Art
- Museology
- Protection of Monuments
- Painting techniques
- Costume History
- Iconography

The most weighty field represented by these subjects is probably that of natural sciences, as materials sciences, protection of objects of arts and painting techniques all cover branches of natural science. Materials sciences, for instance, deal mostly with the internal structure of wood, the reasons of its decay, wood-beetles, fungi and the protection of wood against the latter.

Chemistry, physics and protection of objects of art deal with the materials of works of art and their ageing, the reasons for their damages, the methods and evaluation of scientific examinations. These subjects all together represent a considerable number of hours weekly.

Certain very important and regular subjects are not included in the official curriculum. Such subjects summarise systematically the history of art techniques, the theory and practice of conservation. Although at present the reports of the students in these subjects count only as part of their practical course mark, these subjects will hopefully soon become major lectures on their own right.

The Department of Object Conservation

The training of object restorers takes place at the Institute of Conservator Training of the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in cooperation with the Hungarian National Museum.

The students of the department can obtain a degree in object conservation at five different branches. The branches are the following:

- Siliceous objects Conservation Degree Course
- Metals and goldsmith’s work Conservation Degree Course
- Furniture and wooden objects Conservation Degree Course
- Paper and leather objects Conservation Degree Course
- Textiles and leather objects Conservation Degree Course

Restorers’ training at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts The Object Conservation Degree Course is a five-year, part time programme. Students who successfully defend their degree theses at the final examination, obtain a university (MA) degree. In the first three years, greater emphasis is laid on the theoretical subjects: theory of conservation and restoration (archeological pottery, metal and organic materials), art history, cultural history, ethics and history of conservation, chemistry, physics, botany and soil science.

In the course of the practical classes, students become familiar with the techniques of producing objects of various materials, their examination, conservation and restoration. They also learn how to deal with the problems that might occur at archeological excavations, in store-rooms and exhibitions.

In the last two years students continue their studies in the chosen specialisation. As for diplom work, students carry out the conservation of a valuable object of art going through the entire conservation process with the preliminary scientific examinations, and with previous study in technical history and art history. The work of a revealing number of 85 teachers ensures the varied education at the Department.

Recent Developments

1991 - The Donator Foundation was created by the professors of the Institute of Conservator Training to improve the material conditions of education.

1994-97 - A laboratory was set up for the scientific examination of materials, thanks to the amounts that the Institute won on the competitions of the FEFA Fund, with the active assistance of the professors of the Institute. The laboratory serves educational purposes as well as the high standard planning and execution of the work of conservators. Mr. László Kriston, professor of physics at the Institute, has regularly carried out phototechnical, X-ray and XRD examinations from the middle of the 1970s. After the facilities have been established, towards the end of the 1970s, the students themselves began to perform the phototechnical examinations.

1995 - The College of Conservators started functioning. Its lectures serve the professional development and the spreading of up to date knowledge among conservators.

1999 - The DLA program started.

The Institute of Conservator Training is foundation member of ENCoRE, one of the most important European organisations for the establishment of a new system of conservation and conservator training which meets all the new requirements and satisfies the high standards of our age. Thus, the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts can be among the ones who shape the new European regulations and define the guidelines and requirements of education. This is, at the same time, one of the most important guarantees that besides preserving our own valuable traditions, we advance together with the rest of the developed countries.

István Bóna
Jr. lecturer