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.
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
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
- 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.
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
The system which has been evolving for several decades, and which is still
subject to continuous development, leaves little room for elective courses.
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
There are special subjects for conservators:
- Materials Sciences
- Protection of Objects of Art
- Protection of Monuments
- Painting techniques
- Costume History
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
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
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
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.