What is preventive conservation? Get to know the 5 key premises


In this article we will see what is preventive conservation and what the origin and importance of this concept, essential to the conservation of Cultural Heritage.

“A bad restorer can destroy an object within a month. A bad conservator can destroy an entire collection in a year”

Based on the Preventive Conservation online course.

In this article we will address:

1 - What is preventive conservation in its origin and how this concept arose.

2 - What are the 5 basic principles on which Preventive Conservation is based.

3 - What are the objectives of Preventive Conservation.

4 - What is Preventive Conservation as a set of procedures to safeguard the Heritage.


We relate Heritage with a people and their material or immaterial goods.

Because of the timeless value they express, these goods must be taken care of as fundamental elements of society and culture.

The collective memory is the heritage of our ancestors and it should be transmitted to future generations.

This heritage must be preserved and restored and demonstrate, whenever possible, the beauty of the Past.

Preventive conservation is a way of preserving our heritage, the memory of all of us.

what is preventive conservation | origin of the concept

what is preventive conservation - learn in the online course

In the late 20th century, Gary Thomson showed the importance of controlling the environment of collections by stating that:

un mauvais restaurateur peut détruire un objet par mois. Un mauvais conservateur peut détruire une collection entière en un an “.

(“A bad restorer can destroy an object within a month. A bad conservator can destroy an entire collection in a year”).

Gäel de Guichen will add something more to the matter of preserving the past, being the first to use the expression «Preventive Conservation».

According to this author, what yesterday consisted of simple objects may today represent social and patrimonial collections.

What is preventive Conservation of Cultural Heritage

what is preventive conservation to Guichen

His concept of preventive conservation means removing the objects or collections from insecure environments, through a set of attitudes aimed at safeguarding them.

The application of these attitudes relies on some premises, which we can state.

1 – Common sense.

2 – Memory.

3 – Intuition.

4 – Reason.

5 – Ethic.

These assumptions in conjunction with scientific knowledge allow for a correct (direct or indirect) behaviour toward the objects.What is Preventive conservation of cultural heritage online course

Interventions on works of art are considered direct performances.

But such actions as controlling lighting, temperature, relative humidity (RH).

Rules of procedure, safety plans, preventive conservation plans, definition of spaces, hierarchies and tasks are considered indirect interventions.

And those are in the area of Preventive Conservation.

To answer the question what is preventive conservation we have to look carefully at all the aspects that we can control without direct intervention on the object.

And we have to relate the concept with the risk assessment and risk management methods.

Read the post about risk management.

what is preventive conservation | objectives

According to the «Professional Guidelines of European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations»:

«… Preventive Conservation consists of indirect action to retard deterioration and prevent damage by creating conditions optimal for the preservationOnline course Preventive Conservation of cultural heritage as far as is compatible with its social use.

Preventive conservation also encompasses correct handling, transport, use, storage and display.

It may also involve issues of the production of facsimiles for the purpose of preserving the original.»

 In other words, preventive conservation consists of indirect actions that slow down the deterioration and avoid damage by creating optimum conditions for the preservation of heritage legacy as much as possible.

These actions go from correct handling, to transport, storage or exhibition, as well as the production of copies in order to preserve the original.

What is preventive conservation

The idea behind preventive conservation is, therefore, to be careful: to prevent preservation problems that might be found in the collections.

And this assumption, inherent in preventive conservation, is common to all those who, directly or indirectly, deal with heritage value and whose actions aim to enhance, preserve and promote heritage.

In other words, care for the memory of the Past so it can have a Future.

Useful links:

Canadian Conservation Institute


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