What is restoration and conservation? What is the difference between these 2 concepts


This article aims to systematize the concepts of conservation and restoration and answer the question – what is restoration and conservation – based on the specifications of ICOM (International Council of Museums).

Reflecting on what is restoration and conservation is extremely important for all those who work in related fields of activity: conservators, restorers, museologists, archivists, etc.

But also for all those who have in their care objects of heritage value, whether they belong to the public or private Cultural Heritage (family, for example).

So let’s reflect on:

1 – Why conservation and restoration actions are necessary.

2 – What is restoration and conservation and what are the different levels of action.

3 – We will also indicate some useful links for the development of the theme.

what is restoration and conservation | concept

Why are conservation and restoration actions necessary?

Objects are created to accomplish a certain function, which can be aesthetic or functional.

Over time these objects gradually degrade for a number of reasons:

  • due to the nature of their constituent materials.
  • due to the environmental conditions to which they are subjected.
  • due to inappropriate use or even vandalism.

what is restoration and conservation

Example of degradation of a canvas due to poor exposure and environmental conditions

Conservation and restoration aims to make these objects endure by maintaining their physical and aesthetic integrity so that the message or function for which they were conceived remains for generations to come.

Conservation and Restoration covers several levels of intervention, each one with certain specificities, all of them having the purpose of preserving one or several objects.

So, what is restoration and conservation of heritage ?

what is restoration and conservation | degrees of intervention

These concepts correspond to different levels of action on the object.

– Preventive Conservation

– Remedial Conservation

 – Restoration

what is restoration and conservation | how these concepts are applied in practice

Preventive ConservationOnline course Preventive Conservation

Preservation (preventive or indirect conservation)

does not act directly on the object, but eliminates the potential degradation factors, that is, intervenes in the environment where the object is located.


Measures and actions required for registration, storage, handling, packaging and transport.

Control of environmental conditions (light, humidity, air contamination, insects).

Emergency planning, education of professionals, public awareness, legal approval.

These preventive conservation actions are essential to avoid degradation processes that can be destructive to works of art.

But also to avoid the need for much more complex curative conservation and restoration actions, with much more intervention on the objects and sometimes financially impractical.

Next we will see how the concepts of curative conservation and restoration are applied in practice.

Remedial conservation

Conservation (direct or remedial conservation)

acts directly on the object, interrupting or delaying its degradation.


Disinfestation of textiles, disinfestation of wood, desalination of ceramics, deacidification of paper.

Dehydration of wet archaeological materials, stabilization of corroded metals, consolidation of wall paintings.

what is restoration and conservation Desalination of tiles in order to stabilize them

Desalination of tiles in order to stabilize them.


Actions on the object that aim to restore the aesthetic value by returning the object to its readability and comprehension.

These actions only take place when the object has lost some of its meaning or function through alteration or deterioration.

The restoration of cultural objects is thus the last and deepest level of intervention.

Restoration actions must be very well thought out and justified.

what is restoration - ceramics

The process of putting together fragments of a piece that had lost its function and reading.



Chromatic reintegration of paintings, assemblage of a sculpture with gaps, reintegration of gaps.

what is restoration and conservation | when are interventions justified?

In the following summary table we can see what the interventions consist in.

What is the level of intervention on the object and when are the different types of conservation and restoration interventions justified.

Levels of Operation

Preventive Conservation

Action on the object

No action on the object


Preserve the external conditions necessary for the longevity of the object

Intervention timings

Permanent – The preservation conditions must always be safeguarded

Remedial Conservation

Action on the object

Act on the object


Interrupt or delay degradation processes

Intervention timings

When degradation factors are verified


Action on the object

Act on the object


Return reading and/or function to the object

Intervention timings

Only when the object has lost its readability or function

Useful Links

By clicking on the link below you can analyze the specifications related to these concepts on the website of the ICOM (International Council of Museums)

European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisation

Learn more in our conservation and restoration online courses with certificate.