A visual review of compensation philosophies for Islamic ceramics

Meg Loew Craft


Recent examination and treatment of several Islamic ceramics raised questions regarding inpainting and the desired degree of compensation. Examination of several 12-16th century earthenware bowls and dishes provided a visual history of past restoration techniques. Techniques included: insertion of sherds from other archaeological vessels, inclusion of modern ceramic inserts made for the restoration attempt, and filling and inpainting with various restoration materials such as plaster, shellac, oil paints, and watercolors. Past restorations reflected a wide range of attitudes from respect for the original artifact to blatant disregard for the original and surviving material.

The final aesthetic appearance of individual objects and the overall collection came under discussion. Questions which arose were:

1) Should the philosophy or approach be consistent for all pieces or is it totally dependent upon the individual object and its state of preservation?
2) Should compensation be invisible, obvious or neutral?
3) Who should be made aware of the extent of conservation? The casual viewer, the visiting scholar, or only the curator?

A review of treatments executed during the past decade shows changing approaches to compensation. Conservation materials have not changed significantly but the style of application has. Approaches have included: matte solid-colored fills, solid-colored fills with matched gloss, block-like or minimal design replacement, and more complete infill of design. The trend seems to have moved in a full circle from fairly complete but not invisible work, to very honest but often unaesthetic plain fills, and back again toward more aesthetic and complete restoration.

This presentation focuses on the appearance of several objects compensated using different approaches to inpainting, and a discussion of which style was finally selected and why.

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