Alicia Peral, art restorer at the Museo del Prado
"Every single work at the Museo del Prado is different from all others, a new challenge"
Alicia Peral was beneficiary of the Iberdrola - Museo del Prado Scholarships for Training and Research in Restoration in 2013 and 2015. Today she is part of the Restoration Department where she once worked as a trainee.
Those who work in this profession say that restoration work is like going off on a trip — a round-trip journey full of mystery and excitement —. The first part is spent tackling a work from the past and the idea with which it was conceived, and the second part is spent recovering its message, essence, and relevance.
These meticulous travellers are the art restorers, and their profession is an art in itself. Alicia Peral, an art restorer at one of the most important art centres in the world, tells us more about herself.
When we visit a museum, we only see the façade of the artistic pieces that fill its rooms. However, there is much more to it than meets the visitor's eye. How important is the Restoration Department?
The magnificent state of conservation of the works at the Museo del Prado is the result of both the ongoing and the historic work of the Restoration Department. The image of unity conveyed by the collection is the result of the work carried out by the restoration workshops.
Tackling the restoration of a work of art entails responsibility, precision and respect. What does it mean to you personally?
Every single work is different from all others, a new challenge. Each restoration task is a learning process that begins with the need to know in-depth the piece on which you are working. Tackling a restoration means uncovering the idea with which the work was conceived and retrieving its message, its interest and its significance.
Could you describe a day's work in the life of an art restorer at the Museo del Prado?
One of the best things about working at the Prado is that each day is different. Despite the general perceptions about this profession, it is truly an agile job. Most of the time is dedicated to the restoration itself, but each work has its own process, and everything is documented in the historical database of the Museum. But that is just part of the job. We spend most days reviewing works and documenting their state of conservation. We also publicise our work in journals and conferences.
What is the longest restoration process that you have witnessed? And the most complicated?
In recent years, one of the longest and most complicated processes carried out in the workshop has been the restoration of a canvas by Titian: Philip II offering to heaven the infant Don Fernando. It is an important work for the Museum, being quite large and having a long history of interventions. Specifically, I had the honour of participating in the final phase of the restoration, and I learned a lot by collaborating in the execution of such a complex and complete piece of work.
New technologies have also entered into the field of restoration work. What techniques are currently being updated?
Radiographic imaging, infrared reflectography, micro-sample analysis by means of scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). In addition, we work with all kinds of digital photographic documentation and highly specialised cleaning materials.
However, although these techniques are very important, it is essential that the art restorer who uses them has sufficient knowledge and experience to know how to identify the limits during the restoration process.
THE IBERDROLA AND MUSEO DEL PRADO SCHOLARSHIPS FOR TRAINING AND RESEARCH IN RESTORATION
In collaboration with the Prado, Iberdrola has been offering annual scholarships in restoration aimed at young professionals since 2011. What is your main objective, and what knowledge do the trainees acquire?
The purpose of the scholarships External link, opens in new window. is to train young and future professionals in this field. Thanks to these scholarships, trainees develop their skills in a restoration department which possesses a wealth of material and human resources. They learn in one of the international museum institution best prepared for complex interventions in works of art.
Scholars are trained in each and every one of the tasks carried out by an art restorer: They learn independence when they contribute to a painting, become accustomed to tackling problems by studying new techniques, and soak in knowledge simply by working with others.
When were you granted the scholarship? What was your experience like?
I was awarded it in 2013 and 2015, two periods that lasted 10 months each. The experience was vital to becoming the art restorer that I am today. I remember the need that I had to learn from everything that was happening in the workshop. My experience consisted of working, observing, and learning.
How does it feel to work surrounded by one of the most important artistic collections in the world?
It is exciting. Sometimes, if you stop to think about the importance of many of these works — their material history, their age, what they entailed at the time — the responsibility can be overwhelming. One of the best moments of the day is strolling through the halls when the Museum is still closed. Looking at it alone when everything is quiet. Trying to understand the nuances of each work, of the great works.
How would you encourage other young people to apply for this research scholarship?
It is a unique opportunity both for learning and professional training as well as for your personal life. You learn through your work and the work of the professionals that make up the Museo del Prado and, in particular, the Restoration Department itself. You start to understand the works of art in a deeper way — what they entail, what they convey —. In summary, you will represent the future of restoration in Spain and guarantee the conservation of our historical heritage.