Disturbing news from Italy that Piero della Francesca's fresco of The Resurrection is to be 'restored' (link in Italian, via Maaike Dirkx). Recent record of fresco restoration in Italy has been horrific. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and Masaccio's frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel have both been hideously botched. True fresco painting applies pigment to wet plaster, which absorbs the pigment. But fresco painting didn't stop there; details were painted on after the plaster dried, called a secco. These details have often scrubbed and scoured by insensitive recent restorations. It's tragic that so much damage has been done so recently to major works of art that had survived centuries of benign neglect.
I saw this great Piero recently in Sansepolcro. It didn't strike me that it needed any restoration. But conservators want the prestige of working on the most important works of art, rather than those that actually need conserving. So great artworks are hacked about again and again, whilst lesser works crumble for want of attention. Money is desperately needed to conserve Pompeii, and to improve access to thousands of lesser attractions in Italy. The restoration of the Piero is being sponsored by an un-named individual. The fashion for sponsoring restorations is tawdry. Some galleries have a credit line against almost every other picture to identify to sponsor of the restoration. I worry that it incentivises the conservators to make pictures look as different as possible to show the sponsors how much effect they've had.
In finance the phrase 'this time is different' is used derisively against those who imagine that the latest bubble will end happily, unlike every bubble that has gone before. There is something similar in the world of art restoration. It is freely admitted that previous restorations were disastrous, but we are always assured that the next one will be different, because we are so much wiser. The truly wise course of action was recommended in the fifth century BC: first, do no harm. Please leave the Piero alone.