Kyoko Nakahara

May 9, 2022 | Restoration

Kyoko, how did you become a restorer? What was your educational path?

I have always enjoyed the world of art, especially painting and music, since childhood; my parents took me to painting courses for children; at home I admired the collections of international art catalogues and art encyclopedias, for hours and hours, browsing among the various artistic techniques.

The interest in conservation and restoration, however, came later, and is linked to moments related to the world of Italian restoration. I associate the first moment to reading the special article  on “Gijutsu Shincho”, an art magazine well known in Japan, on the restoration carried out by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence, in the 1980s, on Botticelli’s “Primavera”, belonging to the Uffizi Gallery. I was particularly struck by the story of the restorer, Paola Bracco, and of her joy when, returning from work, she discovered in her garden the same species of flowers painted in the artwork.

The second moment is associated with reading the interview with Leonardo Passeri, former chief restorer of the OPD, in the magazine “Brutus”, also well known, on the profession of restorer. He spoke of the importance of the union of science, the history of art and the technique of restoration.

Finally, a decisive moment was the visit to the exhibition, “Florence: Renaissance Art and Restoration”, in Kyoto in 1991, curated by Antonio Paolucci, then Superintendent for the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Florence and Pistoia, Giorgio Bonsanti, at that time Superintendent of ‘OPD and Annamaria Petrioli Tofani, former Director of the Uffizi. It was the first Restoration exhibition in Japan, I think, and it fascinated me immensely.

Who would have imagined that after some time, I would have met all of them in Florence and would have had the honor of their teaching in Conservation and Restoration trainings! I still owe to them deeply.

I decided to come to Florence to become a restorer of cultural heritage in 1992, and initially attended the Institute for Art and Restoration, ‘Palazzo Spinelli’, then the Higher Education School of the Ministry of Culture, Opificio delle Pietre, after passing its very competitive selection. 

I had the honor of attending lessons by excellent restorers, art historians, scientists and photographer.

At the same time I also worked in the atelier of Leonardo Passeri, a master of art, as well as a restorer.

My educational path is long and continuous; after the OPD, I also got a degree at the University of Tuscia and participated in numerous national and international trainings.

Let’s talk now about your work. With Art-Test there have been many opportunities for collaboration, which one do you want to remember?

Thanks to Art-Test I was able to obtain the radiographic analysis for an oil painting on canvas of the XVII century, belonging to the Uffizi Gallery. The Xrays analyses were very important in taking a decisive direction in designing the overall restoration.

They allowed to investigate the state of conservation of the original layers, hidden by the ancient fillings, and repaintings.

The X-ray plates showed that underneath the massive fillings in many parts the original canvas was still present, however not so was the original color, which was almost lost.

After considering the outcome of the investigations and the observations carried out on the work, it was deemed appropriate to carry out a differentiated cleaning operation.

It was decided not to remove some not original parts, probabily dating back to the seventeenth century. The old canvas was not removed, as it did not compromise the stability of the work.

With a deep experience as a restorer, in some cases it is possible to ‘guess’ the technique of execution and/or the state of conservation. Very often, however, this is impossible without scientific diagnosis, as in the case just discussed. Allow me to compare it to the field of medicine; who would dare to ask the doctor if the tumor is benign or malignant without taking a biopsy?

In general, what are the most common problems encountered during a restoration in which diagnostics tests are most useful? And what are the advantages for a restorer to combinea restoration project with a targeted diagnostic campaign?

I would say that a preliminary scientific diagnosis campaign is always useful and desirable. As I said before, it helps to understand the technique of execution and the state of conservation of the work; which is important in order to plan an appropriate conservation and restoration intervention. If the conservative problems are major and difficult to deal with, a diagnostic campaign becomes indispensable.

The public institution such as the OPD with which I have collaborated for various conservation and restoration and research projects, always conduct a diagnostic campaign before carrying out any conservation and restoration work. While as a private restorer (even when working for public artworks) this is not always feasible for financial reasons. Personally, I always carry out at least the non-invasive photographic diagnosis, such as UV fluorescence, IR, IR false color, for both public and private works.

The most critical problem arises when more sophisticated and expensive diagnoses are required (Radiography, IR Reflectography, Tac, XRF, FT-IR, IR-Raman, FORS, Cross-section, etc.) especially when the need arises only during the restoration.

When the budget is limited, however, it is still possible to reduce the type of analysis to the most necessary ones and analyze only some significant areas of the work with the fewest detection points. Therefore, obviously, it is important to have a good knowledge of the characteristics of each diagnostic analysis and of the conservation status of the work in order to be able to select: the type of diagnosis aimed at your specific case, the number of detection points, the area (points) of for the sampling, etc.

You have been working in this field for many years, what changes have you noticed, for example in terms of customers, prices and clients?

I work mainly for public institutions. For this category of clients, I have not seen a drastic change in the lasts twenty years. I probably belong to the “transient” generation. In general, I have always had to participate in a tender with several competitors to receive an assignment; the difficulty of winning was always there. In recent years, the difficulty has become greater as the opportunities to participate in a tender, in my opinion, have decreased, probably due to a ‘circularity’ of candidates in a metropolitan city like Florence where there are countless restorers.

I also work for private collectors; I am pleased when some of them return after so many years having appriciated the work performed.

Emanuela Massa