Francesca Vantellini, conservator of photographs of The Family of Man

Every year, from January to February, only few moves of brushes pierce the silence of the castle of Clervaux. After the thousands of visitors’ footsteps, the lone steps of Francesca Vantellini reverberate in the showrooms of The Family of Man. Quiet and concentrate, the conservator of the photographs gets down carefully to work. The objective: reducing the damages of the time on the pieces of work and preserving, as long as possible, the pictures for the eyes of the visitors coming here each year.

Francesca Vantellini, restauratrice - Visit Clervaux (1)

The first question that comes to mind when you see Francesca at work is obvious: isn’t to stressful to restore those kinds of pieces of art, which have an historic value? When you see how much Francesca is concentrate, you understand quickly that there are no possibilities for her to be stressed. Indeed, the factual object prevail over the work of art.

This work takes two months every year to the conservator; fixing some time’s cracks and making the 503 photographs of the collection beautiful again for many years. Francesca Vantellini has learned her job in Milano, at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. It’s only been few years that she is working in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, among others the MNHA, the Villa Vauban or for the national’s archives.

/ The annual closure of the exhibition The Family of Man

Sadly, The Family of Man is closed to the public every year for two months. But there is tough-minded reason for this.  First of all, it allows the pictures to « rest » in the dark. They didn’t appreciate so much the light, even if the luminosity in the castle have been studied for. The natural light doesn’t pierce the heavy walls of the castle and the opening hours have been reduced to let the exhibition in the dark: it’s why you can only visit from 12am to 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday. So, the strict diet for a photograph in Clervaux is: No light, a constant temperature and a constant humidity level. Any disturbance could irreversibly damage the quality of the images. Secondly, the two months are necessary for the master of the field to do her work. A work which allows the long-term preservation of the pictures.

Francesca Vantellini, restauratrice - Visit Clervaux (10) Francesca Vantellini, restauratrice - Visit Clervaux (4)

Francesca is doing what’s is called a conservative restoration. It’s mean that she never changes the uniqueness of the work of art.  The main goal being to fix the little damages of time. At the castle of Clervaux, the staining are small due to the technology installed: light, temperature and humidity regulation, as well as the attention to air pollutant. But the simple fact that the pictures are stuck on a woody frame makes the acidity of the wood damaging them. Bigger restorations will have to be organised in the coming years, as the last one has been done in 2010.

Even if all the pictures of the exhibition are in « black  and white », Francesca uses a wide range of colours : tones of blue, yellow and orange comes to complete the two-coloured tones. The work is finally based on touching up the pictures with colours, fixing smalls damages of the frame and some others springing from the corners. Indeed, all of the pictures are dating from the fifties and travelled all the world, sometimes without any good protection. Thanks to Francesca, the restoration allows the visitors to contemplate the all collection in a good state, since none of them has to be remove from the exhibition due to its bad condition.

"True shadow woman of The Family of Man, Francesca’s work ensures sustainability of every piece of art and, at the same time, Edward Steichen’s message of humanity."