Interview: Anthony Pontabry, restoration expert and teacher

So Tony, tell me about your experience as a restorer…

I am a Franco-Italian expert in material conservation techniques, a Conservation and Restoration specialist of fresco paintings and graduate of the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro of Rome. I first worked in Italy for several years. I was also committed to projects in France, such as the Musée du Louvre and the Château de Versailles in Paris.

How did you hear about The Shekhawati Project and what is your role?

I met Cécile Charpentier and Giovanna Carravieri six months ago in Paris and they persuaded me to participate as a teacher for the students. I am also working on the restoration and conservation protocol of the frescoes so it can set an example for other owners of havelis. This international training workshop allows me to share my experience with young restorers but also to discover a technique similar to italian frescoes but at the same time unique in its own style (because of the Arayish, the base for the fresco paintings).

What is the difficulty of this restoration?

The difficulty of this restoration lies in the fact that an important intervention took place on the paintings when Nadine Le Prince acquires the haveli. The original motifs - very often faded off due to the increasingly harsh climate - were executed by Indian artists with powder pigments which are today very sensitive to the slightest friction, and immediately soak up water. We absolutely want to keep them intact, which is why we have finalized a technique of cleaning adapted to the situation, where sand of the desert and grime are eliminated either when dry, with the use of soft brushes, or with compresses and a basic water solution.

Once the decoration is cleaned, it is then a question of preserving it and protecting it by strengthening the fresco in the most appropriate way.

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