A Lacuna Interpretation

Lacuna [Lat: ‘gap’]


(Piombo, del 16th Century)

“Completely blank area on a painting or painted object or manuscript, resulting from any form of damage. On paintings, the cause may be the gradual decay and loss of adhesion of the paint layers, allowing flakes of paint to become detached. Accidental damage can give rise to larger lacunae.”

(Featherstone 2017)

I find this interpretation of Lacuna particularly interesting as it makes we wonder about gaps and spaces and how as humans we naturally feel compelled to complete these spaces, especially if they have become ’empty’. Gaps that now stand in the place of something that was once there scream to be repaired or filled, but why? Paintings always loose monetary value if they are damaged, however I believe there is a beauty in the inherent nature of decay and artworks and objects become more valuable when you can see their age and their journeys through time. Like a person’s scars – these lacunae give the paintings character.

Regardless if I like them, these gaps are almost always meticulously filled in by a team of artists to preserve what once was. It is easy when we have documented evidence of its previous state, or if these lacunae are smaller in size but the topic again becomes interesting when one wonders about bigger spaces where the previous contents was not known. These artists and historians spend so much time and money (Kennedy 2016) connecting the dots of what is visible I wonder if much gets lost in the space between – maybe we have missed a huge piece of history with our obsessive desire to perfect and complete. Or maybe we are just taking away our sense of childlike wonder. Wouldn’t it be fun to visit a museum, see an old renaissance painting on the wall with a big blank space and speculate what was there? Perhaps the first ever iPhone?

Untitled-1 (1)

(Martinez 19th Century)

While we try to salvage these pieces of art and history and recreate them to be just like the original, we are actually straying far from that. These works are now a collaboration over time between many artists and once recreated, never really the same again.  An extreme example is this awful but comical case of an elderly Spanish woman attempting to restore but completely destroying Ecce Homo by Elias Garcia Martinez from the 19th Century (Hall 2012). I am sure paid professionals are better at their job but it does reinforce the question of whether the restoration process is always necessary.


Featherstone, R. 2017,  Lacuna,  Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, viewed 21 March, <http://www.oxfordartonline.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/ subscriber/article/grove/art/T048670>.

Hall, J. 2012, ‘Elderly woman destroys 19th-century Spanish fresco by Elias Garcia Martinez in botched restoration,’ The Independent UK, 22 August, viewed 21 March, <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/elderly-woman-destroys-19th-century-spanish-fresco-by-elias-garcia-martinez-in-botched-restoration-8073267.html&gt;.

Kennedy, M. 2016, ‘Painting ‘wrecked beyond repair’ to be shown again after intensive restoration,’ The Guardian, 6 June, viewed 21 March, <https://www.theguardian.com/ artanddesign/2016/jun/06/sebastiano-del-piombo-masterpiece-restored-fitzwilliam-museum-cambridge>.



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