Camille foto voor banner

Camille De Clercq

Camille De Clercq is the Head of Conservation and Restoration at KIK-IRPA, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage. KIK-IRPA works to understand heritage in all its facets and to maintain or conserve it, using interdisciplinarian expertise and technology like aging machines, macro-XRF scanners and multispectral imaging. “During the conservation of the Mystic Lamb, multispectral imaging showed that the original, human-like eyes of the Lamb were well-preserved, even though they had been painted over in the 16th century. This massively influenced our decision to unveil them. In a way, we are the doctors of heritage.”

Makes sure future generations can still admire The Old Masters

Camille has been advocating to make conservator-restorer a recognised profession since 2000 and is now close to achieving that milestone. “We’ve all seen examples of botched art restorations. They don’t happen every day and sometimes the damage is barely visible, but still impactful. And the fact that those pieces are usually not world-famous doesn’t make them any less valuable.” Camille stresses the crucial role of federal non-profits, who can go the extra mile in projects by bringing various experts together. “We’re a team of 80 scientists at KIK-IRPA: not only restorers with different specialisations, but also chemists, physicists, art historians,… That kind of diversity is a must for successfully handling complex projects.”

Various shades of grey

Camille has collaborated with fellow scientists to develop a technique for removing salts from sculptures without damaging the original paint layers. She calls herself an archaeologist of colours: “Sculptures were originally painted or gilded, and my research focuses on uncovering their original appearance. For centuries we thought that sculptures were always white, but I discovered that around 1600 some used to be ‘grisaille’, meaning they were originally painted in various in shades of grey. Until then, the presumption was that ‘grisaille’ only applied to two-dimensional objects – like the exterior panels of the Mystic Lamb – but it turned out that the technique also extends to three-dimensional heritage.”

“I’m an archaeologist of colours.”


Camille De Clercq

Getting the public involved

The art restoration and conservation sector has gone through significant changes the past few years. “There’s a growing emphasis on intangible cultural heritage, like carnivals; and on making that kind of heritage relevant and engaging for an increasingly diverse audience, too. KIK-IRPA’s Heritage Challenge illustrates this well. People can vote for their favourite heritage treasure, and we help to raise funds for its restoration. Or there is the ‘Closer to Van Eyck’ website, where visitors can zoom in on the astonishing details of the Mystic Lamb, the restoration of which is also happening live at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent.”

Forgotten heritage is at risk  

“95% of museum objects are kept in storage. An international survey conducted by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and UNESCO in 2011 revealed that this heritage, which is often kept out of public view, is exposed to serious risks. In Belgium, too, cultural institutions face a chronic lack of financial and human resources. Improving storage is often not a priority.”

To address this major problem, the Preventive Conservation Unit of KIK-IRPA, in partnership with ICCROM, established a national strategy in 2015: RE-ORG Belgium. “The RE-ORG Method helps national museums to reorganise their storage. By now, it has been implemented in 171 museums in 42 countries, via hands-on workshops, mentor sessions and online training.”

“We need roadmaps to address the impact of climate change on our cultural heritage.”

“Another pressing issue is addressing the effects of climate change on our cultural heritage. Since the floods in Wallonia in July 2021, KIK-IRPA has been working on improved conservation and response protocols for the heritage.” But a lot of remains to be done to ensure that future generations will still be able to admire the beautiful works that have shaped our identity. “We’re at a time where the survival of those irreplaceable creations that have been around for so long is suddenly threatened.”

“In a competitive sector, conferences remind us that we’re stronger together.”

Collaboration should trump competition

“Conferences are very inspiring. You step out of the comfort zone of your own atelier or institution and see how others deal with the issues you are also facing. Bringing people together is enriching, and the conclusion is always that we’re stronger together. That’s a very welcome insight in a sector in which the competition can be fierce.”

Schouwburg Kortrijk - (c) Mark Depaepe

What’s your milestone?

Set it with a conference in Flanders.

Just like Camille De Clercq, as a researcher, scientist, entrepreneur or policy maker, you want to set a milestone. A conference in Flanders can make an important contribution to your goal. It allows you to tap into the passion and expertise of insightful minds, bringing you another step closer to achieving your own milestone.

As a service of VISITFLANDERS Convention Bureau, our experts reflect together with you on the positive, long-term impact of your conference. Want to know more about this exclusive service, free of charge for your association? Click the button below.

Tara Grauwet
Tara Grauwet makes healthy food accessible to the whole world.
Caroline Baerten ©Kris Vlegels
Caroline Baerten runs the world’s best vegan restaurant.
Jelle Demanet
Jelle Demanet revolutionizes healthcare via virtual reality.
Walter Eevers
Walter Eevers turns waste into pavements using CO2.
Hilde Eggermont
“We managed to put biodiversity on the political agenda.”
Julius Persoone
Julius Persoone makes people with throat cancer able to taste again.