It was July 1987. Anyone who may have thought it unusual that Robert Cambridge was wearing a coat that summer day said nothing of it. From the folds of his garment, he withdrew a sawn-off shotgun, levelled it at two women and two small boys, and, from seven feet away, fired.
Thankfully, the little huddled group was separated from their assailant by a pane of laminate glass, and although the glass immediately in the line of fire was pulverised, the laminate held and spared Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist from total destruction as it hung benignly against a wall in London’s National Gallery.
The Burlington House Cartoon, as the work is also known, is a charcoal and chalk sketch drawn over 500 years ago. In that time, it had endured a series of dubious attempts at conservation, some of which left the linen paper and its flax backing-cloth cracked and browned. The exploding glass also took its toll, spraying the area over the Virgin’s heart with shards and badly shredding the paper.
Much deliberation followed as to how to proceed with restoring the piece, whilst conserving it as a valuable and important artefact. Precisely how this was achieved is fascinating, but not relevant to this discussion. So as not to keep you in any further suspense, I can reveal that the drawing was successfully restored, to much academic and artistic acclaim.
What is relevant on the other hand, and is the reason I love this story so much, is that the methodology of this restoration perfectly echoes my philosophy on the subject of restoration and conservation of watches.
There is a principal test that helps decide how much intervention is appropriate when restoring a vintage watch, formulated as the question: How functional is the object expected to be?