BA (Santa Barbara), MA (Princeton)

Contact details:

Conservation of Wall Painting Department

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House


London WC2R 0RN


Tel: +44 (0) 20 7848 2848

Sharon Cather
Sharon Cather was educated at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Princeton University where she worked particularly on the drawings of Gianlorenzo Bernini. After teaching in the History of Art Department at the University of Cambridge, she helped establish the Conservation of Wall Painting Department at The Courtauld Institute of Art in 1985.  She is currently preparing a book on the conservation of the Romanesque wall  paintings of Hardham Church (Sussex), and is Chair of the Technical Committee of the International Institute of Conservation’s 2010 Istanbul Congress on ‘Conservation in the Eastern Mediterranean’ . She serves on the editorial board of Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung, and supervises departmental fieldwork programmes in China, Cyprus, India, Jordan and Malta, as well as MA and PhD research. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the International Institute of Conservation, of which she is also Vice President, and the American Academy in Rome.

research interests

  • Conservation theory, in particular methodological developments
  • Environmental causes of deterioration, their diagnosis and mitigation
  • Analytical methods, with emphasis on portable and accessible techniques
  • Technology of wall paintings globally
  • Methods and materials of remedial interventions 


medieval wall paintings of Hardham Church
Passive conservation of the medieval wall paintings of Hardham Church
 is a 5-year research project focusing on this important English Romanesque scheme that aims to develop and assess the efficacy of passive conservation measures, advance current practice for regular monitoring of physical condition, and establish protocols for environmental monitoring for both diagnostic and management requirements. The project is led by Sharon Cather and undertaken in collaboration with English Heritage. This major research programme is funded by the Pilgrim Trust and English Heritage.

The Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang

Dunhuang, China: Collaborative educational and conservation programme with the Dunhuang Academy and the Getty Conservation The Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang form the most important site of Buddhist painting in the world, with 45,000 m2 of painting dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries. This collaborative programme focuses on two areas: education of those who will have long-term responsibility for the preservation of the paintings; and research which has the widest possible applicability to paintings throughout the site and to the many other grotto sites in China and elsewhere. The programme includes MA students both from The Courtauld and China, and covers all aspects of conservation (investigation of original techniques, diagnosis of deterioration, and treatment). This initiative, begun in 2005 and ongoing, is funded by an anonymous US donor, Sir Joseph Hotung, Norman Kurland, and the Robert Rosenkranz Foundation.

Monastery of Ioannis Lampadistis, Cyprus

Conservation of the wall paintings of Agios Herakleidios in the Monastery of Ioannis Lampadistis, Cyprus  This World Heritage site is significant for the quality of its wall paintings and accumulation of structures. Among these, Agios Herakleidios is the earliest, with major wall painting schemes of the 13th and 15th centuries. Conservation began in 2006, with MA students participating in annual phases since then. Undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities and the Bishopric of Morphou, the programme is supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

Nagaur, India

Nagaur, India: Conservation of the wall paintings of the Ahhichattragarh Fort and Palace Complex  In collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, the Courtauld began conserving the important 18th-century Rajput-Mughal wall paintings of this vast site in 2005. Following a survey to assign priorities, the Sheesh Mahal—Palace of Mirrors—was chosen for a full conservation programme. Supervised by Courtauld PhD students Charlotte Martin de Fonjaudran and Sibylla Tringham, the programme also includes Courtauld MA students and Indian professionals, and has been generously supported by the Getty Foundation and the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

poster for wall paintings of the Biclinium in Siq al-Barid

Petra, Jordan: Conservation of the wall paintings of the Biclinium in Siq al-Barid  The Petra National Trust commissioned The Courtauld to conserve this most important surviving wall painting of the Nabataean culture. Its extreme significance is due to its quality, subject matter, extreme technical complexity and completeness. Conservation, undertaken by Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede, began in 2006 and was completed in September 2010, attracting huge media attention .

The project will be presented at the IIC Congress in Istanbul, and is featured on the cover of the preprints (at left).

Courses taught in 2010-2011



  • Cleaning Asian wall paintings: constraints and in-situ evaluation methods (in progress)
  • Effects of consolidants on wall paintings (in progress)
  • Cologne Cathedral choir screen paintings: materials, techniques and physical history (in progress)
  • Assessing and managing risk: Himalayan wall paintings (in progress; co-supervised with Prof Deborah Swallow))
  • A scientific approach to interpreting the causes and mechanisms of deterioration of the wall paintings of Dunhuang, China (in progress)
  • Maltese wall painting technology: materials, influences and implications for conservation
  • Fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy for analysis of protein-based paint media (completed 2008)


Recent publications


cover of Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road

‘Choices and judgment: the professional conservator at the interface’ in Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road (Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China, June 28-July 3, 2004), ed. N. Agnew. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles 2010, 22-32.

‘Micro-Raman fluorescence spectroscopy for the assessment of effects of the exposure to light of films of egg white and egg yolk’ (with I. Osticioli, A. Nevin, M. Becucci, D. Anglos, A. Burnstock and E. Castelucci), Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 39 (2008), 307-13.

‘Correction of Ultraviolet-Induced Fluorescence Spectra for the Examination of Polychromy’ ( with G. Verri, C. Clementi, D. Comelli, and F. Piqué), Applied Spectroscopy,. 62 (2008) 1295-1302.

‘Post-capture data analysis as an aid to the interpretation of ultraviolet-induced fluorescence images’ ( with G. Verri, D. Comelli, D. Saunders and F. Pique), Proceedings of SPIE  6810, Computer Image Analysis in the Study of Art, eds. D. G. Stork and J. Coddington, 681001 (2008)

‘Stratigraphic analysis of organic materials in wall painting samples using micro-FTIR Attenuated Total reflectance and a novel sample preparation technique’ (with C. Martin de Fonjaudran, A. Nevin and F. Piqué), Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry, 392 (2008), 77-86.

‘’Issues in the conservation of mural paintings: past and present’, in Mural Paintings of the Silk Road: Cultural Exchanges between East and West (Proceedings of the 29th International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Tokyo, January 2006), ed. K. Yamauchi, Y. Taniguchi and T. Uno, London 2007, 173-9 (also published in the Japanese version of the Proceedings).

‘Trans-technological methodology: setting performance criteria for conserving wall paintings’, in Far East Asian Mural Paintings: Diagnosis, Conservation and Restoration (Proceedings of a conference at Ravenna, May 2004), ed. R. Mazzeo, Ravenna 2006, 89-95.

‘Late medieval paintings at Carlisle’ (with D. Park), in Carlisle and Cumbria: Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, 27), eds. M. McCarthy and D. Weston, Leeds 2004, 214-31. 

Contribution to Masaccio e Masolino, pittori e frescanti: dalla tecnica allo stile (Convegno internazionale di studi, June 2002, Florence – San Giovanni Valdarno), ed. C. Frosinini, Milan 2004, 243-6.

‘Assessing causes and mechanisms of detrimental change to wall paintings’, in Conserving the Painted Past: Developing Approaches to Wall Painting Conservation (Post-prints of an English Heritage Conference, 1999), eds. R. Gowing and A. Heritage, London 2003, 64-74

‘Aqueous extraction of soluble salts from porous materials: alternatives and contra-indications’, in Mauersalze und Architekturoberfläche (Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Dresden, 1 – 3 February 2002), eds. H. Leitner et al., Dresden 2003, 167-72


Conservation theory; preventive conservation; passive conservation; remedial conservation; wall painting technology; organic materials; earthen materials; organic colorants; analytical methods; non-invasive analysis; conservation education; Chinese wall painting; Indian wall painting; Roman wall painting; Italian wall painting; iterative and incremental method; physical history; contextualization; architectural conservation; international conservation collaboration.