Photo by Melinda Gallo
Bettina Schindler, who was born and raised in Austria by a German mother and a Swiss father, was told that the results of a school aptitude test indicated that she would make a good art restorer. While most of her classmates did not follow the test's advice, Bettina did. At the age of 20, she moved from Innsbruck to Vienna to volunteer at the Belvedere Museum to restore medieval and baroque paintings, which she later learned used obsolete techniques that might have done more damage than good. She was there for a couple of years before an opportunity arose that changed her life.
One of Bettina's friends was offered an opportunity with an art restorer in Florence, but she was not interested in leaving Austria. Without much information about the job, Bettina imagined that it might be a volunteer position like the one she had at the Belvedere Museum. However, Bettina made a bold choice and ventured to Florence in 1981 to take advantage of this opportunity. Upon her arrival, because she did not speak any Italian, she promptly enrolled in an Italian language course for a couple of months.
She discovered that the ‘job' was in fact part of a preparatory course to pass the exam to be accepted into the Scuola dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence's prestigious art restoration school, by a Florentine instructor and well-known art restorer Leonardo Passeri.
At the end of the course, Bettina passed the enrollment exam and was accepted at the Scuola dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure for its three-year restoration program. She had wanted to study paper restoration after volunteering at the Biblioteca Nazionale, but the school held alternative specializations, and the year Bettina was accepted, paper restoration was not being offered. Instead, she specialized in furniture carving and inlay.
In 1984, after Bettina completed her studies, she was introduced to Rafaello Delli, who taught her more restoration techniques for organic materials: ivory, bone, amber, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, horn, coral and shell. Two years later, with much hands-on experience and a few contacts to find work, Bettina opened up her own studio (www.bettinaschindler.it), which is now located in San Niccolò.
Since coming to Florence, Bettina has had the privilege to restore 50 pieces at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, along with over 50 works at the Museo degli Argenti, which houses Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici's large ivory collection. One of Bettina's most impressive restoration projects was a monumental ivory sculpture, standing over two meters high, ‘Sacrifice of Isaac' at the Museo del monastero di Santa Giulia in Brescia.
Besides her numerous restoration projects for Italian and European museums, as well as for numerous private collectors, Bettina is also an instructor of art restoration. For many years, she lectured at Washington University in St. Louis, and she is now a part of Tauck Tours where she welcomes visitors into her studio and shares secrets about art restoration. With all of these opportunities, Bettina still finds the time to continue learning about art history and to keep herself up to date with restoration techniques that are continually being improved.
Over the years, Bettina has discovered that Florence was the perfect choice for her, a place where she is able to give her best. Even though Bettina had never visited Florence before coming to live here almost 30 years ago, she says, ‘Florence is still the place I want to live in.'