Loss and beauty: how experts and novices judge paintings with lacunae

Mariella Pazzaglia, Giulia Galli, Erik Leemhuis, Anna Maria Giannini, Tiziana Pascucci, Eliana Billi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lacunae are the voids left by missing or damaged pieces of artwork, and their presence constitutes a central problem in the aesthetic experience of viewing artwork. However, we hypothesize that experience and knowledge of art might differentially modify viewer reactions to degraded artwork. Here, we investigated the implicit and explicit attitudes of art experts and non-experts towards the aesthetics of perfectly intact and lacunar artwork. Sections of Flemish oil paintings were displayed with or without a degradation mask, which mimics lacunae. Three groups differing in their interaction with art were assessed: art restorers, art historians, and art viewers lacking any art-related professional expertise. We found that (1) professional experience/expertise in art restoration affected implicit, but not explicit, attitudes among restorers, (2) art historians had positive explicit, but not implicit, attitudes toward intact artwork, and (3) it was difficult for non-specialist viewers to understand or appreciate artwork that was not perfectly intact. We further discuss the implications of these results to other forms of aesthetic evaluation and expertise. Modified preferences in experts may improve knowledge of the plastic changes that occur in the cognition of aesthetics and may thus be of significant relevance to enhance the effectiveness of art conservation programs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Jun 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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