For centuries, Western artworks have been cared for in the hope of preserving them for as long as possible. Even so, over their lives objects deteriorate and risk being displaced, damaged or destroyed – whether incidentally or on purpose. This inescapable fragility of artworks raises questions for those invested in them. How do communities safeguard endangered objects? And how do art historians study images that are no longer extant, or investigate artistic traditions where no material legacy has been preserved intact? Our group addresses these questions theoretically, historically, and materially, to tackle how the inherent instability of objects shapes the way we handle, think, and write about them.