This publication has been made possible through the generosity of the National Museum of Denmark and the Hannelise Højbye Mortensen Fund. On behalf of the members of the Theory and History of Conservation Working Group, I thank the editor-in chief of CeROArt, Muriel Verbeeck-Boutin, for her time and effort, enabling the publication of this special issue.
I also thank the members of the scientific committee who helped select the papers for the conference, and the reviewers, who have contributed their time and expertise.
1The essays and shorter texts published in this issue were presented as talks and posters at Conservation: Cultures and Connections, the interim meeting for the International Council of Museums – Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC) working group Theory and History of Conservation, held in Copenhagen 16-17 May 2013 at the National Museum of Denmark. Please see the homepage of the ICOM-CC Theory and History of Conservation working group for newsletters, forum discussions and other activities: http://www.icom-cc.org/41/working-groups/theory-and-history-in-conservation-restoration/ The membership of this working group comprises a wide range of conservation professionals to whom the interim meeting provides an opportunity to present their latest research. The theme Cultures and Connections was broad enough to allow the various interests in the group, which range from conservation history, probing back several centuries, to the decision-making process or the theories and problems of preserving ephemeral art. The topics of the contributions to this publication occurred within the selection of papers for the interim meeting.
2The publication starts with three essays that focus on the issue of cult value in its broadest interpretation (religious cult, personality cult, cult of prestige and money, cult of authenticity), and how this affects conservation. The essay by Cathleen Hoeniger focuses on the personality cult of Raphael, and how his artistic reputation and the prestige of owning a work of art created by him may have played a role in the restoration and display of the paintings. Ursula Schädler-Saub describes an unusual solution for the treatment of wall paintings in medieval churches implemented at the turn of the twentieth century in Germany. The installation of roller blinds displaying fully integrated versions of the wall paintings over the non-retouched originals satisfied both the demands of the clergy and the art historians. Zuzana Bauerova focuses on the cultural dynamics and the political situation in Czechoslovakia, with its various cults (among others, the cult of independence, cult of scientific conservation, cult of Sovinism and nationalism), and the direct impact on conservation practice.
3Historical studies describing conservation at the turn of the twentieth century and early part of the twentieth century are the topics of two contributions. In addition to the aforementioned essay by Ursula Schädler-Saub, there is an essay by Maria da Conceição Lopes Casanova, who focuses on the Portuguese paintings restorer Luciano Freire and his relationship with art historians. Both authors describe situations that presage the principles that characterize modern conservation: reversibility and respect for material authenticity (Germany) and interdisciplinary cooperation (Portugal). These contributions complement the essays in a recent publication centered on conservation in the nineteenth century (Brajer 2013). Connecting with and exploring our past, whether by focusing on a historical figure, documents or methodology, helps us understand how our profession has evolved and puts recent developments in perspective. It also contributes valuable technical information, often essential in the re-treatment of many works of art, as many of the objects currently under treatment have undergone conservation or restoration treatments in the past.
- 1 The Nara Document on Authenticity, drafted in 1994 (ICOMOS 2004), has had an enormous impact on sh (...)
4Throughout the twentieth century, the professionalization of conservation has created a ‘culture of conservation’, which has evolved and gone through changes over time. The theme of the interim meeting, Conservation: Cultures and Connections, points to a distinctive characteristic of the conservation profession, particularly in recent times – one that is looking outwards to connect with other disciplines and cultures. Such concerns lead to broad questions regarding the meaning of the conservator’s work and how it connects with and serves the wide range of ‘users’ of cultural heritage. In the post Nara era,1 the conservation profession has become more sensitive to the issue of cultural diversity, as Iwona Szmelter points out in her essay on values and valuations examined from the broad perspective of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The essay by Ekaterina Pasnak not only explores the purpose conservation serves within a given society, but also demonstrates, from a global perspective, the differences between various cultures and societies. Central to probing relevance in conservation is the study of value systems in different societies, nations, and generations. Joel Taylor examines sustainability and fairness in conservation decisions, asking what our duties as conservators are to future generations, applying the concepts explored in moral and political philosophy to conservation of cultural heritage.
5Recently, conservation scholars have turned to other fields of research spanning the humanities, social and natural sciences in an effort to expand their views and find inspiration in the formulation of better strategies leading to well-founded decisions. This trend has evolved beyond the interdisciplinary collaboration between conservators, art historians and conservation scientists, often addressed as technical art history, which explores questions of an object’s provenance, historical context, techniques and materials, as well as past conservation treatments. This type of research continues and has been very fruitful (Hermens 2012, Varoli-Piazza et al 2011). Valuable insights can also be gleaned from other fields of scholarship, especially when methodological tools can be innovatively applied to our profession. An early foray of this type of applied research was Cesare Brandi’s use of Gestalt psychology in his explanations regarding the aesthetic treatment of lacunae on wall paintings (Brandi 1961, Caronna 2005). More recently, we have the application of economic value theories to value attribution in the conservation of artifacts (Hucklesby 2005); management and engineering tools for evaluating and weighting (grid analysis, decision matrix analysis, multi-criteria decision analysis, multiple attribute theory) were used in the formulation of decision-making tools in conservation (Michalski and Rossi-Doria 2011); solutions used in the health-care and aviation industry for dealing with errors were perused and evaluated for application to the conservation profession (Marincola and Maisey 2011).
6Contributions in this issue also demonstrate this outward looking approach. In addition to the aforementioned essay by Joel Taylor referring to moral and political philosophy, the essay by Hélia Marçal, Rita Macedo, Andreia Nogueira and António Duarte provides a path for the decision-making process in the treatment of contemporary art by applying methodologies and analytical tools used in cognitive psychology research. In her study of diverse value systems and works with multiple meanings, Jan Marontate examines current research in cultural sociology, and applies several examples of pragmatic sociological research to fundamental questions in conservation.
7Discussions about issues of authenticity have always played a prominent role in publications by members of this working group. One of the biggest questions in contemporary conservation theory is how big a role should the intent of the artist in the creation of the work play in conservation and restoration treatments. This is one of the concerns dealt with in the Marçal et al. essay, and is also the main focus of the essay by Rebecca Gordon and Erma Hermens in relation to contemporary artworks. The authors describe how the term “artist’s intent” has been misunderstood, and how its re-evaluation can provide a more nuanced rational for well-founded decisions regarding preservation or replacement of materials.
8The collection of essays is rounded off by a contribution by George Brock-Nannestad, who, complementing many of the authors in this publication, takes a step back and assesses the conservation profession from a different perspective. He argues that all conservation and restoration interventions are, in reality, directed at the preservation of function. It is this act of stepping back, re-examining accepted theories and taking a “look at the bigger picture” that has propelled new ideas in our profession, uncovered new facts and inspired new interpretations, as is evident in the research done by the authors contributing to this publication.
9The publication also includes several posters displayed at the meeting. These are short studies, often part of a larger project in process, which – despite their brevity – do contribute new information. Four of the posters are studies in conservation history, and they augment the finds presented in the essays focusing on the period overlapping the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Saskia van Oudheusden examines the wax-resin linings executed by Albertus Hestermann and sons (The Netherlands), adding her observations to a topic of much interest to many painting conservators. Cyndie Lack presents the ambitious achievements of the Canadian restorer, Joseph Loxton Rawbon, introducing to the wider conservation community a colourful character from the past. Nataša Nemeček investigates early twentieth century developments in the conservation of archaeological objects in Slovenia, and particularly Friedrich Rathgen’s influence.
10The fifth poster focuses on the problems of conservation of contemporary art, which is an area that is of major interest to many members of the working group as it has and continues to pose special challenges to conservators. This topic is expounded on by Brian Castriota in his short text on the preservation of meanings and values in technology-based artworks. Included is a discussion on cult value, complementing the three essays on this subject.