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“Bildtapeten” and the conservation of medieval wall paintings at the turn of the twentieth century in Germany

New perspectives in the conflict between authenticity and visual integrity
Ursula Schädler-Saub

Résumés

Pendant les dernières décennies du 19e siècle, un changement paradigmatique de la restauration des peintures murales du moyen âge se dessine. Les experts refusent de repeindre les anciennes peintures sous le couvert de restauration. Les efforts s'orientent vers la préservation  des peintures murales découvertes dans leur état authentique. Mais la présentation de peintures murales fragmentaires dans les églises exigent un compromis entre valeur historiques et impératifs liturgiques. L'exemple allemand des « Bildtapeten » (peintures sur papier peint) fournit un compromis intelligent : une sorte de volet roulant avec la figuration complète des scènes peintes sur papier, installée sur les murs pour couvrir les peintures murales fragmentaires ; pour les spécialistes, on peut lever ces volets roulants et les abaisser pour le public. Toutefois Alois Riegl dans son essai de 1903 « Questions sur la restauration de la peinture murale » critique cette méthode et accentue la complexité des exigences pour la conservation moderne  de la peinture murale.

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I would like to thank the colleagues who supported my work with their suggestions and their support with historical and contemporary photos: Dörthe Jakobs, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen; Helmut F. Reichwald, Stuttgart; Stefanie Lindemeier, Hannover; Nils Mainusch, Hildesheim.

Introduction

1In the first half of the nineteenth century, with a new romantic spirit arising against the established classical taste, the rediscovery and study of medieval art, especially of religious art, and the uncovering of medieval wall paintings from under numerous layers of whitewash became the leitmotiv of architects, historians, academic painters and restorers committed to the preservation of cultural heritage. The primary goal of their efforts was the reestablishment of an appropriate unitary style in medieval churches, with the removal of all improper later additions to the architecture. In Germany, the collegiate church of Brunswick was the first example of a systematic uncovering and restoration of a medieval wall painting cycle. In 1845, the academic painter Heinrich Brandes started with the complete uncovering and a first restoration campaign of the paintings dating from the middle of the thirteeenth century. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, August von Essenwein and Adolf Quensen continued with further restoration campaigns, with heavy repainting and integrations made in a neo medieval style. The exiguous fragments of the thirteenth century with their evidence of iconography, ornamental motifs and distribution on walls and vaults, only provided a basis – like a model book – for a complete neo medieval creation. This colourful and richly decorated revival of the medieval spirit shaped the idea of the original appearance of these churches for most people (Schädler-Saub 2000).

2However, in the last decades of the nineteenth century, with the establishment of the young scientific discipline of art history, critical voices arose: instead of neo medieval forgeries, they proclaimed the importance of historical authenticity and the preservation of documentary values. In 1905, the famous motto of the art historian Georg Dehio “konservieren nicht restaurieren” (conservation not restoration) crowned the German debate on a paradigm change in the preservation of cultural heritage (Dehio 1905).

The Romanesque wall paintings in the church of St. George in Prüfening: neo-medieval interpretation contra authenticity

3A characteristic example illustrating the problems concerning the practical realisation of this paradigm change is the wall painting cycle from the mid-twelfth century in the former Benedictine monastery church of St. George in Prüfening, near Ratisbon. This church, built in the early twelfth century, was partially redesigned with Baroque elements in the eighteenth century. A restoration with the goal to re-establish a unitary Romanesque style started in 1897 with the uncovering of wall paintings, in a first step only in the north and south annex chancels flanking the main chancel. The enthusiasm regarding the important findings of figurative scenes led to the uncovering in the main chancel in 1898, with unforeseen technical problems: the Romanesque paint layers adhered to the backside of the superimposing (Baroque) plasters, and on the walls, only a few scant traces remained.

4The academic painter and conservator Hans Haggenmiller from the Royal Bavarian Department for the preservation of cultural heritage had to declare that he could detect only a “system” of Romanesque wall paintings on the walls, without clear identification of iconography and artistic design. The priest of St. George applied pressure on the conservators and called for a complete restoration of the main chancel for liturgical reasons. Therefore, under the direction of Haggenmiller, a team of academic painters, mainly Friedrich Pfleiderer, performed a complete repainting and neo-medieval creation of the wall paintings in 1901, getting their artistic inspiration from the Ratisbon illuminated manuscript from the twelfth century. The iconographic interpretation of the fragments seemed to be wanting: e.g. the depiction on the chancel vault was initially  misinterpreted as the enthroned Christ, and then identified as the “Sponsa Christi”, the symbolic bride of Christ (Fig. 1 and 2).

Fig. 1 Prüfening, St. George Church

Fig. 1 Prüfening, St. George Church

Main chancel, north wall: neo-medieval repainting by Friedrich Pfleiderer, made in 1901.

Photo: Ursula Schädler-Saub, 2007.

Fig. 2 Prüfening, St. George Church

Fig. 2 Prüfening, St. George Church

Vault in the presbytery with the “Sponsa Christi”:  a neo-medieval repainting by Friedrich Pfleiderer, made in 1901.

Photo: Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.

5Fortunately, the annex chancels were considered liturgically insignificant, so the fragmentary wall paintings here were not included in the restoration. In the north annex chancel, only some ornamental painting samples on the base bear testimony to the restoration of 1901. In 1907, Georg Hager, the director of the Royal Bavarian Department for the Preservation of Artistic and Historic Heritage, forcefully argued for the preservation of the authentic status of the uncovered paintings without any retouching and additions. So, only a few years later, the neo-medieval “restoration” in the main chancel was definitely considered outdated. The original fragments in the annex chancels were appreciated as true testimony of the Romanesque wall paintings and studied scholarly for the inventory of the historic monuments of the district Stadtamhof near Ratisbon, which was printed in 1914. Two years later, they were conserved without any integration (Fig. 3) (Hallinger 2008). To this day, the wall painting cycle of St. George in Prüfening is a vivid and also a little unusual testimony of changing criteria in the preservation of cultural heritage around 1900.

Fig. 3 Prüfening, St. George Church

Fig. 3 Prüfening, St. George Church

South annex chancel: detail of the uncovered and preserved Romanesque wall paintings.

Photo: Ursula Schädler-Saub, 2007.

The “Bildtapeten” of St. George in Oberzell-Reichenau: looking for compromises between liturgical needs and historical values

6The call for authenticity in the preservation of medieval wall paintings increased in the last decades of the nineteenth century. However, historic churches first of all are buildings with religious and liturgical functions; they definitely are not museums. To this day, conservators must accept the challenge of preserving authentic documents in living historic monuments with a contemporaneous utilization. There is a great need for mutual concessions and intelligent agreements.

7 The first German example of such a clever compromise between the preservation of the original and the presentation of a worthy church interior is the Ottonian wall painting cycle in the former Benedictine church of St. George in Oberzell, on the island of Reichenau, Lake of Constance. This wall painting cycle, depicting the life and miracles of Christ, is dated to the end of the tenth century – the oldest testimony of such art north of the Alps. The uncovering of the wall paintings started in 1856/57 with the west apse and continued in the nave, where the work was mostly carried out in 1879-81 (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Fig. 4 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

View of the church interior toward the chancel after the uncovering of the Ottonian wall painting cycle.

Photo G. Wolf, between 1882-1890, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

8In spite of its poor state of preservation, the painting cycle was considered to be of such unique and exceptional value that the authorities decided that the figurative scenes must be preserved in their authentic state, and not restored. Several forms of documentation were made: first, sketches in pencil and ink were executed by the priest and parish administrator Feederle to convince the authorities of the great importance of the discovery; secondly, the architect Franz Baer, surveyor of the diocese, and his assistant made tracings on transparent paper; and finally, photographic documentation was carried out by G. Wolf between 1881-90, with overall views and the single figurative scenes.

9Franz Baer argued against the restoration of the wall paintings because they would lose their artistic and historic values. He emphasized the importance of preserving the unaltered condition of the paintings after the uncovering, without any addition. Indeed, he differentiated between the figurative scenes – of high value – and the ornaments – of low value. Furthermore, due to their very poor state of preservation, he attached only little value to the depiction of the apostles on the clearstory (the upper part of the walls in the nave). In the end, the repainting of ornamental framework and the apostle depiction could be accepted by the experts, but the problem was how to present the damaged scenes of the life and miracles of Christ in the church interior without offending the sensibilities of the clergy and churchgoers (Jakobs 1999).

10 Upon the advice of the priest Feederle and probably thanks to his contacts with the Swiss art historian and conservator Johann Rahn (Rahn 1884), the Swiss model of the “Bildtapeten” (picture wallpapers) implemented in 1877 in the little Romanesque church of St. Arbogast in Oberwinterthur (Winterthur, Canton Zurich) was chosen. This was the first model in the preservation of historic monuments in Switzerland, which considered the needs and expectations of different groups of beholders, with the general public, the clergy and the churchgoers of the parish on one side and the experts, art historians and historians, on the other.

11 Some short notes on the history of this important figurative wall painting cycle in St. Arbogast: created in the early fourteenth century, it was partially uncovered, damaged and covered again with a mortar layer during renovation works in 1835; a further renovation followed in 1877, but some experts and art lovers of the Winterthur Society for History and Antiquities successfully stopped these destructive works in favour of a complete and careful uncovering. They called Johann Rahn, who, under heavy time pressure, carried out a very detailed documentation of the whole cycle, with drawings and watercolour copies (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 Watercolour by Johann R. Rahn

Fig. 5 Watercolour by Johann R. Rahn

The watercolour depicts part of the uncovered wall painting cycle in St. Arbogast, Oberwinterthur, Switzerland.

Repro: Rahn 1883.

12The concept promoted by Rahn was to preserve the damaged figurative scenes in their original state without any integration; however, for liturgical celebrations and for prayers as well as for visitors mainly interested in the iconography of the depictions, the legibility and proper presentation of the paintings had to be ensured. Therefore, a very interesting system of roller blinds was developed by the ecclesiastic authorities, with the fully integrated versions of the scenes depicted in full size on paper, which was mounted on the wall over the fragmentary paintings. These “Bildtapeten” could be raised (for the experts) and lowered (for the clergy and the general public). It’s unknown what the source of the suggestion for this method of “masking walls” described by Rahn in 1883 was – it was not his own invention (Rahn 1883). The “Bildtapeten” were removed in the twentieth century.

13In Oberzell-Reichenau, it was time-consuming to implement the model of the Swiss “Bildtapeten” in the monumental church of St. Georg. In 1889, the academic painter Carl Ph. Schilling received the order to carry out partially integrated copies of the figurative scenes depicted in full size on paperboard or textile, which were mounted as roller blinds over the fragmentary scenes. Due to the large dimensions of the “Bildtapeten”, technicians had to develop a special system of roller blinds, with complex machinery in the attic for raising and lowering, finished at the end of 1891. The work was completed by Schilling with the repainting of the fragmentary original framework and all parts of the Ottonian wall paintings not hidden behind the “Bildtapeten” (Fig. 6, 7 and 8).

Fig. 6 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Fig. 6 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

View of the church interior toward the chancel after the installation of the “Bildtapeten” and the restoration by Carl Ph. Schilling, 1890/92.

Photo from the estate of G. Wolf, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

Fig. 7 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Fig. 7 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the miracles of Christ: Scene with the Healing of the Demoniac of Gerasa, after uncovering.

Photo G. Wolf, ca. 1882, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

Fig. 8 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Fig. 8 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the miracles of Christ: “Bildtapete” with the same scene as in Fig. 7, the integrated copy was carried out by Carl Ph. Schilling in 1890/91.

Photo W. Kratt, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

14But only a few years later, in 1906-1908, the innovative concept of presentation was gradually abandoned. With the intention to remove the “Bildtapeten”, the artist-restorer Victor Mezger restored the figurative scenes under the supervision of Max Wingenroth, an expert from the Grand Duke Collections of Antiquities and Ethnology in Karlsruhe. In 1909, the mechanism of the “Bildtapeten” in St. George broke down. The technical problem was used as pretext for their definitive removal and for the initiation of plans for a complete restoration of the whole painting cycle. This restoration of figurative scenes and all figurative elements as well as ornamental framework was carried out by Victor Mezger in 1921-22, including partial repainting and artificial patination in order to achieve a homogeneous appearance of the church interior (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

Fig. 9 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church

View of the church interior toward the chancel after the removal of the “Bildtapeten” and the restoration of Victor Mezger, 1921/22.

Photo ca. 1926, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

15The removed “Bildtapeten” were exposed in the Kunsthalle (exhibition hall) of Karlsruhe, where they served as illustrative material for lessons in history of art. During World War II, they were stored in the attic of the castle of Karlsruhe, where they burned (Jakobs 1999).

16          Studying the historic photos of the interior of St. George at the turn of 1900, we can weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the “Bildtapeten”. The most important advantages of this system were the following:

  • Like a theatre curtain, the roller blinds - with their raising and lowering - enabled different views on the Ottonian painting cycle for different groups of users and beholders, therefore solving a fundamental problem in the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage at that time;

  • The method of the two presentations was largely reversible, it permitted a regular control of the original paintings behind the “Bildtapeten” and its state of preservation; furthermore an absolute clear distinction between the original finding and its integration i.e. interpretation was maintained.

17And here the most evident disadvantages:

  • In the traditional academic differentiation of different values for figurative scenes and ornamental parts of a wall painting cycle, there was a massive discrimination and misunderstanding of the original artistic values that could not be divided at all in “minor” and “major” elements;

  • Introducing different levels of depiction for the integrated figurative scenes on the “Bildtapeten” and the ornamental framework and smaller figurative elements on the walls, an essential quality of wall paintings was lost: the strong and inseparable connection between the architecture and its decoration, between walls and their designed “surface”;

  • The technical problems of maintaining such complex machinery are at heart negligible, but – as the example of St. George shows – they can be too impractical and complicated to be sustainable over a longer period.

18No doubt, a general evaluation of the advantages and drawbacks of the system today is nearly impossible because it requires the single case study, which for St. George is no longer available. However, in the end, the fascinating idea of the “Bildtapeten” is not very compatible with the aesthetic core of historic wall paintings.

Alois Riegl’s essay “Zur Frage der Restaurierung von Wandmalereien“ [Questions on the restoration of wall paintings], Vienna 1903

19Returning to the situation of wall painting preservation and presentation at the turn of the twentieth century, with the innovative idea of the “Bildtapeten”, we have to consider the important and not so well known essay by Alois Riegl on the restoration of wall paintings, Zur Frage der Restaurierung von Wandmalereien,published in 1903, the same year of his famous scholarly piece “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Essence and Its Development” [Der moderne Denkmalskultus, sein Wesen, seine Entstehung]. Riegl’s theory of values with the conflicts between different categories of commemorative values (in particular with the historical value and the age value) and present-day values (with the use value and the artistic value) is also a central theme in the essay on wall painting restoration. But, in contrast to the “Modern Cult of Monuments”, here the impact of every day practice of cultural heritage preservation led to a strong connection between philosophical statements and practical recommendations.

20Riegl started his reflections emphasizing the huge interest that historic wall paintings generated since the nineteenth century within the general public in Austria. He distinguished three groups of wall painting beholders: the art historians, the radicals and the traditionalists.  They all wanted to preserve the paintings, but with different methods and goals due to their different approach to the work of art. The art historians primarily appreciated old wall paintings as documents of former artistic periods, without any sentimental value and artistic feeling; they aimed to discover the historical truth – all in all, they were in line with Riegl’s historic value.

21The radicals and the traditionalists both belonged to the big group of ordinary persons, art lovers and artists who had a mere artistic interest in old wall paintings, but with different artistic feeling. The radicals were the more modern people, they appreciated the age of the paintings because it could evoke a very strong emotional value for modern aesthetic contemplation – and here, they bore reference to Riegl’s age value. Also, the traditionalists recognized this emotional value, but they were equally interested in the depiction with its motifs and wanted to be able to recognize them. In this way, the traditionalists connected with Riegl’s commemorative values – age value – with present-day values, namely, artistic value and one of its sub-categories, newness value. Their appreciation of old wall paintings was partially bound by the nineteenth century concept of restoration, i.e. repainting of the original appearance. The clergy and the owners of ecclesiastical art mostly were members of this traditionalists group. When Riegl tried to establish principles for the conservation of wall paintings, he had to take the different interests of all three groups into consideration. The position of the radicals was really clear: they wanted to preserve the wall paintings without any alteration of their fragmentary character. They had very subjective feelings for artworks from the past, without any interest in historical research or social traditions and conventions. So, with their deliberate declaration against subjectivism in restoration, which led to conjectural and imaginary treatment of lacunae, based on individual feeling, they focus on the emotions the non-restored fragments evoke with all the damages and signs of the passage of time.

22The point of view of art historians was more complicated: they were not interested in the present day condition of the paintings, but in their original appearance. At the same time, they were aware of the impossibility of re-establishing the original condition with a restoration of the paintings, and they refused to accept any type of forgery with arbitrary additions and repainting. So in the end, they reluctantly accepted the fragmentary condition of the works of art. The standpoint of the traditionalists was the most complex and complicated: they generally had distaste for imperfect and fragmentary works of art; in fact, they demanded complete and unitary forms and depictions. Therefore, traditionalists were essentially closest to the mind-set of the nineteenth century. Maybe the laymen in this group might have been converted to the position of the radicals, possibly enforced by legislation; but the authoritative representatives of the traditionalists were the ecclesiastic administrators of churches with wall paintings. And here, Riegl analysed religious art, especially the ecclesiastic art of the Catholic Church with its requirement of firm and complete forms and figures as a normative validity, and he pointed out the links with the Catholic dogma. He concluded that it would be senseless to battle against this ecclesiastic position with the law for the protection of ancient monuments. In practice, it was necessary to reconcile the conflict between different interests, and look for a common ground within the three groups of wall painting beholders. They all certainly appreciated and wanted to preserve old wall paintings, but the crucial point was the choice between conservation and restoration – and when choosing the latter, the methods and extent of restoration. But, when restoration in practise was equivalent to repainting, the preservation of the original as historical document was all but impossible.

23Discussing practicable conflict resolutions, Riegl presented a critical analysis of the “Bildtapeten” without using this term but describing the method: making copies of the original, integrating these copies and attaching them to the walls, covering the untouched originals. He generally remarked that this method was recommended for such conflict cases and sometimes carried out, but he did not quote examples. Then, he pointed out in detail that this method was aimed at resolving the conflicts between the art historians, radicals and traditionalists, but in fact, none of the three groups would be completely happy with this solution. Maybe that art historians could accept this solution with all its limitations more than the other two groups, because they could see the untouched originals after raising the roller blinds, even though – from their point of view – there was no reason for covering the originals with integrated copies. However, why the radicals approved this method at all was not understandable for Riegl because the attached copies in fact killed the artistic feeling and the emotional atmosphere, exactly in the same manner as restored paintings. In this way, by implementing the “Bildtapeten” solution, the radicals could only thwart the wishes of traditionalists, but not gratify their own desires. Finally, the method was completely unacceptable for the traditionalists because – as Riegl pointed out – they also were persons with modern feelings seeking out the emotional values of art works and therefore interested in their antiquarian character. From the point of view of the traditionalists, therefore, it was impertinent to cover the estimated old paintings with modern copies. In this case, it would have been better to opt directly for modern compositions carried out with modern ways and means. In the end, Riegl rejected “Bildtapeten” as a solution to fill the gap between the different needs and expectations of the three groups of wall painting beholders.

24In the following considerations, he tried to evaluate various methods of conservation and restoration of wall paintings, especially concerning the integration of fragmentary paintings. With certain helplessness, he declared: if integration is absolutely necessary, let’s do it as little as possible. At the same time, he recognised that “modern” retouching methods, like e. g.  reinforcing only the contours, didn’t at all ensure a better conservation of the original character. Therefore, Riegl appealed for a scholarly study of fragmentary wall paintings, with empathy for their characteristic elements of contours, shape and colour. He demanded an intellectual approach to the artwork and the accurateness of the copyist from the artist-restorer, without any personal artistic ambition.

25Riegl stressed the challenge for the “Austrian Central Commission for the Study and the Preservation of Artistic and Historic Monuments” [k. k. Zentral-Kommission für Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst- und historischen Denkmale] to take full responsibility for all restoration works. Not only a continuous control, but also a strong cooperation between art historians and artist-restorers would ensure better results. Before starting a restoration work, Riegl asked for complete documentation of the untouched original wall paintings, with photography, watercolour copies and detailed description, to satisfy the requests of history of art within the bounds of what was possible. From Riegl’s point of view, these documentations, archived by the Zentral-Kommission, would bear the memory of the originals and form the basis for studies and publications on historical wall paintings: it is the sad truth that the restored originals had inevitably lost their documentary character.

Georg Hager’s speech “Erhaltung alter Wandmalereien” [Preservation of old wall paintings], Erfurt 1903

26In Germany, the experts of the young scholarly discipline “Denkmalpflege”, i. e. the care and preservation of cultural heritage, started in 1900 holding regular conference meetings. At the third meeting in Erfurt in 1903, Georg Hager, the aforementioned director of the Royal Bavarian Department for the Preservation of Artistic and Historic Heritage, gave a speech on the preservation of old wall paintings. In contrast to Riegl’s essay on wall painting restoration of the same year (discussed above), Hager’s speech had a clear practical orientation with an explanation of methods and techniques, starting with the uncovering, and passing onto conservation works, to restoration.

27The speech was published in 1913 (Hager 1913). It is not known whether Riegl and Hager compared notes in 1903 on this subject, impetuously debated in circles of experts at this time. In our context, some of Hager’s general remarks and suggestions can elucidate the problems of wall painting preservation at the turn of the twentieth century. Hager severely criticized the widely practised drastic restoration and denounced these restored art works as irreparably damaged. He pointed out that ancient wall paintings could not appear as new, but should have their patina preserved. For Hager, in many cases, it would have been better to abstain from uncovering wall paintings: he pointed out that whitewashes on the original could be its best conservator. In the debate on the presentation of historic wall paintings in churches, Hager saw the need for respecting theological and liturgical issues and the legitimate goal of a harmonious impression of church interiors, able to “elevate heart and mind”. He argued that in subordinated chapels or side aisles, uncovered wall paintings could remain untouched and covered as needed with movable curtains. In this way, troubles for the churchgoers provoked by the theological contents of ancient wall paintings could be avoided.

28When the presentation of wall paintings in the church interior would be a problem not for theological reasons but due to their bad state of preservation, Hager mentioned also movable copies on textiles for covering the paintings on which no restoration was undertaken – the method of the “Bildtapeten,” successfully adopted in the Grand Duchy of Baden (today the Land Baden-Württemberg). As good examples without any critical evaluation, he listed the painting cycle of St. George in Oberzell-Reichenau and the wall paintings of St. Maria Magdalena in Tiefenbronn near Pforzheim. Despite the recommendation of Hager, there is no testimony of “Bildtapeten” having been realized in Bavaria in these years.

Further developments of “Bildtapeten” in Baden-Württemberg: Goldbach and Meersburg

29In the early twentieth century, the most famous case of “Bildtapeten”, St. George in Oberzell-Reichenau, gave rise to a short-lived hype of this presentation method, especially in the southwest of Germany. The two following examples in the region of the Lake of Constance present interesting conceptual and technical developments.

30The wall painting cycle in the St. Sylvester Chapel in Goldbach near Überlingen dates from the ninth century. It was covered by several whitewashes and, in the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, by younger wall paintings. In 1899, the brothers Mezger, artist-restorers from Überlingen, accidentally discovered the paintings from the ninth century, started the uncovering and informed the authorities. Thanks to his experience with the wall paintings in Oberzell-Reichenau, Victor Mezger associated the depictions of apostles and the meander friezes in the chancel of Goldbach with those of St. George. Following the presentation concept of 1889/91 in St. George, Mezger did not restore the wall paintings in the chancel of St. Sylvester but carried out copies on textile.  He modified the system of covering: instead of the roller blinds to raise and lower, he developed a very suitable construction for the small space of the chancel, with wooden frames built like casement windows with hinged wings covered with the painted textiles (Fig. 10, 11 and 12).

Fig. 10 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Fig. 10 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: View of the triumphal wall with a mixture of different layers of uncovered medieval wall painting cycles, and of the chancel with the uncovered and partially covered wall paintings depicting the apostles, during the restoration works carried out by Mezger. Photo ca. 1920.

credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg

Fig. 11 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Fig. 11 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: View of the chancel, with the Ottonian paintings covered by copies on textiles, with a special system of covering developed by Mezger, built like casement windows with hinged wings covered with the painted textiles. Photo ca. 1920

Credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg

Fig. 12 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Fig. 12 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel

Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: Detail of the uncovered and not restored Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the apostles, on the east chancel wall, with the casement window opened. Photo ca. 1920

Credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

31Without any technical problem, it was possible to open the wings like wall cupboards to view the original paintings, and to close them for a complete and unitary presentation of the depiction. In comparison with Mezger’s watercolour documentation of the findings, one could notice that his copies of the sitting apostles were free interpretations of the original, with variations of posture and gesture and smaller dimensions of the figures (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13 Watercolour by Victor Mezger

Fig. 13 Watercolour by Victor Mezger

East chancel wall in St. Sylvester Church, Goldbach. Documentation of the uncovering carried out by Mezger in 1904, with the depiction of the apostles still visible the Gothic window in the middle, which was closed in 1958.

Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

32The depiction of an enthroned Christ was lost when a Gothic window was inserted into the middle of the east wall, built in the ninth century. Mezger reconstructed this figure of Christ on the “Bildtapete”, which covered the window recess. He repainted the architectonic ornaments on the base of the chancel walls and designed in a stylistically suitable manner an ornamental decoration on the new wooden ceiling as well as a new altar retable with Christ on the Cross and a base with an incorporated tabernacle. In fact, it was a completely elaborated presentation concept with a harmonious design for the entire chancel. In 1910, Mezger finished his work in the chancel and in the nave – the latter because of scarcity of funds was without “Bildtapeten”, but only with retouching (Michler 1992; Reichwald 1998 and 2002).

33Another example implementing a screen solution was found in the Cemetery Chapel in Meersburg. This building originally was an infirmary chapel consecrated to the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, with a little hall from the fifteenth century, and a post-medieval annex of the chancel. A painting cycle from the early sixteenth century with depiction of the Passion of Christ was accidentally uncovered during renovation works in 1902 on the north wall of the hall. The paintings remained untouched; they were not integrated in the new design concept of the interior inspired by a gothic revival.

34However, the authorities and the architect in charge were aware of their value and were cognizant of the modern ideas of ancient monument protection. Therefore, they chose a modern variant of variable presentation: a construction with wooden frames designed like a folding screen, very easy to open and to shut. The panels of this screen were covered with textile, however not showing copies of the damaged wall paintings but neo-gothic ornaments corresponding to the new interior design, with freezes on the wooden ceiling and ornaments on the chancel walls in the same style. Only on the south and west walls of the chapel hall, some single wall paintings were restored and integrated into the new presentation of the room (Fig. 14 and 15) (Michler 1992; Reichwald 1998 and 2002).

Fig. 14 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel

Fig. 14 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel

North wall in the hall: closed folding screen decorated with neo-gothic ornaments. This presentation of 1902 was conserved in the late twentieth century.

Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

Fig. 15 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel

Fig. 15 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel

North wall in the hall: opened folding screen and view on the wall painting cycle of the early sixteenth century uncovered in 1902 and conserved in the late twentieth century.

Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.

Modifications of the “Bildtapeten” concept in Northern Germany

35In the early twentieth century, the idea of the “Bildtapeten” was assimilated also in Northern Germany, but unfortunately without capturing the core of the concept – the variable presentation of ancient wall paintings for different groups of beholders and their specific needs and interests. Two case studies – one in Lower Saxony and the other in Saxony Anhalt – could illustrate the dubious interpretation of the original purpose.

36In the little church of St. Nicholas in Melverode near Brunswick, a building from the late twelfth century, a figurative and decorative painting cycle on walls and vaults dating from the first half of the thirteenth century was discovered and uncovered around 1870. Considering the bad condition and the necessity to preserve the fragments at their best, the authorities decided to cover the wall paintings temporarily with white textiles, probably glued on the walls. In 1897, Pastor Gennit of Melverode started a request for a distinguished repainting of the church interior in an appropriate medieval style. In 1902, the authorities initiated a documentation campaign with photography, tracings and watercolours. A complete renovation of the painted decoration was carried out by assistants of the artist-restorer Adolf Quensen from Brunswick. Because of heavy humidity damage, Quensen thought that a restoration, i.e. repainting of the ancient depictions on the original plaster would be impossible.

37However, the authorities demanded that the hardly discernible depictions of the St. Nicholas-legend and the Life and Passion of Christ on the north and south walls of the chancel be preserved “for future generations as documents of the history of art”. Therefore, Quensen developed a differentiated restoration concept, with the preservation of these fragmentary paintings on the middle part of the chancel walls behind wooden frames covered with textiles showing integrated copies of the depictions, and with a repainting on the original surface on the upper parts. On all the vaults and on the walls of the nave, he decided to carry out new plastering as basis for a free reconstruction of the medieval paintings. Quensen’s goal was to achieve a harmonious church interior with a homogeneous appearance of wall and vault paintings. He was not interested at all in the possibility of a variable presentation for the little original fragments on the chancel walls: the wooden frames with the copies were nailed to the walls – and apparently, the authorities had no problem with this solution. To view the hopefully preserved authentic remains requires a complex and time-consuming removal of the copies (Fig. 16, 17 and 18) (Pfeifer 1906; Mainusch 2002; Lindemeier 2008).

Fig. 16 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

Fig. 16 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

North wall in the chancel: wall painting cycle uncovered, partially covered with copies (“Bildtapeten”) and restored by  A. Quensen in the early twentieth century.

Photo ca. 1905, repro: Pfeifer 1906.

Fig. 17 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

Fig. 17 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

North wall in the chancel: the wall painting cycle uncovered, partially covered with copies (“Bildtapeten”) and restored by A. Quensen in the early twentieth century.

Photos: Stefanie Lindemeier.

Fig. 18 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

Fig. 18 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church

North wall in the chancel: actual situation with detail of a corner of the copy, the wooden frame nailed on the wall.

Photos: Stefanie Lindemeier.

38In the church of St. Elisabeth in Zeddenick, built in the late twelfth century, a Romanesque wall painting cycle was discovered and uncovered during renovation works in 1899. The artist-restorer August Olbers from Hanover was commissioned in 1902 to restore the heavily damaged paintings. As the iconography and the shapes and forms of the depictions were still discernable, Olbers based his reconstruction of the figural and ornamental paintings on these exiguous fragments. In large part, he painted directly on the ancient surfaces, but for some figures of Saints, he carried out copies on textile and glued these copies on the preserved original remains. He vindicated this sort of “marouflage” as a method for preserving the precious Romanesque fragments, but probably it was much simpler for him to carry out the reconstruction on textile. One can suppose that Olbers had a dim knowledge of the “Bildtapeten” and mistook this concept for a pragmatic solution. The authorities did not evaluate Olbers’ work, but the church community highly appreciated the harmonious paintings in the Romanesque style (Fig. 19 and 20) (Walter 2001; Lindemeier 2008).

Fig. 19 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church

Fig. 19 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church

Interior with view toward the chancel: Romanesque wall painting cycle repainted by August Olbers, in poor condition, the copies on textiles (marouflage) partially lost, present condition.

Photo: church community of St. Elisabeth.

Fig. 20 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church

Fig. 20 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church

North chancel wall: Romanesque wall painting cycle repainted by August Olbers, in poor condtion, the better preserved figures in the arcades are copies on textiles (marouflage), present condition.

Photo: Diana Walter 2001.

The fate of the “Bildtapeten” after their popularization in the early twentieth century

39With World War I, restoration works on wall paintings were largely stopped, and with the gradually resumption of activities in the 1920s, the concept of “Bildtapeten” fell into oblivion. The attention of owners and authorities was not directed at wall painting until the state of the church interiors demanded new restoration works. The only exception is the aforementioned and most famous example of St. George in Reichenau-Oberzell. These outstanding paintings were in the public eye, and the critical evaluation of the “Bildtapeten” starting immediately after its execution, and set the seal on their very short “destiny”, with their removal after 1909.

40The other examples presented in this overview met different fates. In the Sylvester Chapel of Goldbach, an extensive restoration of the interior took place in the late 1950s. It spawned the decision to remove Mezger’s “Bildtapeten” in the chancel together with his altar retable and his decorative painting on the wooden ceiling. With the new conservation campaign of the wall paintings, the unitary presentation concept of the early twentieth century was sacrificed. This decision caused massive new interventions without satisfactory conservation and restoration results. Therefore in 1987, appropriate conservation works started. Experts regretted that Mezger’s restoration was irreversibly removed; they realized a scholarly well-founded conservation concept was necessary to resolve the inherited situation (Reichwald 1998).

41In Meersburg, the neo-gothic design of the cemetery chapel was preserved without any alteration until 1986, when salt efflorescence required a conservation campaign. The experts decided to preserve the design of 1902 in its entirety, including the folding screen covering the wall painting cycle on the north wall. The intervention was limited to necessary conservation work, such as cleaning and consolidation. Thereby, the cemetery chapel represents a singular example of still authentically preserved “Bildtapeten” (Reichwald 2002). In St. Nicholas in Melverode, a poorly documented conservation and restoration of the interior was carried out in 1971, apparently connected with a conservation of the copies covering the original fragments on the chancel walls. It is uncertain if the persons in charge were able to identify the extent and the techniques of Quensen’s restoration that was preserved. In St. Elisabeth in Zeddenick, the State conservator in charge in 1959 detected Olber’s complete repainting and therefore evaluated the Romanesque wall paintings as “worthless” – but fortunately, his evaluation had no practical consequences apart from neglecting the paintings.

Conclusions and perspectives

42In the course of the 1980s and 90s, the authorities changed their point of view regarding the evaluation of historic restorations, and generally recognized the previous interventions as an illuminative chapter of cultural history. Scholarly studies at universities contributed to a general acceptance of still preserved historic interventions, as in Melverode and Zeddenick. But the important examples of “Bildtapeten” are mostly lost; therefore conclusions primarily concern the thoughts and principles behind this method rather than the objects themselves.  

43The theoretical foundation of the innovative “Bildtapeten” concept remains rather elusive; it mainly turns up through the study of the examples. Only Alois Riegl undertook the task to analyse the meritorious aims and requests of the method and its weakness with philosophical clearness. The majority of the experts mentioned the “Bildtapeten” without a critical evaluation. Maybe that is the reason for a rather unclear evolution and adoption of the method in several cases, with the unfortunate loss of the core idea: the visibility of the untouched original and the absolutely clear distinction between the historic document and the integrated copy. In fact, an indistinguishable mixture of original and reconstruction, like in Melverode, is exactly the opposite of what “Bildtapeten” aspired to.

44In the end, analysing the most coherent and successful examples in Baden-Württemberg mainly based on photographic documents, the idea of “Bildtapeten” is convincing from an ethically and aesthetically point of view only in smaller interiors like the chancel of Goldbach. Here, the nearly complete panel construction covering the walls interfered only in a minor way with the architecture, when compared with the very dominant system of roller blinds in Reichenau-Oberzell. In addition, the example in Goldbach did not fall into the trap of the problematic differentiation between elements of high and low value.

45Can the “Bildtapeten” model be still useful for some conservation challenges of today? Probably not, because in the new digital world we can benefit from virtual reconstructions and project them with the available technical support for temporary presentations on the original fragments. Maybe this possibility at its heart is a digital revival of the “Bildtapeten”.

46It is curious that the use of the “Bildtapeten” has not completely disappeared, but lives on in the form of “marouflage”. In situations of conflict between State conservators and churchgoers and clergy, the old model could be revived, as a recent example from Westphalia shows: in the Catholic Church of Paderborn-Neuenbeken, the Romanesque wall painting cycle was poorly preserved and the depictions on the vaults were rather indiscernible. For liturgical reasons the church community demanded a clear depiction of the Maiestas Domini. The authorities wanted to avoid a repainting on the original surface. So, a “marouflage” on paper carefully glued to the wall was carried out; the work was finished in 2010 (Boesler 2013) (Fig. 21).

Fig. 21 Paderborn-Neuenbeken, Catholic Church

Fig. 21 Paderborn-Neuenbeken, Catholic Church

Detail of the marouflage (watercolour on paper glued on the vault) of the Maiestas Domini, applied over the few remains of the Romanesque painting, conservation/restoration carried out in 2007-2010.

Photo: Westfälisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Münster.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 Prüfening, St. George Church
Légende Main chancel, north wall: neo-medieval repainting by Friedrich Pfleiderer, made in 1901.
Crédits Photo: Ursula Schädler-Saub, 2007.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Fig. 2 Prüfening, St. George Church
Légende Vault in the presbytery with the “Sponsa Christi”:  a neo-medieval repainting by Friedrich Pfleiderer, made in 1901.
Crédits Photo: Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Fig. 3 Prüfening, St. George Church
Légende South annex chancel: detail of the uncovered and preserved Romanesque wall paintings.
Crédits Photo: Ursula Schädler-Saub, 2007.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Fig. 4 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church
Légende View of the church interior toward the chancel after the uncovering of the Ottonian wall painting cycle.
Crédits Photo G. Wolf, between 1882-1890, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Titre Fig. 5 Watercolour by Johann R. Rahn
Légende The watercolour depicts part of the uncovered wall painting cycle in St. Arbogast, Oberwinterthur, Switzerland.
Crédits Repro: Rahn 1883.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Fig. 6 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church
Légende View of the church interior toward the chancel after the installation of the “Bildtapeten” and the restoration by Carl Ph. Schilling, 1890/92.
Crédits Photo from the estate of G. Wolf, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Fig. 7 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church
Légende Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the miracles of Christ: Scene with the Healing of the Demoniac of Gerasa, after uncovering.
Crédits Photo G. Wolf, ca. 1882, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 164k
Titre Fig. 8 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church
Légende Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the miracles of Christ: “Bildtapete” with the same scene as in Fig. 7, the integrated copy was carried out by Carl Ph. Schilling in 1890/91.
Crédits Photo W. Kratt, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Titre Fig. 9 Reichenau-Oberzell, St. George Church
Légende View of the church interior toward the chancel after the removal of the “Bildtapeten” and the restoration of Victor Mezger, 1921/22.
Crédits Photo ca. 1926, photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 10 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel
Légende Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: View of the triumphal wall with a mixture of different layers of uncovered medieval wall painting cycles, and of the chancel with the uncovered and partially covered wall paintings depicting the apostles, during the restoration works carried out by Mezger. Photo ca. 1920.
Crédits credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 11 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel
Légende Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: View of the chancel, with the Ottonian paintings covered by copies on textiles, with a special system of covering developed by Mezger, built like casement windows with hinged wings covered with the painted textiles. Photo ca. 1920
Crédits Credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 12 Goldbach. St. Sylvester Chapel
Légende Ottonian and Gothic wall painting cycles: Detail of the uncovered and not restored Ottonian wall painting cycle depicting the apostles, on the east chancel wall, with the casement window opened. Photo ca. 1920
Crédits Credits: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 13 Watercolour by Victor Mezger
Légende East chancel wall in St. Sylvester Church, Goldbach. Documentation of the uncovering carried out by Mezger in 1904, with the depiction of the apostles still visible the Gothic window in the middle, which was closed in 1958.
Crédits Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Titre Fig. 14 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel
Légende North wall in the hall: closed folding screen decorated with neo-gothic ornaments. This presentation of 1902 was conserved in the late twentieth century.
Crédits Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Fig. 15 Meersburg, Cemetery Chapel
Légende North wall in the hall: opened folding screen and view on the wall painting cycle of the early sixteenth century uncovered in 1902 and conserved in the late twentieth century.
Crédits Photo credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Fig. 16 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church
Légende North wall in the chancel: wall painting cycle uncovered, partially covered with copies (“Bildtapeten”) and restored by  A. Quensen in the early twentieth century.
Crédits Photo ca. 1905, repro: Pfeifer 1906.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 268k
Titre Fig. 17 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church
Légende North wall in the chancel: the wall painting cycle uncovered, partially covered with copies (“Bildtapeten”) and restored by A. Quensen in the early twentieth century.
Crédits Photos: Stefanie Lindemeier.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 18 Melverode, St. Nicholas Church
Légende North wall in the chancel: actual situation with detail of a corner of the copy, the wooden frame nailed on the wall.
Crédits Photos: Stefanie Lindemeier.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Fig. 19 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church
Légende Interior with view toward the chancel: Romanesque wall painting cycle repainted by August Olbers, in poor condition, the copies on textiles (marouflage) partially lost, present condition.
Crédits Photo: church community of St. Elisabeth.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-19.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 20 Zeddenick, St. Elisabeth Church
Légende North chancel wall: Romanesque wall painting cycle repainted by August Olbers, in poor condtion, the better preserved figures in the arcades are copies on textiles (marouflage), present condition.
Crédits Photo: Diana Walter 2001.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-20.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 21 Paderborn-Neuenbeken, Catholic Church
Légende Detail of the marouflage (watercolour on paper glued on the vault) of the Maiestas Domini, applied over the few remains of the Romanesque painting, conservation/restoration carried out in 2007-2010.
Crédits Photo: Westfälisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Münster.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3551/img-21.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 131k
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Ursula Schädler-Saub, « “Bildtapeten” and the conservation of medieval wall paintings at the turn of the twentieth century in Germany », CeROArt [En ligne],  | 2013, mis en ligne le 30 octobre 2013, consulté le 28 juillet 2016. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/3551

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Auteur

Ursula Schädler-Saub

Ursula Schädler-Saub is a professor of the history and theory of conservation and restoration and of history of art at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Germany.  She studied history of art, history and philosophy and conservation/restoration with specialisation in wall painting conservation in Milan and Florence. She is the author of numerous publications, with the main emphasis on history and theory of conservation and restoration. HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen.Faculty Architecture, Engineering and Conservation. Bismarckplatz 10-11, D – 31135 Hildesheim. Email: ursula-saub@gmx.de

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CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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