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Changing cult values and their impact on conservation history in Czechoslovakia

Zuzana Bauerova

Résumés

L’article examine comment les concepts de conservation-restauration répondent à certaines changements politiques, idéologiques et sociaux importants ayant eu lieu en Tchécoslovaquie (1918-1992). Par sa description de l’évolution des valeurs de culte il montre  le dynamisme culturel et les paradoxes présents dans la “préservation officielle” de l’Etat. Ceci a un impact direct sur la théorie de conservation-restauration et contribue à l’interprétation relativiste du patrimoine culturel, thèmes largement discutés.

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There is no problem with the fact that we can never know whether history has its final meaning or not and if we can afford to evaluate it. Actually, we all are stuck in it …

Jean-Paul Sartre

I am grateful to Isabelle Brajer for her insightful suggestions and final editing.

Introduction

1In her book, Mary Heimann, calls Czechoslovakia "…the state that failed…" It lasted for just seventy-four years during which it "…was federalized, centralized, dissolved and reconstituted…" (Heimann 2011: 1); it experienced democracy, Fascism, Nazi occupation, Communism, Stalinism, Soviet occupation, Perestroika and democracy again. Situated right in the middle of Europe, this "…insecure zone in between Russia and Germany…" that "…does not trust politics or history…" jointly formed the cultural and intellectual milieu of what Kundera calls "…European cultural legacy…" (Kundera 1983). As Heimann states, "This was a place where it was not only possible, but normal, for a single person to have all the varied experiences of being born a subject of the Habsburg Empire; brought up with the ideals of Wilsonian democracy; come of age under Nazism; joined in the postwar quest for social equality; being indoctrinated with Stalinism; successively re-educated in the ways of reform and neo-conservative Communism; converted to free-market capitalism; and, all along, stubbornly clung to old-fashioned, Romantic nationalism."(Heimann 2011: 1).

2Because of this geo-political context, the example of conservation practice in Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1992 offers a unique chance to identify changing cultural heritage cult values constructed under the various processes determined by particular social, political and cultural circumstances of Central Europe in the twentieth century. It allows us to follow the chronological development of the cultural heritage preservation priorities, conservation concepts (methodological approaches), their institutionalization and impact on the conservation profession in a clearly circumscribed European region: be it either reverence for the relics as natural human behavior (necessity of self-identification with ancestors), or  the influence of the Historicism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (when the cult of the monument became the explicit ideological programme and led towards its institutionalization).

Methodology

3For the purposes of this essay, considerations will be made regarding conservation of cultural heritage as a social process that reflects social, political and ideological changes responding to major philosophical and aesthetical theories of a specific historical moment. These changes have a direct impact on the principles of conservation practice or conservation concepts of a defined period with preferred conservation and cultural heritage presentation principles. They also demonstrate how the expectations of society on a political level changed during a defined period. And, last but not least, they help trace various cults and their expressions found in society’s traditions, as defined by Walter Benjamin in his essay from 1936 (Benjamin 1936).

4Therefore, there is no conservation treatment that would not be included in direct implementation of preferred (usually institutionalized) values and would not become an instrument for creating and re-creating of cultural heritage.

5Along with a description of the above mentioned changes, this paper will identify changing cults created either by these social and historical circumstances (such as cult of personality, institution, nation, past, cult of functionality, or cult of Futurism, cult of money, among others), or within conservation practice itself (such as cult of personality, cult of positivism, cult of scientific conservation, etc.). The paper also examines how conservation concepts responded to these cults, which notions were crucial and embodied in explicit conservation practices, and how conservation policy as well as practice became a battlefield when conflicting parties attempted to control the valuation process in cultural heritage.

6This will be demonstrated on selected officially presented (published) methodological approaches (theories) from the Czechoslovak conservation practice, described chronologically in order to give a historical overview of major cult values in methodological approaches to visual art conservation. To emphasize the influence of the political situation and its cults, the examples of conservation treatments of works of art are complemented by a selection of examples of preservation of representative monuments.

  • 1 The fact that Czechoslovakia was established as a country of two major nations with partially diffe (...)

7However, this overview does not include all aspects of conservation approaches1. Rather than having pretensions to cover the entire topic in all its complexity, the author aims to sketch the major characteristics of Czechoslovak conservation history.

8Writing about cults in conservation approaches is a challenge: to identify symbolical centres of culturally and politically constructed pictures of "central events" (Havelka 2006: 10-11) that would give a suitable description of a fundamental turn in the Czechoslovak conservation history is not an easy issue. Apart from interpreting the state’s political and cultural history, we can focus on three spheres that give direct or indirect answers to presented questions, all relevant for each analysed period. Firstly, it is a selection of monuments/treated objects. Secondly, it is an interpretation of conservation priorities (either by conservators or by art historian-researchers, who are generally accepted as professionals in cultural heritage preservation in the analysed geo-political context, directly during treatment or with historical distance when interpreting past interventions). And, last but not least, the third sphere deals with the use of the object after its treatment (the object’s position within original or new settings, for example, displayed in a museum, or as an object of religion contemplation, etc.).

9The first area is difficult to assess due to the lack of relevant statistical data, for example, on funding. Therefore, the paper relies predominantly on information gained from the analysis of major cultural events in representative cultural institutions, such as exhibitions in the national galleries, participation in international exhibitions, etc.

10Major axis of the presented debate on the two other areas will cover the interpretation of available conservation archival materials, conservation documentation, published studies on particular conservation interventions, treated works of art, methodological approaches, contributions to conservation concepts, texts on cultural and academic institutions and on the conservation profession of the analysed period.

The "Central European" concept of monument preservation as a starting point

  • 2  This system-based interpretation of an art historian’s status in monument preservation is still va (...)

11Czechoslovakia belonged to those countries in Central Europe that adopted the "Central European" concept and system of monument preservation brought about by representatives of the Vienna School of Art History. The Central European tradition of monument preservation is directly linked with k.k. Central-Commission zur Erforschung und Erhaltung der Baudenkmale, the central state institute for monument preservation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, established in 1850 in Vienna. However, due to the multinational character of the Habsburg Empire, shortly after its establishment, the Central-Commission had to abrogate its original restoration doctrine (aimed at the political revival of the aristocratic class by providing material/tangible historical evidence enabling its legitimate claim to its integrity), and replace it by a universalistic concept of pluralism and radical cosmopolitism (Bakos 2004: 152). This choice promised to avoid further nationalistic tendencies of individual nations. It was supported by a well-elaborated model of bureaucracy based on involvement of erudite scholars - educated civil servants, who, as state experts, were asked to support the system with their positivistic objective statements.2 It was this trust in positivism and scientific objectivity that shifted the official monument preservation approach more towards conservation and renounced purist restoration (Bakos 2004: 153). Naturally, the doctrine promoting conservation had been successively implemented as a respect for monarchist patriotism.

12Under these circumstances, sharing William Morris’s socialistic utopian confidence, Alois Riegl (1858–1905), professor at the Vienna University and member of the Vienna School of Art History, one of the influential practitioners of formalism, introduced his pluralistic concept of competing monument values (Riegl 1903). His approach was based on pluralistic interpretation of history, and as such supported the Empire’s cosmopolitan ideology (in compliance with its multinational nature). Although art historians and conservators often incorrectly interpret his book as a theoretical work, he addressed it to preservation practitioners and state officers. It was intended to be used as a tool for monument preservation rather than a theoretical study.

13This positivistic approach, inherited by Riegl’s student and colleague, of Czech origin, Max Dvorak (1874-1921), influenced monument preservation practice in the Czech lands. It laid the foundations for the monument preservation administrational organization in Czechoslovakia, the country that had arisen from the ruins of Habsburg Monarchy in 1918.

1918 - The year when Czechoslovakia "was born"

14One of the influential representatives of Czechoslovak monument preservation, Zdenek Wirth (1878-1961), described the situation in "new-born" Czechoslovakia as "…a sudden moment, when the originally [for Austria] negative cultural programme became the most positive official programme of the new Republic, our cultural institutions were overnight authorized to deal with highest executive tasks and our institutions turned into national justice!" (Wirth 1918–1921: 246). Almost immediately after the declaration of the new state, new cultural and scientific institutions started to operate together with those representing executive power (Ministry of Culture and National Public Awareness, Governmental Commissioner for Monument Preservation). In accordance with the valid Act No. 11 of October 1918, they took over all Empire competences in order to keep legal continuity.

15Together with the new institutional and organizational structure, the Czechoslovak official state monument preservation advanced, thanks to the principles of Riegl’s so-called "modern monument preservation” with systematic help from cultural societies under the leadership of the Club for Old Prague. For the Czech – and partially also for the Slovak – conservation practice (i.e. the centralized state monument preservation) completed former national efforts for independent self-administration.

16However, this idealistic situation, full of enthusiasm, was accompanied by one major task to be solved (also) in the field of conservation – it was necessary to replace the myth of a unified multinational monarchy with the new myth of an independent Czechoslovak nation (Wirth 1918 – 1921; Bakos 1991). A new cult was about to be created.

The cult of the independent Czechoslovak nation

  • 3  This concept failed very quickly and was later replaced by federalization. In her book, Heimann (H (...)

17Ideologically, the myth of the independent Czechoslovak nation was based on the interpretation of the first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), a humanist and philosopher. He introduced the idea of a mature nation that fulfils the humanistic and religious mission sketched by Czech history, with its roots based in the Hussite movement and humanistic brotherhood. His concept of the "Czech question" was accompanied by the idea of the unified artificially created Czechoslovak nation (denying differences between the Czechs and Slovaks), based on the interpretation of their common Slavic past.3 Therefore, new symbols of political and national power had to be found and supported.

  • 4 Bratislava became the capital of Slovak Socialist Republic in 1968, and has been the capital city u (...)

18Among them, the first in a row, were the Prague Castle (Fig. 1), the new seat of the Czechoslovak president in the capital city, and the Bratislava Castle (Fig. 2), the visual centre of the biggest Slovak city.4

Fig. 1 View of Prague Castle

Fig. 1 View of Prague Castle

The new seat of the Czechoslovak president after 1918.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

Fig. 2 Bratislava Castle

Fig. 2 Bratislava Castle

The visual centre of the biggest Slovak city.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

19The conservation, or, in the case of the Bratislava Castle, even reconstruction, of these historic buildings attracted the attention of representatives of the new state, together with monument preservationists and conservators. Since these premises also later in the twentieth century became the seats of the state representatives, this interest did not stop until recently.

20In the first case, the cult of the new Czechoslovak state accelerated all conservation activities at the Prague Castle. They included the implementation of archaeological surveys and new modernist interventions into the historic structure. Officially, they were interpreted as a demonstration of the state’s democracy introduced after previous monarchism. These interventions were made according to the plans of the president’s official architect, Joze Plecnik from Slovenia (1872-1957), a student of Otto Wagner. In the second case, the state representatives had to deal with the castle’s condition in which it remained after Napoleon’s ravaging of the city. The official debate resulted in a proposal for a completely new construction of a new university complex on the top of hill above the city. However, further discussions about the castle’s appearance and function did not fit this proposal. The officials helped save the castle ruins from complete demolition and forged respect for historical value as a priority over functional and economic value.

The cult of scientific conservation

21The post-war economic prosperity positively influenced the second decade of the twentieth century and the first years of 1930s. The expansion of science and technology allowed the implementation of new ways of interpreting art work, especially that influenced by Surrealism, Structuralism and Psychoanalysis. Together with the discovery of synthetic materials and their implementation in conservation practice, and the new possibilities of artifact investigation, the profession was subjected to radical change. Institutional organization was centralized; the majority of cultural institutions completed their transformation from provincial Austrian museums and galleries into modern Czechoslovak organizations and institutions. Conservation was opened to new ideas – new trust was placed in objectivism and scientific conservation. This time, the cult was introduced and implemented by conservators themselves.

22Scientific conservation in late 1920s and early 1930s was a result of modern monument preservation practice. Systematic scientific methods and approaches taken from related humanistic sciences (history, art history, aesthetics) and from completely new, technologically and experimentally oriented approaches (predominantly taken from physics and chemistry), became part of the conservation methods. The aim of conservators, conservation scientists and monument preservationists was to reinforce the idea of conservation as a truth-based activity, based on objectivity, precise measurements, repeatable experiments and pragmatic argumentation, as a method now firmly acknowledged as modern conservation practice (Muñoz Viñas 2005: 65-90). Thanks to this attitude, research-based conservation intervention in Czechoslovakia was believed to be of universal value and as such replaced subjective interpretation and artistic creativity of the widely criticized nineteenth century.

23Czechoslovak conservation practice was led by ideas and principles of scientific conservation, predominantly thanks to the director of the Picture Gallery in Prague, Vincenc Kramar (1877-1960) and the conservator-restorer Bohuslav Slansky (1900-1980) hired by him. Slansky was a young conservator-restorer, trained at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts as a painter. He began to work for the Picture Gallery in 1930, and became an employee in 1934. Shortly afterwards, he left the gallery’s conservation studio to study with Max Doerner at his Institute in Munich and with Gerrit D. Gratama at  Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. This was followed by internships in galleries in Dresden and Vienna. These study internships in some of Europe’s most important and progressive institutions influenced his practical work and his writings on conservation. When speaking about these influences, his book entitled Techniques of Painting (Slansky 1953), which has complete passages copied or re-written from Doerner (Doerner 1984), should be mentioned.

24After his return to Prague’s gallery, Slansky conserved and restored medieval panel paintings from Castle Karlstejn and other important paintings from the gallery’s collection from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. All panels were predominantly of Bohemian provenience. These particular artworks were chosen because of the general need for new interpretations of the most valuable Czech art collections (Fig. 3 and 4). The collections of the national institution were closely linked with the building of the nation’s cultural identity. Slansky provided Kramar with scientific technological interpretations and objective arguments, a new aspect, which was slowly implemented into art historical interpretation.

Fig. 3 Jindrichohradecka Madonna

Fig. 3 Jindrichohradecka Madonna

Jindrichohradecka Madonna before Slansky’s conservation, 1931.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

Fig. 4 Jindrichohradecka Madonna

Fig. 4 Jindrichohradecka Madonna

Jindrichohradecka Madonna, during Slansky’s conservation, 1931.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

25Subsequently, Kramar introduced his "new restoration method" (Kramar 1931). It was described by him as a strict conservation of original artifacts, in which lacunae were filled by distinguishable colour tones (Kramar 1932) (Fig. 5 and 6). His concept, using interpretation of intuition introduced by Wilhelm Dilthey and Benedetto Croce (Croce 1927: 26), was also supported by the idea of shape integrity (Kramar 1935). Slansky and Kramar’s cooperation resulted in various attempts in the popularization of the modern conservation profession as opposed to the approaches of non-professional interventions of the nineteenth century. They called for the introduction of an educational system for conservators that embraced the principles of Max Doerner (Doerner 1984: 374, 375; Slansky 1931: 173).

Fig. 5 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist

Fig. 5 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist

During Slansky’s conservation, 1935.

Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes

Fig. 6 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist

Fig. 6 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist

After Slansky’s conservation, 1935.

Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes

26In practical conservation, this turn towards scientific approval brought about deeper investigations into material degradation, secondary additions from previous treatments (and their removal), as well as experiments with different methods of retouching, determined by the qualities of the artwork’s aesthetic function (Croce 1927: 5, II/2; Kramar 1932).  

27During these years, a generational change among art historians took place:  the generation of positivist Czech art historians (K. Chytil, K.B. Madl) was active together with graduates from the Vienna School of Art History (Z. Wirth, V. Birnbaum, A. Matejcek, V. Kramar, E. Dostal) and with new graduates from Prague University entering into practice (E. Poche). The collision of generations resulted in different controversies. Among them – the most representative one actively followed by the general public – was that of the completion of the St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle in 1924 (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 St. Vitus, Prague

Fig. 7 St. Vitus, Prague

The completion of the St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle in 1924.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

The cult of the "conservation method"

28While the original idea of the St. Vitus Cathedral’s completion goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, restoration work accelerated between the 1850s and 1929, when the Cathedral received its present Neo-Gothic appearance (Fig. 8). The controversy started when these two parts – the Gothic and Neo-Gothic – were about to be connected upon the demolition of the Gothic wall.

Fig. 8 St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle

Fig. 8 St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle

The present Neo-Gothic appearance.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

29The official representatives of monument preservation (Zdenek Wirth and Vojtech Birnbaum) invoked arguments focusing on the monument’s historical and age values. These had to be appreciated and should be kept even if they did not fulfil the visual expectations aspired by the new additions or architectural plans. Birnbaum (1877-1960) went even further by publishing his argumentation as Modern monument preservation and completion of St. Vitus cathedral (Birnbaum 1924), intentionally naming it after Riegl’s The modern cult of monuments: its character and its origin (Riegl 1903). Recalling Riegl’s values system, he interpreted St. Vitus Cathedral as a document (Birnbaum 1924). At the same time, he referred to all additions to the historical substance as falsa. With these arguments, official state representatives wanted to stop the destruction of the wall by the architects and the investor.

30This dogmatic approach applied in conservation was generally called the "conservation method". It was nothing more than a practical implementation of Birnbaum’s art historical methodology, which consisted of a "…rigorously formal analytic approach coupled with positivist Historicism as a double tool for art historical research concentrating on individual artworks" (Bartlova 2012). In this particular case, as well as later during other cases in the 1930s, the "conservation method" lost its popularity. As we will see later, due to its intentionally neglected reflection of contemporaneous artistic ideals, it even became the subject of wide criticism.

The cult of glorified "present-day values" (Riegl 1903)

31From the perspective of official state monument preservation, the fight against the cathedral wall’s demolition was not successful. Furthermore, it was also the beginning of the implementation of actual monument value in monument preservation practice. Artistic intervention was given preference over objective scientific information. Moreover, conservation practice favoured utilitarity and rehabilitation of function. Sociologically supported thanks to its affiliation with ideological collectivism, the new tendencies stood against individual egoism and private ownership of previous criticized periods. Modernist utopia about unlimited progress of happy, classless society (Smejkal 1998: 149) became an issue that had to be solved on the conservation level, as well.

32Conservation theory and practice had to face the problem of disclaiming tradition, history, society’s cultural past and the principles of inherited conservation theory. Caring for the past was understood as a fulfilment of the cult of present by the implementation of the aesthetic principles of Avant-guard art of that time (Bakos 2004: 169). This approach from the inter-war period was widely favoured by leftist and strongly Soviet-oriented politicians and visual art theoreticians. Among them, the most revolutionary were the statements of Karel Teige (1900-1951), who also published essays dedicated to the topic of conservation (Teige 1964). According to him, the new revolutionary pathos and call for usefulness of radical modernism was expected to be applied to any conservation or restoration treatment, be it an individual artwork, monument or urban complex.

33The actual approach was critical of minimal interventions. The methodological approaches of the previous period were regarded by these "revolutionary" critics not only as a "conservation method" (as during St. Vitus controversy), but also as an "analytical method" (Fig. 9). Their main argumentation focused on the fact that this "analytical method" did not accept the requirements of that time regarding monument preservation.

Fig. 9 The wall painting in Chateau Nelahozeves

Fig. 9 The wall painting in Chateau Nelahozeves

After conservation in 1914, an example of the "analytical conservation method".

Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes

34Shortly thereafter, the alternative conservation theory called the "synthetic method of monument preservation" (Wagner 1946) was introduced by the art historian and monument preservationist Vaclav Wagner (1893-1962), employed at the Monument Institute. This method was based on the evaluation of historical and aesthetic qualities, interpreting them within present-day requirements and aesthetic and artistic values (Bauerova 2009). From the methodological point of view, it was rooted in the aesthetical and theoretical principles of Structuralism, introduced by the Prague Linguistic Circle (1928-1939) and its literary theorist and aesthetician Jan Mukarovsky (1891-1975). This conformity with linguistics was in opposition to Riegl’s anti-aesthetical historical relativism and perception of a monument’s value as a document.

35The "synthetic method" interpreted the object of conservation "… as the work of art valuable for (its) aesthetic effect – [since a monument presents] not only the age value, but also the quality of artwork that stems from the self-referential unity, structure, organism…" (Wagner 1946: 35).  Practically, it presented the work of art in its complexity, as one artistic unit. As such, it allowed imitation of original parts or even integration of copies, calling for their interpretation, which relied on the conservator’s intuition (Fig. 10). Similar to the case of already mentioned Vincenc Kramar from the National Gallery in 1920s, Wagner’s attempt to incorporate missing parts into artworks also referred to the – at that time in Prague – popular work by the aesthetician Benedetto Croce.

Fig. 10 St. Ignatius Church, Prague, seventeenth century mural paintings.

Fig. 10 St. Ignatius Church, Prague, seventeenth century mural paintings.

Mural paintings after conservation by Frantisek Kotrba in 1939-1940, respecting latter additions from the eighteenth century; an example of the "synthetic conservation method".

Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes

36Despite the fact that Wagner only adopted general Structuralist principles and terminology (such as "artistic unity of structure", or "vivid organism"), this methodological approach in conservation was believed to bring about a new scientific order. Analogous to art historical methodology, thanks to its defined terminology and given principles for practical intervention, it also represented an attractive and inspiring methodological ideal for conservation theory.

The cult of removable retouching

37After the Anschluss of Czechoslovakia in September 1938, new questions concerning the interpretation of national history were raised. Although this era represented a very important period in the country’s cultural history, this part of conservation history is not sufficiently documented. For example, we could focus on the impact of the political situation on the monument preservation, or institutional development and its orientation. With its new director Josef Cibulka (1886-1968), the National Gallery in Prague experienced an important period of collection management accompanied by projects of medieval panel paintings conservation. These conservation treatments implemented Slansky’s experiments with removable retouching (Slansky 1938, 1939, 1939-1940, 1940-1941). Even though they were not associated with political influence, they represent an important contribution to conservation history.

  • 5  The research is documented in the written documents finished by his students (predominantly from 1 (...)

38However, the research of archival documents did not shed any new light on this topic. We are not aware of any detailed documentation of Slansky’s experiments from this period. Therefore, we must rely on the documents from a later period (1950s and early 1960s), when he made them as part of the study curriculum at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. At this school, he established a Technological Centre5 that focused on the study of materials and new approaches in retouching.  In the 1950s, he also published his book for conservators entitled Techniques of Painting, Vol. II., Research and Painting Restoration (Slansky 1956), in which he refers to the period in the National Gallery.

39Retouching became the centre of his interest. He considered the problem of filling lacunae and their retouching as the conservator’s main aesthetical and technical problem (focusing on reversibility).  According to him, retouching was influenced by the modification of taste (Fig. 11 and 12). Therefore, he felt the necessity to introduce methodological principles for retouching.

Fig. 11 Votivni obraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi

Fig. 11 Votivni obraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi

Before conservation, 1941.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

Fig. 12 Votivniobraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi

Fig. 12 Votivniobraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi

After Slansky’s conservation, 1941

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

  • 6  With this type of retouching he referred to his pre-war study intership with J. Maurer  in Dresden (...)

40He based his study on the evaluation of his various conservation works (Slansky 1935; Slansky 1938; Slansky 1954). For all types of retouching, he applied five (removable) colour techniques: resin (dammar) colours, wax colours (wax in turpentine), watercolours and oil colours, and retouching with "mixed technique" (based on combination of watercolours and oil-resin varnish) (Slansky 1956: 241 – 244; Slansky 1935: 208 – 210; Slansky 1938: 26-27). He also proposed to solve the problem of reversibility by using "retouching on removable base" – be it either cellophane or paper inserts6.

41The core of his study imposed a psychological interpretation of retouching (Slansky 1954: 307). As a result, he proposed a whole system of various types of retouching: imitative retouching (Slansky 1956: 238-240), neutral retouching (Slansky 1956: 240), local retouching (Slansky 1956: 240-241) and "hatching retouching" (Slansky 1956: 239-240, Slansky 1954: 316-318).

42It was the latter that became the most popular retouching method in the 1950s, primarily on mural paintings (Slansky 1954: 316-318) than on panel paintings and polychromy. He especially appreciated its visual qualities: not discernible from a distance and distinguishable upon closer examination; there were no unwanted structural, shape or colour deformations (as for example by applying local retouching). The technique is described in detail in his book from 1954 (Slansky 1954: 317-318). His "hatching retouching" responded to major requirements of already mentioned "synthetic method of monument preservation". Basically, he proposed the practical solution for the theoretical statements of Vaclav Wagner and all the critics of "analytical" conservation as described above.

The cult of Sovinism and nationalism

43For the purposes of this essay, we can focus on one example that represents growing Sovinist and nationalistic feelings in Slovak society. This brings us back to the ruins of Bratislava Castle. Bratislava was a capital of the Fascist clerical state during WWII, and Bratislava Castle became a seat of state’s political representation.

44Open discussions about the reconstruction of this monument were actively supported by international experts, among them Hans Sedlmayer (1896-1984) based in Vienna and K.M. Swoboda (1889-1977) from Prague. Swoboda proposed to save the ruins for their historical and artistic value, expressing affiliation towards German art history! This was a good example demonstrating the attempt to re-define the nation’s past according to Fascist ideology in the Fascist Slovak state. It also shows how Avant-guard and Futuristic argumentation could have been re-used for political purposes.

45However, despite their intensity, the discussions did not bring about any practical resolution. The castle’s reconstruction took place after the WWII under a new political and social situation.

The cult of the revolutionary national state

46The post-war period was a time of national and cultural euphoria that brought about revolutionary political and social changes confirmed after the Communist takeover of power in 1948. Underestimated Slavic patriotism demonstrated its inner power and potential, and social dreams of society seemed to be fulfilled by the nationalization and collectivization during the years 1945-1948. There was a new revolutionary hope for the national state, for building up of a new political system, new foreign orientation and for a new economic organization (Havelka 2006: 21). While the Czech lands enhanced their position as an industrial country, Slovakia went through a rapid industrialization that resulted in a general absence of historical and cultural public awareness (Bakos 2004: 255). This society’s attitude influenced the approach to monument preservation until today.

47And this time, the cult was imported. It was Stalinist imperial ideology hidden behind "proletariat internationalism”, with Social Realism as the official artistic style. The past had to be protected for ideological reasons, its maintenance was expected as a demonstration of Communism’s enlightenment, and monument preservation was overwhelmed by ideological criteria. The Stalinist era brought about ideological evaluation of history and glorification of preferred epochs from the nation’s history. In practice, this meant extensive interventions, including illusive reconstructions (Bakos 2004: 220-221).

48Due to the Communist takeover, the confiscated castles, chateaus and other cultural sites including their furnishings were in the state’s hands under the administration of the National Cultural Commission (Uhlikova 2004). According to the Constitution of May 9, 1948, they were meant to be open to the public and used for educational and cultural purposes only. Furthermore, in compliance with state cultural policy, conservation practice aimed predominantly at the reconstruction of objects of national and historical importance, as testimony of the national heroic past in accordance with the new ideology.  

49A noteworthy example of the cult’s ideals put into practice was the case of the reconstruction of the Betlem Chapel of the Old Town in Prague between 1949 and 1954. It was realized according to the plans of the architect Jaroslav Fragner (1898-1967) as a prestigious cultural task of the post-war period. Historically, the Chapel functioned as a place of activity of the Czech medieval reformer Jan Hus (c. 1370-1415); more recently, it lost its original function and especially during the nineteenth century, it was substantially rebuilt, resulting in the loss of its Gothic appearance.

50As a place connected with Jan Hus and commemorating Hussitism, the indigenous Reformation movement in the first half of the fifteenth century, it completely fulfilled the ideological interpretation about the heroic Czech history associated with Hussitism. Particularly during the Stalinist regime in Czechoslovakia, Hussitism was understood as a crucial legitimating historical epoch with the Hussite revolution contributing fundamental meaning to the nation’s history (Bartlova 2012). It was interpreted through the privileged epistemic historical position of the proletariat.

51Although the Chapel’s reconstruction had to deal with various other dilemmas regarding its Gothic façade, from the perspective of conservation theory, it is worth mentioning that the methodological approach included the removal of later additions and reconstruction of entire walls (as new constructions) into their presumed original Late Gothic phase (which was later proved to be a mistake). The architect used various documents as inspiration for his design. In the interior, new wall paintings were executed by Slansky’s students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13 Mural paintings with scene of Jan Hus

Fig. 13 Mural paintings with scene of Jan Hus

Wall paintings in the Betlem Chapel of the Old Town in Prague executed by Slansky’s students.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

52Bakos reminds us that a notable monument preservation phenomenon was created in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. He calls it "… a synthesis of structuralistic integrity axioms, Dvorák’s nostalgic idea of the monument ensembles and historical revival doctrine imported from Russia…" (Bakos 2004: 170). Cult of Social Realism and historical revival doctrine was left behind in 1960s thanks to the political release.

The cult of aesthetic perception

53Shortly after the communist coup in 1948, the “synthetic conservation method” of 1940s represented especially by Vaclav Wagner was deemed a failure. This happened in spite of the fact that Wagner was not isolated in his theoretical approach within the Czechoslovak monument preservation establishment. Another Czech art historian, Karel Sourek (1909 - 1950), intended to implement his Structuralism-influenced methodological approach into studio practice during his short temporary directorship of the Slovak National Gallery in Bratislava (1949 – 1950). He contributed to the polemic between the “analytical” and “synthetic” methods in conservation with his idea of the monument’s unique complexity and unity, respecting the legacy of both Riegl’s and Dvorak’s monument preservation concepts (monument’s historical and spiritual values) and Structuralistic monument interpretation (its artistic individuality) (Sourek 1941).

54However, after 1951, the main leaders of Czechoslovak Structuralism (Mukarovsky in Prague, Bakos and Povazan in Bratislava) were forced by the political representatives to publicly renounce Structuralism and Formalism as methodological tools. These were interpreted by Marxists as inconsistent with historical materialism. Consequently, the “synthetic method” in conservation was accused of having a close relationship with Nazi politics (!) and had to be officially rejected (Bauerova 2009: 119). As a result, the conservation principles inspired by Structuralistic theories were not implemented.

55Besides, after 1945, a number of re-organizations took place on different levels of the Czechoslovak educational system. As a result, conservation was incorporated into the curriculum of the Academies of Fine Art in Prague (1946) and Bratislava (1949). Their establishing professors were Bohuslav Slansky in Prague and his colleague from the National Gallery in Prague Karel Vesely (1912-1997) in Bratislava. The conservation profession was professionalized; institutional organization was centralized and re-organized.

56During his activity at the Academy of Fine Art, Slansky constituted "artistic conservation" as the most satisfactory methodological approach. This concept of aesthetical perception was based on his previous practice and experiments with removable retouching that he further developed during the war period in the National Gallery in Prague. He provided his interpretation of a conservator as follows:

57"… [the] Restorer has to present well-trained craft skills, as well as [a] scientific approach, but the most important [skill] is his/her artistic feeling that allows him/her to approach the work of art with all creative understanding. Therefore, it is not only this ability that allows the restorer to choose the proper conservation quality and the limits of treatment in order to especially complete the aesthetic and stylistic values of treated objects, it is not enough to be only a scientist, a historian or a craftsman. But all the professions have to be linked together with creative talent." (Slansky 1953: 154)

58Between 1954 and 1956, the conservator and technologist Frantisek Petr (1884 – 1964) opposed this concept of the conservators’ artistic education and their responsibility for the  artistic realization of the conservation intervention. He criticized the concept of artistic ambitions of a conservator and proposed a more technological/craft-oriented interpretation of the profession (Petr 1954). However, other conservators or art historians did not support his arguments and very shortly, this polemic ended. The aesthetical concept of Bohuslav Slansky that interpreted the conservation discipline as an interconnection between science, craft and art was confirmed. As such, it became the most expanded model that influenced educational system of conservators and monument preservationists in Czechoslovakia throughout the entire half-century.

The cult’s release with politics

59A new monument preservation act (No. 22/1958), introducing a wider interpretation of what constituted a monument, as well as new terminology (including "folk architecture", "relicts of revolutionary fight", "worker’s movement", "Fascist resistance", among others), came into force at the end of the 1950s and influenced conservation practice for almost the next three decades.

60More experimental projects, resulting in new impulses in conservation theory and methodological approaches, were realized because of the more relaxed political situation of the 1960s. Among them was the completion of the Emauzy Monastery in Prague, a former Benedictine monastery from the fourteenth century, to mention just one. It brought about the implementation of modern architectural details into the historic structure. In this particular case, designed by architect Frantisek Cerny (1903-1978) in 1964, the bombed  (during WWII) western wall with its tower (Fig. 14) was replaced by a simple, reinforced concrete construction of two crossed semi-cylindrical gables, giving the monument a fresh, modern look (Fig. 15).

Fig. 14 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague

Fig. 14 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague

After bombing during WWII.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

Fig. 15 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague  

Fig. 15 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague  

Emauzy Monastery with a simple reinforced concrete construction of two crossed semi-cylindrical gables, 1964.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

Cults during normalization

61The federalization of Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring of 1968, as an act of democratization, was a reason for a number of political, administrative and economical changes in the Czech and Slovak Socialist Republics. Especially Slovakia gained in certain extent some political and administrative independence. This construction of political autonomy in the time of asserting normalization of early 1970s was also based on the visualization of an idealistic national historical myth. Therefore, we return to Bratislava Castle as an example.

62The political representation finally approved castle’s historical neo-Romantic reconstruction (Fig. 16). As Bakos writes, this act of political independency could be also interpreted as "…a triumph of silent alliance of nostalgic engineering, neo-Romanticism and Slovak nationalism with pragmatic communism…" (Bakos 2004: 180-181). Political perspective made good use of this national historical myth realization that – in this particular case – replaced conservation of prestigious historical artifacts. Accompanied by massive demolition of Bratislava’s historical city centre, this paradoxical combination of reconstruction and iconoclasm is a good example of the manipulation of history, so typical for the Communist attitude towards history.

Fig. 16 Bratislava castle

Fig. 16 Bratislava castle

Castle after historical neo-Romantic reconstruction, 1970s.

Photographic credits: Creative Commons

63The elimination of the relationship between past and present in Marxist scholarly research, the official state approach, resulted in strange historical timelessness. Czechoslovak normalization was characteristic for its inconsiderate power enforcement, regardless of society’s condition, economic necessity and especially the state of national cultural heritage and environment. Accordingly, the loss of public interest had great impact also on monument preservation, which became full of routine interventions, intentional ignorance towards neglected monuments or entire city ensembles, or even  destruction of historical centres and neighbourhoods to provide place for new constructions (for example, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising from 1968-1972 in Bratislava) (Fig. 17).

Fig. 17 Bratislava city centre

Fig. 17 Bratislava city centre

Before demolition of the Neological Synagogue to make place for the construction of the new Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising that cut the historical city centre into two parts.

Photographic credits:Creative Commons

64In this social and political situation, Vaclav Richter (1900–1970), an art historian from Brno University created a specific art historical methodology by synthesizing phenomenological inspiration with the tradition of the Vienna School (Bartlova 2012). In the field of monument preservation, he criticized Riegl’s objectivism and the conservation doctrine as it extended in Czechoslovak practice. At the same time, he was critical of the “synthetic conservation method”. He argued that it was not possible to consider monument preservation as an objective scientific discipline. He stressed that it is predominantly the result of cultural practice. He proposed a metahistorical interpretation of a monument in which the treated object had a constant persistence and validity of a unique historical event (Richter 1970, 1971). He was aware of a dialectical relationship between historical and present-day values. However, he stressed the monument’s artistic value and interpreted a monument as an active artwork, an active historical phenomenon. In conservation practice, it allowed new active interventions. Due to its metahistorical character, Richter’s interpretation was not admissible to the political system in the 1970s and 1980s and was officially banned.  

The cult of multidisciplinarity in "monumentika"

65In opposition to Richter, a new interpretation of monument preservation was introduced. Art historical research, the basis for Vienna School’s monument preservation, was re-interpreted and replaced by the utopian idea of a systematic monument preservation science.

66This new monument preservation scientific discipline called "monumentika" (Hlobil 1979) required generally valid standards (norms) and an authoritarian approach. Its fundamental nature was (once again) based on trust in scientific objective intervention criteria and a systematic multidisciplinary approach, emphasizing age value and related conservative conservation theory. In spite of the fact that this authoritarian idea of "monumentika" was a typical outcome of a totalitarian regime, this special (artificial) scientific discipline could not offer universally requested valid standards. Lacking methodology, it was not possible to be implemented into conservation practice, and thus, it remained without any further influence.

Conclusions

67None of the argumentation that appeared during the eighth decade of the twentieth century offered further theoretical alternatives to those presented by Richter or Hlobil in 1970s. Therefore, from the perspective of conservation history these were the last conservation concepts introduced before the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the splitting of Czechoslovakia in 1992.

68Various political, social and cultural changes of more than seven decades of the twentieth century helped to create a number of cults with direct or indirect impact on Czechoslovak conservation methods, concepts (methodological approaches) and practice. These articulated cults lead us chronologically throughout the expansion and practical implementation of modern conservation approaches that have arisen on the basis of theories introduced by Vienna School of Art History in one of the Central European countries. Although they may seem to be of local significance, these cults offer us one of the tools for understanding of conservation methodologies and the profession’s development.

69We can conclude that Czechoslovak conservation proceeded from the Viennese theoretical ideas and only partially implemented either progressive art historical theories (Structuralism) or new conservation approaches of classical or contemporary conservation theories (scientific conservation, aesthetic conservation, principles of reversibility, "re-treatibility" and conservation sustainability, among others). As a result of this caution regarding fresh principles, a dominant aesthetical approach remained in Czechoslovak conservation since the middle of the twentieth century without any further development. This approach was mixed with the utilitarian approach of the last decade of the century and allowed for its stereotyped interpretation, confusing the history of conservation concepts with the development of retouching methodologies (Nejedly 2005, Nejedly 2008).

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Notes

1 The fact that Czechoslovakia was established as a country of two major nations with partially different historical backgrounds – the Czechs and the Slovaks, represents the major methodological problem of this paper. We can discuss separately the influence of Hungarian monument preservation, which already in 1881, adopted a conservation act supporting a nationalistic purist concept with direct impact on the Slovak conservation practice, or the Slovak demonstration of a national liberation from Hungarian repression, as well as their acceptance of the activity of the Czech officers, artists and architects in Slovakia after 1918, and employment of the Slovak students returning from the Prague universities. Since the official state monument preservation in Czechoslovakia predominantly adopted the Czech administration, the paper focuses on these issues, using examples from Slovakia only in the cases where they were typical or influential from the nationwide perspective (for example conservation concepts during the independent Fascist Slovak state and reconstruction of the Bratislava Castle as a visual symbol of the largest Slovak city that became the state’s capital).

2  This system-based interpretation of an art historian’s status in monument preservation is still valid in Central Europe nowadays. Therefore, generally speaking, the history of conservation theory is closely related to the history of art historical metodology.

3  This concept failed very quickly and was later replaced by federalization. In her book, Heimann (Heimann 2011) even argues, that one of the reasons why Czechoslovakia failed in 1992 was that the Slovaks were not given a chance for their national recognition.

4 Bratislava became the capital of Slovak Socialist Republic in 1968, and has been the capital city until today.

5  The research is documented in the written documents finished by his students (predominantly from 1960s).

6  With this type of retouching he referred to his pre-war study intership with J. Maurer  in Dresden, who used similar cellophane inserts (Slansky 1954: 304-307).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 View of Prague Castle
Légende The new seat of the Czechoslovak president after 1918.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 2 Bratislava Castle
Légende The visual centre of the biggest Slovak city.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 36k
Titre Fig. 3 Jindrichohradecka Madonna
Légende Jindrichohradecka Madonna before Slansky’s conservation, 1931.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Fig. 4 Jindrichohradecka Madonna
Légende Jindrichohradecka Madonna, during Slansky’s conservation, 1931.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Fig. 5 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist
Légende During Slansky’s conservation, 1935.
Crédits Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Titre Fig. 6 Jesus Christ with Madonna and St. John the Baptist
Légende After Slansky’s conservation, 1935.
Crédits Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Fig. 7 St. Vitus, Prague
Légende The completion of the St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle in 1924.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 8 St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague’s castle
Légende The present Neo-Gothic appearance.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Fig. 9 The wall painting in Chateau Nelahozeves
Légende After conservation in 1914, an example of the "analytical conservation method".
Crédits Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 10 St. Ignatius Church, Prague, seventeenth century mural paintings.
Légende Mural paintings after conservation by Frantisek Kotrba in 1939-1940, respecting latter additions from the eighteenth century; an example of the "synthetic conservation method".
Crédits Photographic credits: Wagner, V. 1946: Umelecke dilo minulosti a jeho ochrana, Praha: V. Zikes
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Fig. 11 Votivni obraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi
Légende Before conservation, 1941.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 12 Votivniobraz Jana Ocka z Vlasimi
Légende After Slansky’s conservation, 1941
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 13 Mural paintings with scene of Jan Hus
Légende Wall paintings in the Betlem Chapel of the Old Town in Prague executed by Slansky’s students.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Fig. 14 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague
Légende After bombing during WWII.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 28k
Titre Fig. 15 The Emauzy Monastery in Prague  
Légende Emauzy Monastery with a simple reinforced concrete construction of two crossed semi-cylindrical gables, 1964.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Titre Fig. 16 Bratislava castle
Légende Castle after historical neo-Romantic reconstruction, 1970s.
Crédits Photographic credits: Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Fig. 17 Bratislava city centre
Légende Before demolition of the Neological Synagogue to make place for the construction of the new Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising that cut the historical city centre into two parts.
Crédits Photographic credits:Creative Commons
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/3616/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 37k
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Référence électronique

Zuzana Bauerova, « Changing cult values and their impact on conservation history in Czechoslovakia », CeROArt [En ligne],  | 2013, mis en ligne le 29 octobre 2013, consulté le 27 juin 2016. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/3616

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Auteur

Zuzana Bauerova

Zuzana Bauerova is an art historian, painting conservator and conservation manager. She received her Master’s Degree in art history from the Comenius University and Bachelor’s Degree in conservation of paintings from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava (Slovakia, 1999). Her PhD (Masaryk University Brno, Czech Republic, 2009) presented a study of development in methodological approaches in modern Czechoslovak conservation.  She teaches at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague. Ruska 28, 101 00 Prague 10, Czech Republic. Email: bauerova@gmail.com

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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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