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Eigil Rothe, an early twentieth century wall paintings conservator in Denmark

Isabelle Brajer

Résumés

Eigil Rothe (actif 1897-1929) est une figure centrale dans le développement de la conservation de peintures murales et la restauration au Danemark, marquant clairement le début de pratiques nouvelles pour les restaurateurs-artiste qu’influencent l’historicisme. Ses idées relatives à la retouche et à l'imprégnation ont été soutenues par son sens esthétique, qui rejette les interprétations du dix-neuvième siècle et insiste sur le respect des marques du temps. Ses expériences relatives aux traitements de surface démontrent une conscience originale et sans précédent quant à la nécessité de traitements futurs. Son travail a toujours été motivé par une passion pour la vérité, comme le démontrent ses remarquables photographies et la documentation remarquable de l’état avant traitement.

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The author is grateful to Susanne Ørum and Ulla Kjær for their kind help and insightful comments.

Introduction

1Eigil Rothe has left an indelible mark on the conservation and restoration of medieval wall paintings in Denmark (fig 1). Indeed, he is considered to be the founder of modern conservation practice, signalling a departure from the artist-restorer traditions of the nineteenth century. Yet, in many ways he is also a representative of that very tradition, with its primary focus on the appearance and the artistic completion of paintings. Rothe’s concern for the preservation of the paintings, which led to his experiments with various surface treatments, was driven by aesthetics. One of his major concerns was finding a binding medium to be used with retouching and over-painting that imitated the appearance of the original painting. However, he also worked with what he considered to be preventive treatments, such as impregnation, which would permit future aqueous cleaning without damaging the images. The fact that he gave any thought at all to future treatments places him in a new category in respect to his predecessors.

2Rothe’s thoughts and opinions have been preserved for posterity in twenty notebooks, countless reports, letters, photographs, and watercolour drawings, documenting his activities as a conservator at the National Museum of Denmark in the period 1897-1929. In addition, many wall paintings in medieval churches still bear witness to his presence, almost 80 years after his death. All these testimonials produce a picture of Rothe as a demanding person who strove for the “truth”, a laudable goal not very different from that typifying contemporary practice. However, an analysis of his interpretation of this “truth” shows a markedly different understanding from what many conservators today would probably agree with. Rothe is, therefore, an interesting figure because he represents a link between past and modern practice, vivifying an era from which the roots of our own present thinking derive, but which is sufficiently distant to permit observations of the similarities and differences that have affected the evolution of our profession.

Figure 1. Eigil Rothe (1868-1929) worked as a conservator at the National Museum of Denmark in the years 1897-1929.

Figure 1. Eigil Rothe (1868-1929) worked as a conservator at the National Museum of Denmark in the years 1897-1929.

Photo : The National Museum of Denmark

The artist-restorer tradition of the nineteenth century

3In 1897, when Rothe started his work at the National Museum, wall painting conservation was mainly in the hands of Julius Magnus-Petersen (active 1845-1908) and Jacob Kornerup (active 1862-1904), both of whom initially worked as archaeological draughtsmen. They worked at a time when numerous wall paintings from the medieval period were rediscovered after decades of being covered by limewash.1 Created mostly in the period when the country was Catholic, the newly uncovered images were not all familiar to the Protestant Lutheran viewers, but were of great historical interest. The deciphering of the scenes and saints was, therefore, an issue of central importance.

4The nineteenth century approach to the wall paintings was characterised by the interest in content, and not in the authentic physical substance, which was often brutally damaged in the course of uncovering. The subsequent treatment of the material was strongly influenced by the fact that both men were formally trained as artists at the Academy of Fine Arts. Restoration was, in effect, a creative process. Under the influence of historicism, they attempted to stand aside from their own era, to think in terms of the consciousness of the age of the painting they were restoring, and to reproduce the way in which it might have appeared to its contemporaries. This attitude was pervasive in nineteenth century Europe, and closely reflected the ideas of the French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Violet-le-Duc : ‘To restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, nor to repair it, nor to rebuild it ; it means to re-establish it in a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed at any given time.’2

5In the best of cases, copies or tracings were made of areas that were disintegrating due to salt efflorescence or heavily damaged due to structural problems, which were then chiselled off the wall, to be replicated on new plaster, as in Tuse3 and Jelling.4 However, it was also common to recreate missing parts of the composition by inserting motifs seen in other parts of the interior (Udby),5 or using similar scenes in other churches as templates (Stubbekøbing,6 Eskilstrup,7 Alsted,8 Engum9). In the worse cases, missing figures were based on the restorer’s imagination or collective experience, such as the two apostles in the apse in Nørre Alslev Church.10 Non-figurative decorations were sometimes extended to unpainted vaults or walls in order to create a harmonious interior (Vigersted,11 Udby, Tirsted12), or copied from other churches (Tybjerg13). In a rare case of religious censorship in 1888, the Ministry of Church and Education instructed Kornerup to limewash over one of the newly uncovered scenes in Femø Church – that depicting the Holy Trinity on the east web of the vault directly over the altar (the church community protested against the crude “Catholic” depiction of such an esoteric theme). Kornerup complied, and then filled the “awkward” empty space with scrolling vines, which he copied from another church, altering the colours a bit.14

6In terms of artistic quality, most of the nineteenth century restorations seem false to us today. Over-painting destroyed the air of immediacy typical for medieval wall paintings. There was no tolerance for incomplete paintings on the part of the churchgoers and church authorities. Reconstructions were dominated by the aesthetics of that time, characterised by pedantic execution : traces of neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic features are easily detected. Perhaps handicapped by inadequate knowledge of medieval painting techniques or lack of acuity, perhaps unable to block out the influence of their own artistic training, the artists-restorers of the nineteenth century were not able to reconstruct or replicate medieval wall paintings in a manner that emanated the spirit of the time in which they had been originally created.

Rothe’s education

7Rothe did not complete his formal artistic education at the Academy, but had extensive instruction in drawing, which he also taught at the Technical School in Copenhagen in 1893-1904. But medieval wall paintings and altarpieces quickly became his primary interest, and after his marriage broke up in 1909, he led a solitary life devoted to his work. He proceeded to educate himself about medieval art, studying the few publications on Danish wall paintings (Roskilde Cathedral and Ringsted). But mostly he amended his lack of knowledge by reading a substantial amount of foreign publications. Among them were the German translations of Theophilus Presbyter’ Schedula Diverarium Artium and Cennino Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook. He was familiar with the work of Violet-le-Duc. He studied the publications of La société pour la conservation des monuments historiques d’Alsace and Zeitschrift für christliche Kunst.

8In 1907 Rothe went on a trip to Sweden, primarily to study the medieval altarpieces in the Historical Museum in Stockholm. He also used the opportunity to study the Annales de la société d’archéologie de Bruxelles and Etudes sur la sculptur krakançanne au moyen âge in the library of the museum, as these publications were not available in Denmark. His Swedish trip also included the cathedrals in Vesteräs and Strängenäs, and the Church Museum in Strängenäs. He made extensive and detailed sketches of the decorative elements on the altarpieces he studied and made notes about the painting techniques, but he does not mention seeing any wall paintings on this trip.

9From the start Rothe worked both with wall paintings and altarpieces. Then, in 1912, the division of labour was restructured at the museum, and all work with altarpieces was given to Niels Termansen, while Rothe was told to concentrate on wall paintings. This was something Rothe accepted, but was rather bitter about, not only for professional reasons, but also for financial reasons, as studio work on altarpieces provided him with an income in the hard winter months when it was too cold to work in the churches.15 However, we might consider this change as fortunate for the development of wall painting conservation, as he now focused solely on this area.

Preserving the mood of the paintings

10Apprenticed initially to Magnus-Petersen, Rothe quickly gained independence, and after two years he was apparently working on his own. However, the influence of the artist-restorers was not shaken off immediately. In 1899, he proposed to reconstruct the damaged figure of St. Anthony on the wall in Østbirk Church, modelling his completions on depictions of that saint from other churches.16 But already the same year his ideas about how newly uncovered medieval wall paintings should be restored were forming. His first words on the subject disclose observations that distanced him from his older colleagues who were influenced by historicism.17 What Rothe considered most important was the preservation of the appearance of the passage of time. The newly uncovered paint layer was well preserved in one area, but weak in the next : “…above all, I would like to preserve the way [the paintings] appear is such a randomly alternating manner.” This was the true condition of the paintings when they emerged from under the limewash layers. He considered it incorrect to change the “mood” of paintings by providing “new clothing” for the “old motifs” as soon as they were “driven out into daylight.” It was wrong to treat the paintings as objects to be improved, and utmost care was required to prevent them from becoming ordinary stencilled decorations.

11Rothe thought the standard practice of restoring wall paintings with “lime-colours” (pigments mixed with limewash) should be abandoned if one wanted “to preserve the aged surface”. By “preserving” he meant both physically and aesthetically.

“In order to achieve this one cannot use lime-colours because they are very opaque – the stronger the binding effect desired, the more lime one must mix in, and thus they fill out [cover] all the tracks of time and, as a result, they seem to renew the old paintings altogether too much. A painting medium must absolutely be used that is highly transparent – a substance that has the clarity and lightness of watercolours – and that covers the area with a thin transparent membrane of colour, allowing the layer beneath to shine through. At the same time it must be strongly binding so that the treated colour does not fall off, or is in anyway caused to disappear.”18

12According to Rothe, such a substance was casein. Dissolved in lime, it formed a strong adhesive that was imperious to water after drying. At that time casein was commonly used by painters and was very likely used in the conservation of altarpieces. Whether this was source of Rothe’s inspiration is unknown. There is no evidence that he had any contacts with conservators outside of Denmark until around 1912, when the Norwegian conservator, Domenico Erdmann, visited him in Østofte Church.19 Possibly due to professional isolation, Rothe initially was not very proficient in the technical aspects of his profession – after all he was only coached in the performance of remedial cosmetic operations. He was instructed on how to make casein from milk and how to slake lime by the chemist Prof. Odin Christensen, a person to whom he would turn for advice many times in his career.

13Mixed with dry pigments, casein produced paint that could be diluted with water. The lime content, unfortunately, introduced a certain degree of opacity. Rothe remedied this by dissolving the casein in borax instead. However, casein thus dissolved is not resistant to water after drying. With the help of Prof. Christensen, Rothe carried out a series of experiments over the course of several weeks in the spring of 1899, trying out diverse mixtures containing casein, which was alternately dissolved in either lime or borax, and to which various other substances were added (different oils, resin, wax) in order to achieve water-resistance and a matte surface.20 Unfortunately, Rothe did not disclose which medium he was most satisfied with. It is possible that he abandoned the homemade mixture for a commercial product made in Germany, which he referred to as petroleum casein. (petroleum casein was a well-known rapidly drying and flexible painting medium described in 1905 in Scherer’s book, Das Kasein.21) Rothe used petroleum casein for retouching wall paintings up to 1914, when World War I disrupted trade, and, to Rothe’s lament, it was no longer available in Denmark.

Truthful restorations

14In the last years of the nineteenth century some of the restorations from the previous decades were already in need of re-restoration. In his treatment reports, Rothe expressed his opinion about his predecessors. Heavily over-painted and stifled images were contemptuously dubbed “Kornerupske” (à la Kornerup), regardless whose input he was criticizing.

15The inchoate, but seminal formation of a restoration theory in Denmark began to germinate in the last years of the nineteenth century. Rothe was the first to distinguish between unethical aesthetic processing (i.e. unsubstantiated reconstructions ; over-painting that smacked of nineteenth century aesthetics) – which he called “restorations” – and ethical treatments, which he called “preservations”.22 This distinction, however, had nothing to do with contemporary perception of these terms. Rothe used the word “restoration” as a denigrating term. “Preservation,” on the other hand, referred to the act of maintaining the original painter’s artistic expression and style, but not necessarily to the preservation of the original material substance.

16The key to preserving the paintings’ authenticity, according to Rothe, was a keen eye and discipline necessary to carry out an unmitigated replication of the original brushwork. This could even involve extensive reconstruction and over-painting as long as it looked “authentic”. His obsession with preserving original appearance can be illustrated by the case of Vilslev Church, where he uncovered a Late Romanesque wall painting in 1913.23 Distressed by the fact that he was unable to remove the covering limewash layers without losing the paint layer together with the limewash crust, he made sure that the correct colour was replaced in the lacuna by finding the flake that had fallen to the floor, and copying the tone of the original paint layer adhering to the inner surface of the limewash. Larger lacunas, where there was no indication of the original contents, were toned down with a tinted limewash. (fig. 2a and 2b)

Figure 2. The wall paintings in Vilslev Church depicting the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (ca. 1225-1250) ; a) Condition after uncovering in 1913 ; b) condition after restoration in 1914.

Figure 2. The wall paintings in Vilslev Church depicting the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (ca. 1225-1250) ; a) Condition after uncovering in 1913 ; b) condition after restoration in 1914.

Photos : The National Museum of Denmark.

17However, when Rothe was convinced he knew what was missing from the original content, he allowed himself to complete the missing part, such as a missing word in a damaged inscription (Jetsmark),24 and after checking a heraldic atlas, he even dared to fill in a missing year on a damaged inscription (Udby).25 Occasionally he accommodated the aesthetic sensibilities of the church community by eliminating a lacuna on a conspicuous place, but only when he could justify the act of reconstruction. In Jetsmark (1911), for example, he replaced a missing wing on an angel by making a tracing of the surviving wing and reversing it laterally.26 Rothe sometimes even reconstructed faces, using other undamaged figures in the same painting as models, as in Vrå (1905) (fig 3a and 3b) – such actions were not considered by him to be speculative reconstructions. He also supported the idea of extensive re-painting of the original areas if the colours were faded and weak. However, Rothe felt it was wrong to reconstruct and re-paint in a way that would imitate the pristine condition of the paintings, as they appeared when they were created. Indeed, he believed that the reconstructed areas should imitate the muted and variegated appearance of a painting that had undergone the process of being covered with limewash, and subsequently uncovered. He thought this was best achieved with colours bound in the casein medium, which he often dabbed on unevenly, imitating the appearance of a worn paint layer (fig. 4).

Figure 3. Details from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church (ca. 1510-20) ; a) features on the face were reconstructed by Rothe in 1905 ; b) an undamaged part of the same painting – Rothe’s inspiration for his reconstruction.

Figure 3. Details from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church (ca. 1510-20) ; a) features on the face were reconstructed by Rothe in 1905 ; b) an undamaged part of the same painting – Rothe’s inspiration for his reconstruction.

Photos : Isabelle Brajer

Figure 4. Detail from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church showing an area reconstructed by Rothe in 1905. The colours were intentionally dabbed on unevenly to create an impression similar to the original.

Figure 4. Detail from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church showing an area reconstructed by Rothe in 1905. The colours were intentionally dabbed on unevenly to create an impression similar to the original.

Photo : Isabelle Brajer

18Assessing Rothe’s attitude about authenticity with a current viewpoint, we might find ourselves more understanding today than had we analysed him a decade or two ago. Seen in a European perspective, retouching practices on wall paintings have shown a gradual movement away from ‘archaeological’ presentations with their emphasis on material authenticity over the past decade or so.27 Wall painting restoration has, to a degree, been influenced by easel paintings restoration practice, where the positivist mentality of impartiality in the conservation seems to be changing into one emphasising interpretative, negotiative and communicative aspects of restoration.28 The field of conservation is affected by transitions in the general concept of culture where intangible values are treated on equal footing with tangible values ; where popular interests are superseding elitist tendencies. Just as the concept of what culture is has undergone a transition in time, becoming more inclusive, so has the concept of authenticity.29 The relatively recent focus on authenticity over the past two decades (largely, as a result of the Nara Conference on Authenticity in 1994)30 has highlighted the complex sides of this issue, entailing discussions of various values and functions, including the more intangible properties of a work of art, such as its emotional qualities. Thus, the paramount position of material authenticity is now challenged by such concepts as : authenticity of form, design, spirit and feeling, as well as the respect for artistic intention. Seen with these eyes, Rothe can be respected for his attempt to interpret the wall paintings he was treating (even though we still would probably (certainly?) shy away from such speculative reconstruction in current practice). In Rothe’s view, a face with all its features intact was more authentic than a face with a missing nose. Such reconstructions were accepted as a matter of principle primarily because he considered himself to be a talented interceptor of the medieval message, which he was. Without his documentary photographs contemporary conservators would often have trouble discerning his input from what was left of the original painting (fig 5a and 5b).

Figure 5. Wall paintings in Søstrup Church depicting a Prophet (1150-75) uncovered (a), and restored (b) by Rothe in 1910.

Figure 5. Wall paintings in Søstrup Church depicting a Prophet (1150-75) uncovered (a), and restored (b) by Rothe in 1910.

Photo : The National Museum of Denmark

Documenting the truth

19What Rothe is probably most admired for by contemporary conservators was his pioneering application of photography as a documentary tool. Rothe was the first employee at the museum (and probably one of the first conservators in the world) to use colour photography as a supplement to his black and white documentation. It was not uncommon for him to built a darkroom right in the church where he was working. From 1899 his notebooks are filled with details of exposure times for each series of photographs, followed by a comment about whether the results were good or not. There are schematic drawings showing how he used the Pythagoras theorem to calculate the distance of the camera to the vault.

20Rothe was aware that photographs might give a misleading impression of a paintings’ condition after the limewash layers were removed, particularly when thin veils of lime might still obscure parts of the image, or when the red colour of the exposed bricks might be perceived as part of the original painting.

“The help one has from one’s own eyes in front of a painting is greater given [the eye’s] ability to detect what one is looking for, and exclude everything else, [this] fails when examining a photograph. …Only after a [thorough cleaning of the painting] can photography give a result that can be considered scientifically and artistically satisfactory.”31

21Therefore, at the investigation stage, he considered photography a supplement to watercolour drawings, the potential inaccuracies of which he also acknowledged. He sometimes used his photographs as aids in deciphering unclear areas, studying the enlargements with a magnifying glass, or drawing directly on the print.32 His photographs taken before and after aesthetic treatments were carried out are the ultimate proof of his professional integrity.

22Using Wratten process panchromatic plates (invented in 1906) Rothe was able to correct for the value distortion on his black and white orthochromatic photographs (on which blue appears abnormally light and red abnormally dark).33 In 1911 he photographed the wall paintings in Saltum Church using, for the first time, Autochrome plates (a colour photography process patented by August and Louis Lumière in 1904 and marketed in 1907). 34

The Carlsberg Preparation

23The most controversial subject, which can be linked to Rothe, is his work on a substance that came to be known as the Carlsberg Preparation.35 It initially grew out of his desire to find a substance for impregnating the surface of salt damaged wall paintings that could replace the use of mastic resin, which he thought altered the appearance of the decoration too much. However, this quest quickly turned into a search for an all-around substance that could replace the petroleum casein he could no longer buy for retouching, and in addition could be used for surface treatment. This medium should be able to imitate the appearance of the aged original paint when mixed with pigments and various clays, and also, using only the medium in a diluted form, make the surface impervious to water. The perfection of this mixture, that aimed to be colourless and devoid of sheen, was an arduous process. It had many variations and, in the last stage (1924-1930), was made in the laboratory of the Carlsberg brewery, hence its name. Because later conservators always referred to it as the Carlsberg Preparation, this has become the generic name for a substance that was initially made at the Technical Institute (1916-1919), followed by a period when it was made at Dons Laboratory (1919-1924). Rothe himself never referred to the substance as the Carlsberg Preparation, instead using the term Preparation. The basic recipe for the Preparation called for an alkaline soap solution, mixed with an oil resin varnish and an aqueous solution of casein (which was first dissolved in borax). This mixture was emulsified and then thinned with turpentine. Finally a siccative, wax and camphor were added.

24Impregnation of a painting with the Preparation undoubtedly altered the refractive index of the colours. Rothe observed that the treatment brought out details in the composition that were barely visible, an effect that was taken advantage of during the deciphering of unclear inscriptions, in particular when a very thin white veil of calcium carbonate obscured the image.36 He also reported that the original colours often could be made to appear so clear and saturated that no additional colour supplementing was necessary.

25However, in devising the Preparation Rothe was mostly thinking of the future. He was searching for a surface treatment that would protect the paint layer, particularly the contour lines of paintings, so that future deposits of soot could be easily removed with water without dissolving the colours. This was an important issue because the sources of heat in practically all church interiors at that time were coal-burning iron or ceramic stoves, often fuelled with low quality coal or peat. These stoves often functioned very poorly, emitting enough smoke to make attendance at church an uncomfortable experience, and to deposit a layer of soot on the freshly uncovered and restored wall paintings in a matter of a few years. Rothe’s reports are filled with countless strongly worded admonitions about this problem, and he also threatened to limewash the decorations because the church communities were neglecting them. Therefore, the problem of removing soot deposits without destroying the paint layer preoccupied him very much.

26By impregnating newly uncovered wall paintings – usually just selected areas, such as the figures – Rothe acted preventively. Cleaning tests carried out recently on paintings treated with the Preparation show that the substance lived up to Rothe’s expectations : the impregnated areas are imperious to water, and the surface treatment cannot be detected by the naked eye.37 However, there is a drawback Rothe never thought of – dust has an affiliation to the areas treated with organic substances, making them, after some time, appear dirtier than the untreated areas (fig. 6).

Figure 6. The figures on the wall paintings in Undløse Church (ca. 1425) were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1920.

Figure 6. The figures on the wall paintings in Undløse Church (ca. 1425) were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1920.

Photo : Roberto Fortuna

27The Carlsberg Preparation was also used in connection with the cleaning of the already soot-covered paintings (cleaning could be executed 14 days after impregnation). In such cases the substance was carefully brushed only on the dark colours, mainly the contour lines (in effect, fixing the soot in place), as described by Rothe’s assistant, Egmont Lind in the case of Bedsted (1927) :

 “…it was necessary to first protect all the contour lines with some diluted Preparation – that which is made by the Carlsberg Laboratory. Afterwards the soot and dirt was brushed off, and finally, the decoration was cleaned with water and a sponge. By painting over the contour lines with the Preparation, the original drawing remained well preserved after cleaning. Even though the cleaning process weakened some of the colours, everything was so well preserved that an over-painting of the original colours was easy to carry out [without altering the original composition].” 38

28The Preparation was thus used as a tool to preserve the readability of the composition, which was damaged by the cleaning, but then re-painted.

29Rothe’s biggest error in working with the Preparation was misunderstanding the physical dynamics of moisture movement and salt crystallisation in medieval walls. The application of the Preparation on paintings with no moisture problems gave him the results he was striving for. However, there were cases where the Preparation was used as a preventive measure to deter recurring salt efflorescence on paintings where moisture damage was evident, and it is in such cases that its negative consequences are very obvious to us today, but were not understood by Rothe. The impregnation of the wall paintings in Tirsted (1929), for example, was laborious and complicated because the wet wall was force-dried with heaters “to drive the moisture deeper” into the substrate so that the Preparation could penetrate more deeply.39 The treatment concentrated on the scenes where the salt damage was greatest. Two years later, the scenes that were not treated with the Preparation because of their relatively good condition in 1929 were now in a dismal state, the plaster rupturing open, the paint layer was flaking off the wall (fig. 7). The salt solutions, not being able to penetrate the barrier created by the Preparation, were now migrating to the non-impregnated porous areas and crystallising there.

Figure 7. Detail of the wall paintings in Tirsted Church that were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1929 because Rothe thought he could create a moisture barrier. Instead, salts crystallized under the paint layer, detaching it completely from the substrate. Condition in 1940.

Figure 7. Detail of the wall paintings in Tirsted Church that were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1929 because Rothe thought he could create a moisture barrier. Instead, salts crystallized under the paint layer, detaching it completely from the substrate. Condition in 1940.

Photo : The National Museum of Denmark

30The relatively few dramatic examples of unsuccessful use gave the Carlsberg Preparation a notorious reputation (it was no worse than the problems caused by mastic resin impregnation, which also was the cause of several detachments and transfers). After Rothe died in 1929, his assistant Lind used it for a short time, but then discontinued, favouring limewater impregnation for consolidating powdering paint. Knowledge of the Preparation died out. Until recently, contemporary conservators only knew of it by name as a mysterious substance used for surface treatment of wall paintings in the beginning of the twentieth century. Difficulties in re-restorations were often unfairly blamed on the Carlsberg Preparation, and it was named in many cases, which now prove to be false. It is only due to very recent research that this aspect of Rothe’s career has also been unearthed. Yet, there are cases where we can be grateful to Rothe for using the Preparation. In Undløse, for example, it seems that all the details that were over-painted with the Preparation survived. In contrast, many of the non over-painted lines are barely discernable or completely lost today. We have been generally quick to condemn many past practices, as predominantly producing negative effects. Regardless of how this was achieved, we should give Rothe some credit for being responsible for the preservation of many of the details on many paintings that might not otherwise have been visible today.  

Conclusion

31Rothe has been rightly referred to as the Father of wall painting conservation in Denmark, primarily for his more “scientific” contributions, such as his diligent photographic documentation – the recording of stages prior to retouching set a precedent for his time. He considered the photographic documentation to be his contribution to the “archaeological” study of the wall paintings. Analysing his activities in their entirety, it is clear that, while mindful of his antiquarian responsibilities, he prioritised the artistic, decorative and iconographic dimension of the paintings. More than anything, his actions were driven by the ardour he felt for the wall paintings that were, undoubtedly, the centre of his life. Even his not altogether successful experiments with the controversial Carlsberg Preparation cannot merely be considered a stain on his career. What makes Rothe different from contemporary conservators is that his physical involvement in treatments was complimented by connoisseurship. Interpreting and comprehending the nature of the paintings he was treating was central to his work. He was able to date newly uncovered paintings on the basis of stylistic analysis. He was able to read the Latin inscriptions, something few conservators can do nowadays. Rothe is a man, whose achievements we can certainly admire. At a time when heritage professionals have become increasingly specialized, trapped in our niches with our in-depth specific knowledge, we might even feel a touch of envy.

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Notes

1   Haastrup, U. Konservering og Restaurering af Kirkelig Billedkunst i Danmark fra 1800-tallet til i Dag, in Bevar for fremtiden, (ed.) Bjarnhof, S., Sophienholm, Lyngby-Taarbæk Kommune (1983) 23-48.

2   Viollet-le-Duc, E. ‘Restoration’, Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Los Angeles, The Getty Conservation Institute, (1996) 314.

3   Kornerup, J. 1890. Unpublished manuscript nr. 7497, Tuse Church, Tuse District, Holbæk County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

4   Trampedach, K. Treatment and Presentation of Fragmentary Medieval Wall paintings in Denmark,in The Art of Restoration – Developments and Tendencies of Restoration Aesthetics in Europe, ICOMOS (2005) 161-164.

5   Kornerup, J. 1885. Unpublished manuscript nr. 6853, Udby Church, Baarse District, Præstø County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

6   Kornerup. J. 1881. Unpublished manuscript nr. 3010, Stubbekøbing Church, Falsters Nørre District, Maribo County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

7   Kornerup. J. 1893. Unpublished manuscript nr. 65/93, Eskilstrup Church, Falsters Nørre District, Maribo County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

8   Kornerup, J. 1893. Unpublished manuscript nr. 20/93, Alsted Church, Alsted District, Sorø County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

9   Kornerup, J. 1888. Unpublished manuscript nr. 106/96, Engum Church, Hatting District, Vejle County, National Museum of Denmark Archive.

10   Kornerup, J. 1896. Unpublished manuscript nr. 221/96, Nørre Alsev Church, Falsters Nørre District, Maribo County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

11   Kornerup, J. 1891. Unpublished manuscript, Vigersted Church, Ringsted District, Sorø County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

12   Kornerup, J. 1891. Unpublished manuscript nr. 8183a, Tirsted Church, Fuglse District, Maribo County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

13   Kornerup, J. 1889. Unpublished manuscript, Tybjerg Church, Tybjerg District, Præstø County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

14   Brajer, I. ‘Democracy in conservation – wall painting conservation and church communities’, in AIC Paintings Specialty Group, 34th Annual Meeting, Providence, Rhode Island, 16-19 June 2006: Postprints, ed. H. Mar Parkin, The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, Washington, D.C., 19 (2007) 57-68.

15   Rothe, E. 1912. Letter to Carl Mackeprang, dated 12.02.1912, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

16   Rothe, E.1899. Unpublished manuscript nr. 243/99, Østbirk Church, Voer District, Skanderborg County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

17   Rothe, E. 1899. Unpublished notes, Notebook nr. 1, pp. 50-51. Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

18   ibid., pp. 52-3.

19   Rothe, E. 1912. Letter to Carl Mackeprang, dated 16.10.1912, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

20   Rothe, E. 1899. Notebook nr. 3,  6-19.

21   Scherer, R. Das Kasein, Hartlebens Verlag, Wien und Leipzig (1905) 64-65.

22   Rothe, E. 1898, Unpublished report nr. 13/98, Hvorslev Church, Houlbjerg District, Viborg County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

23   Rothe, E. 1915. Unpublished report nr. 495/15, Vilslev Church, Gjørding District, Ribe County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

24   Rothe, E. 1912. Unpublished report nr. 9/12, Jetsmark Church, Hvetbo District, Hjørring County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

25   Rothe, E. 1901. Unpublished report nr. 41/01, Udby Church, Rougsø District, Aarhus County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

26   Rothe, E. Report from Jetsmark Church, op.cit.

27   Brajer, I. Values and opinions of the general public on wall paintings and their restoration; a preliminary study, in Conservation and Access, Preprints of the 22nd IIC International Congress, London, 15-19 September 2008, in print.

28   Villers, C., ‘Post Minimal Intervention’, The Conservator 28 (2004) 3-10.

29   Brajer, I., ‘The concept of Authenticity expressed in the treatment of wall paintings in Denmark’, in Conservation Principles Re-examined [title of book still to be decided], eds. A. Bracker and A. Richmond, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, forthcoming 2008.

30   “The Nara Document on Authenticity”, International Charters for Conservation and Restoration, München: ICOMOS (2004) 118-9.

31   Rothe, E. 1908. Unpublished report nr. 193/08, Dråby Church, Horns District, Fredensborg County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

32   Rothe, E. 1902. Unpublished report nr. 181/02, Verninge Church, Odense District, Odense County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

33   Rothe, E. 1915. Unpublished report nr. 495/15, Vilslev Church, op.cit.

34   Rothe, E. 1912. Unpublished report nr. 10/12, Saltum Church, Hvetbo District, Hjørring County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

35   The information about the Carlsberg Preparation presented in this article is dispersed throughout several dozen written sources spanning over many decades. With few exceptions, all of these sources were found in the Archive of the National Museum of Denmark, which encompasses treatment reports, administrative correspondence, photographs, drawings and personal notebooks. Data was often formed by putting together pieces of information from several sources. A detailed account of the development and use of the Carlsberg Preparation will be published shortly: Isabelle Brajer, The Carlsberg Preparation: An early 20th century surface treatment for wall paintings in Denmark (In preparation).

36   Eigil R. 1920. Unpublished report nr. 16/20, Vestervig Church, Refs District, Thisted County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

37   Brajer, I. and Glastrup J. The examination and analysis of the historical conservation treatments on the wall paintings in Undløse Church. Preprints of the 15th Triennial Meeting of the ICOM Committee for Conservation. New Delhi (2008), submitted.

38   Lind, E. 1927. Unpublished report nr. 81/27, Bedsted Church, Hassing District, Thisted County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

39   Lind, E. 1929. Unpublished report nr. 29/29, Tirsted Church, Fuglse District, Maribo County, Archive of the National Museum of Denmark.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Eigil Rothe (1868-1929) worked as a conservator at the National Museum of Denmark in the years 1897-1929.
Crédits Photo : The National Museum of Denmark
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Figure 2. The wall paintings in Vilslev Church depicting the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (ca. 1225-1250) ; a) Condition after uncovering in 1913 ; b) condition after restoration in 1914.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Crédits Photos : The National Museum of Denmark.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 48k
Titre Figure 3. Details from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church (ca. 1510-20) ; a) features on the face were reconstructed by Rothe in 1905 ; b) an undamaged part of the same painting – Rothe’s inspiration for his reconstruction.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Crédits Photos : Isabelle Brajer
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Figure 4. Detail from the wall paintings in the nave of Vraa Church showing an area reconstructed by Rothe in 1905. The colours were intentionally dabbed on unevenly to create an impression similar to the original.
Crédits Photo : Isabelle Brajer
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Titre Figure 5. Wall paintings in Søstrup Church depicting a Prophet (1150-75) uncovered (a), and restored (b) by Rothe in 1910.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Crédits Photo : The National Museum of Denmark
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Figure 6. The figures on the wall paintings in Undløse Church (ca. 1425) were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1920.
Crédits Photo : Roberto Fortuna
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Figure 7. Detail of the wall paintings in Tirsted Church that were treated with the Carlsberg Preparation in 1929 because Rothe thought he could create a moisture barrier. Instead, salts crystallized under the paint layer, detaching it completely from the substrate. Condition in 1940.
Crédits Photo : The National Museum of Denmark
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/426/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
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Référence électronique

Isabelle Brajer, « Eigil Rothe, an early twentieth century wall paintings conservator in Denmark », CeROArt [En ligne], 2 | 2008, mis en ligne le 09 octobre 2008, consulté le 26 juillet 2016. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/426

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Auteur

Isabelle Brajer

Isabelle Brajer received a master’s degree in the conservation of paintings from the Faculty of Conservation at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (Poland) in 1983. Since 1987 she had worked as a conservator of wall paintings at the National Museum of Denmark, and presently holds the title of senior research conservator. Her primary research areas are in the history and theory of conservation and restoration, particularly issues regarding aesthetics. Address : The National Museum of Denmark, Department of Conservation, I.C. Modewegsvej, Brede, DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby, isabelle.brajer@natmus.dk

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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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