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“Who is Afraid of Cesare Brandi?” Personal reflections on the Teoria del restauro

Salvador Muñoz Viñas

Résumés

Pendant des années, la Teoria del Restauro de Cesare Brandi a exercé la plus grande influence sur la théorie de la conservation-restauration dans le sud de l'Europe comme en Amérique Latine. Cependant, certains défauts apparaissent directement aux lecteurs. En premier lieu, le texte est extrêmement obscur; et secondement, il comporte des assertions contradictoires. Ceci rend le statut cultuel qu'il a atteint, extrêmement fascinant. Une explication pourrait être que l'ouvrage est vu comme un fétiche, un texte quasi biblique, et comme tel, sa capacité à inspirer est devenue plus importante que sa justesse.

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Texte intégral

“There is nothing to say about Brandi’s Teoria del restauro!”

(Luigi Russo, 2006:202)

Prelude: a personal account

1In 1981, I started studying History of the Arts and Fine Arts, and shortly thereafter concentrated my efforts on heritage conservation –on paper and book conservation, to be precise. In 1988, a small book was published in Alianza Forma, a prestigious series of art books published by Editorial Alianza in Madrid. Its title was Teoría de la restauración, and its author bore a curious name: Cesare Brandi.

2In those days, it was one of the few books on conservation published in Spain. I thus duly purchased it. My intention as an aspiring young conservator was to be enlightened, to learn new, more up-to-date, sounder views, to improve my practice, to increase my knowledge. It seemed an easy enough task: the book was quite short, and when I browsed the table of contents I learnt that the Teoria itself was a mere 48 pages long (the other 84 pages of the book were a disproportionately large Appendix composed of seven articles that Cesare Brandi had written and published between 1950 and 1961, plus the Carta del restauro issued by the Italian authorities in 1972).

3However, things did not turn out as I had expected. After carefully reading the first chapter (only five pages long), I could hardly understand the line of reasoning. The text was complex and involved, and I just could not follow the author’s thinking. I re-read it, time and again, but still could not make full sense of it. The text was made up of long, abstruse sentences and included terms such as “istanza estetica” or “momento metodologico”, which I did not fully understand, and which the author did not bother to explain or clarify. I tried looking them up in dictionaries and then in encyclopedias (no Internet in those times) –to no avail. I contacted a friend in the philosophy school, but that did not work either. I also tried reading the entire book, with the expectation that some interspersed, fragmentary information might allow me to understand the first chapter and then the book as a whole. However, if the answer was lurking somewhere else in the book, I could not find it. The other chapters just added new layers of obscurity and seemingly contradictory ideas, so that, after all my efforts, the text still made little sense. It was frustrating: I did want to figure out that brand-new theory. However, I finally gave up, not without a feeling of failure.

4Time passed, and every now and then I went back to the Teoria, trying to comprehend it. And yet, the results were not much better; in fact, in many cases they were worse, as my analytical skills had grown somewhat sharper. Now, however, some people in the Spanish conservation scene had started speaking about the book. Not only did they claim to have understood it, but they also seemed to really like it. This made me try even harder, again with poor results. I harshly blamed myself for my failure not to just appreciate, but indeed to understand that work. There were even moments when I tried so hard that I convinced myself that I could make some sense out of it: by creatively twisting the meaning of some crucial words, by filling in the many theoretical blanks I found in the text, and by ignoring some conflicting statements, I could build a somewhat coherent set of ideas –or several sets of ideas, as these could vary depending on the moment. And yet, I was ultimately aware that I was fooling myself: it was only by performing a number of implausible intellectual pirouettes that I could aspire to grasp that theory. In the end I had to admit that the actual Teoria (Brandi’s true words, and not my makeshift interpretations) simply did not make sense to me. Eventually, I stopped trying.

5Some years later, already in the second decade of this century, casually browsing through the Internet, I found a paper by Helen Hughes (2007) whose title asked “Who is Afraid of Cesare Brandi?”

6As soon as I read this title, I said to myself: “I was”.

Afraid of obscurity

7To be precise, I was not afraid of Brandi, but of the Teoria del restauro. I found it very challenging. I mean, too challenging. Sure, every text poses a particular kind of challenge to its readers. Some texts are very easy, while others are very demanding. However, the Teoria just seemed too demanding. I later learnt that others felt the same. As it turns out, many people find the Teoria unclear and obscure.

8Indeed, the lack of clarity of the Teoria del restauro can be easily felt by anyone who has read it, be they students, scholars or conservators. Helen Hughes summarized this problem when she described this work as “rather impenetrable” (2007:40). One likely reason for this impenetrability is the loose use of uncommon terms and expressions, such as “potential unity” (unità potenziale), “organo-functional unity of the existential reality” (unità organico funzionale della realità esistenziale) or “extrachronological time” (tempo extratemporale)1,2. These terms are not common wisdom in aesthetics or in other branches of philosophy. They were either created ex-novo by Brandi or taken from other authors and then adapted to become, to a large extent, another creation of Brandi’s own. They were transformed into the private “slogans” that Merle Brown found a feature of Brandi’s work:

“Brandi has his own slogans (...) but beyond that he has very little language of his own and too often no more than a fashionable medley” (Brown, 1976: 231).

9Unfortunately, the Teoria offers little or no clarification of the precise meaning of these notions. Dedicated research may help to alleviate this problem in some cases. The term “momento metodologico”, for instance, may be found in several contexts and with different meanings, though it might be suspected that Brandi loosely used it after the already loose use of the notion by Benedetto Croce (who defined philosophy as the “momento metodologico” of history, without affording much clarification either) (Croce, 1920:136); and the notion of “realtà esistenziale” can also be traced back to existentialist philosophy, though it does remain a rather ambiguous notion –and, of course, Brandi’s unità organico funzionale della realtà esistenziale would surely require further clarification itself. However, even after a disproportionate amount of research work, many of the terms in the Teoria remain ambiguous and obscure.

10In fact, the need for clarification has been so strongly felt that a glossary of Brandian terms has been composed and published (Basile, 2007). This is not that rare in some philosophical fields, but it is undoubtedly a first in the field of conservation theory. Unfortunately, the dictionary follows the style of the Teoria and takes notions from other works by Brandi, so that it is not always as helpful as it might be advisable. An example will serve to clarify this; what follows is the explanation of Brandi’s notion of schema preconcettuale –in order to better appreciate the idea that is conveyed here, the reader must bear in mind that this definition was written to provide the reader with “a support tool for a more adequate understanding of the Teoria del restauro” (Basile, 2007:17):

 “For Brandi, the pre-conceptual scheme is the “ideogram of the image” as a cognitive substance. In this case, the image is not equivalent to form, it indicates a more primigenial reality of consciousness, in which representivity and cognitive substance coexist, in one way or another, developing the representivity until the formulation of the image is achieved, the form, or by developing the cognitive substance until the concept is defined. Traces of representivity remain in the pre-conceptual scheme, as do traces of intellective knowledge remain in the image/form as cognitive substance” (Basile, 2007:65; English translation by D. Jokilehto; italics as in the original source).

11The liberal use of not well-defined notions may be an important handicap in any theoretical text, but Brandi’s peculiar terminology may not be the only problem that aspiring readers of the Teoria are bound to face. It has been noted that Brandi’s line of thinking may be intricate and very hard to follow. George Brunel stated that

“Brandi writes an extremely concise Italian, even elliptic, an Italian (…) in which the line of thinking tends to quickly flee” (Brunel, 2009:§3).

12In a somewhat similar vein, conservator Gianluigi Colalucci, of Sistine Chapel fame, reckons that, even though Brandi is a theorist, “his Italian … bears the style of a writer and the freedom of a poet” (Colalucci, 2007:7). In summary, as Caterina Bon Valsassina, former director of the Istituto Centrale del Restauro, has acknowledged, the Teoria del restauro is “full of traps and pitfalls, of possible misunderstandings and distortions of virtually every word” (Bon Valsassina, 2005:12).

13It might be suspected that translations, or Italian not being the native language of the reader, might have something to do with this. As the late Giuseppe Basile put it, when it comes to reading the Teoria,“the foreigners who cannot read and understand Italian have been penalized [penalizzati]the most” (Basile, 2007:17). In fact, German scholar Ursula Schädler-Saub urges that the slow dissemination of Brandi's work outside of Italy owes to the complexities of Brandi's writing:

“The Theory of Restoration took longer to acquire acceptance beyond the Italian borders because of its rather difficult language” (Schädler-Saub, 2010:63-64),

14an explanation that has been often repeated:

 “And why has it taken over forty years for these essays [the Teoria del restauro] to be translated into English? … A reason that is often given is the difficult language in which Brandi expressed his reflections” (Stanley-Price, 2005:7).

  • 3  As is the case with the Spanish ‘restauración’, the French ‘restauration’ or the Portuguese ‘resta (...)

15The fact that Brandi's writings are “particularly challenging to translate into any language" (Bon Valsassina, 2005:12) makes it advisable for those striving to reach the true kernel of Brandi's thinking about conservation3 to read the original Italian text, rather than a translation, in which the claimed “clockmaker’s precision” of his words (Brunel, 2009:§3) might get lost. According to Frank Matero, in fact, this has often been the case in the English-speaking world:

“In the realm of conservation discourse in America and probably for much of the English-speaking world, Brandi's words and concepts have been largely absent and, if acknowledged at all, often lost to translation” (Matero, 2007:45).

16However, those who do not know Italian are not the only ones who have been “penalized” by Brandi’s obscure language, because, in fact, and as has been noted by different authors, “even native Italian speakers are challenged by his forms of expressions (Stanley-Price, 2005:7). Indeed, Brandi's “highly cultivated Italian” is “difficult even for many Italians” (Bon Valsassina, 2007:12), and many native Italian speakers “find him heavy going” (Hughes, 2007:40).

Afraid of the incomprehensible

  • 4  “Lo stesso carattere antologico e, in apparenza, disomogeneo della Teoria del restauro…”.

17However, beyond the language problems in the Teoria, there are reasons to suspect that this work is not devoid of other problems either. Using Petraroia’s words, it could be said that the Teoria has an “apparently non-homogeneous character”4 (Petraroia, 1986:lxxvii). Petraroia refers to the fact that the Teoria is actually a collection of papers, which might make it seem somewhat disconnected in some places. However, some readers might also perceive what could be described as a lack of philosophical homogeneity. A thorough, systematic analysis of the logical feats and shortcomings of this work is far beyond the scope of this paper, but a few examples will perhaps suffice to illustrate the lack of homogeneity that may be encountered by anyone attempting to understand Cesare Brandi’s Teoria del restauro.

18For instance, when dealing with patina, the Teoria issues conflicting assertions. At one moment, Brandi states that decisions on the removal or preservation of the patina must not be based on taste or open to a variety of opinions:

  • 5  "... la patina ... esige ... un'impostazione teorica, che la tolga, come punto capitale per il res (...)

    “...the patina, as a crucial aspect of the conservation and restoration of artworks, ... requires ... a theoretical reflection that will remove it from the realm of taste and opinion”5 (Brandi, 1977:27).

19A few pages later, however, it is stated that, when making decisions on patina, aesthetic considerations (which are obviously based on taste and a matter of opinion) must prevail:

  • 6  "...il problema ... non può risolversi integralmente in sede storica, dato che l'istanza estetica (...)

“...the problem [the removal of patina] cannot be completely solved from a historical point of view, since it is the istanza estetica that prevails”6 (Brandi, 1977:35).‏

20Another example: elsewhere in the Teoria, Brandi states that a condition for conservation to be legitimate is not to pursue the “abolition” of history:

  • 7  "Il restauro, per rappresentare un'operazione legitima, non dovrà presumere né il tempo come rever (...)

 “In order to be legitimate, conservation shall neither assume that time is reversible, nor pursue the abolition of history”7 (Brandi, 1977:26).

  • 8  The restauro archeologico is a school of conservation that favors the preservation of the object a (...)
  • 9  It is difficult to precisely ascertain what this term means. In his Brandian glossary, Basile (200 (...)

21However, in another place, Brandi also expresses his contempt towards the restauro archeologico (a school of conservation that definitely does not pursue the abolition of history8) for it does not pursue the restoration of the “potential unity”9 of the artwork:

  • 10  "...il restauro detto archeologico, per quanto lodevole per il rispetto, non realizza l'aspirazion (...)

“…the so-called ‘archaeological conservation’ (...) even though commendable for being respectful, does not fulfill the fundamental aspiration of consciousness concerning artworks: to restore its potential unity”10 (Brandi, 1977:26).

22In other words, for Brandi conservation should not seek the abolition of history while at the same same time it should seek the recovery of the missing “potential unity” of the artwork. And yet, however unfortunate it may be considered to be, the missing “unity” of an artwork is always evidence of its “passage through time”; therefore, restoring the original “unity” cannot be done without erasing, or otherwise obscuring, that historical evidence –this is, without effectively “abolishing” a part of the history of the artwork. In summary, the Teoria instructs the conservator both to not pursue the abolition of the history of the artwork and to de facto abolish it by concealing, disfiguring or destroying evidence of some of the most important events in the life of the artwork (namely, those which compromised its original “unity”).

23One final example concerning one of the core notions in this work: Brandi’s attitude towards what he calls the istanza estetica (this peculiar term has been translated as “aesthetic case” (Brandi, 2005) and as “aesthetic demand” (Basile, 2007), and in practice refers to the aesthetic value of the artwork). For Brandi, aesthetic value seems to be the criterion that conservation must abide by, in any circumstance. Brandi makes this pretty clear, and not just once. For example, in chapter 5, he asserts:

  • 11  "...un'instanza ... di conservazione integrale per tutti gli stati attraverso cui è passata lòpera (...)

“the conservation of all the states the work has evolved through must not be in conflict with the istanza estetica11 (Brandi, 1977:37).

24The Teoria is not ambiguous here: aesthetic considerations must prevail when in conflict with the marks history has imprinted on a given object. These imprints (the “states the work has evolved through”) must be conserved only when they do not hinder the aesthetic value of the artwork. Therefore, if something that hinders the aesthetic appreciation of the artwork has been added to it, this addition can –or rather, must– be removed in the conservation process:

  • 12  "...è chiaro che se l'aggiunta deturpa, snatura, offusca, sottrae in parte alla vista l'opera d'ar (...)

“…if the addition disturbs, perverts, conceals or hides the artwork to some extent, it is clear that this addition must be removed”12 (Brandi, 1977:43).

25This is even more clearly stated elsewhere:

  • 13  "...l'istanza estetica ... a cui spetta sempre la precedenza."

“…the istanza estetica … always takes precedence”13 (Brandi, 1977:27).

26And once again:

  • 14  "...l'intervento dovrà essere compiuto secondo che esige l'istanza estetica. E sarà questa istanza (...)

“...the intervention must be carried out according to the istanza estetica. And it will be this istanza that will take precedence in any case”14 (Brandi, 1977:7).

27Now, it seems beyond discussion that the Teoria mandates that aesthetics must take precedence over historical value when it comes to making conservation decisions: “always” and “in any case”.

28And beyond discussion it would be, if it were not for the fact that the very same Teoria simultaneously issues the opposite diktat: the istanza estetica must not always and in any case take precedence. The istanza storica (which can be roughly identified with the historical value of the artwork) can take precedence too, as it is the conservator, or the conservation decision-maker, who needs to make a value judgement about the prevalence of one istanza over another:

  • 15  "È insomma sempre un giudizio di valore che determina la prevalenza dell'una o dell'altra istanza (...)

“…it is always a value judgement that determines the prevalence of one istanza or the other when it comes to preserving or removing an addition”15 (Brandi, 1977:44).

29And furthermore,

  • 16  “…come l’opera d’arte si presenta con la bipolarità della storicità e dell’esteticità, la conserva (...)

 “…since the artwork enjoys both the dual polarity of its historic nature and its aesthetic nature, the conservation or removal [of additions] cannot be carried out by ignoring one or the other”16 (Brandi, 1977:34)‏.

30In fact, in another section of the Teoria, it is even stated that balancing both istanze is essential to conservation:

  • 17  “Il contemperamento fra le due istanze reppresenta la dialetticità del restauro”.

“The relationship between both [the aesthetic and the historic] istanze represents the dialectics of conservation”17 (Brandi, 1977:12)‏.

31Now, what does the Teoria tell us about aesthetic value? Does it mandate that aesthetic value should always prevail or does it mandate that aesthetic value should not always prevail? Of course, the question is rhetorical: it mandates both one thing and the other.

32In summary, the Teoria advises that conservation should not abolish history, but also that conservation should make a part of the history of the artwork disappear; it urges that decisions on the removal or preservation of patina must not be based on taste or opinion, but at the same time states that aesthetic judgement must guide these decisions; it mandates both that aesthetic value should always prevail and that aesthetic value should not always prevail. The idea that needs to be stressed here is that, in these and other regards, the Teoria avails a given view and its opposite.

33In order to fit the contradictory statements into a single, coherent theoretical mechanism, the reader of the Teoria needs to ignore the conflicting assertions, or somehow mentally de-activate them –perhaps by creatively conferring its actual words with more fitting meanings. The author of the English translation of the Teoria, Cynthia Rockwell, presented an interesting metaphor: when translating the work, she recalls, she had “a sense of a mind racing in ten different directions at once” (Rockwell, 2005:18). It is perhaps because of this that the Teoria cannot be followed unless some complex intellectual pirouettes, like those mentioned above, are performed by the reader.

Afraid of intellectual disregard

34The arcane nature of the Teoria and its inconsistencies are not its only problems. The reader is faced with something akin to an unsolvable puzzle, one that can only be worked out by discarding the pieces that do not fit and distorting other ones by forcefully pushing them into place. However, some authors put the blame not on the puzzle itself, but on those who have failed to solve it: those who find the Teoria flawed or unfathomable are suspect of having read it “superficially”, without “rigor” (Colalucci, 2007:7), or in a “tentative” (approsimative) way (Basile, 2007:17).

35On a more academical tone, several authors have highlighted a set of prerequisites that the aspiring reader of the Teoria del restauro must fulfill in order to fully grasp it. These prerequisites are not a rare occurrence in academic texts, where the author may assume that the reader has some degree of knowledge of the topic his or her text deals with. However, the prerequisites of the aspiring reader of the Teoria seem to be extremely exacting. For instance, it has been suggested that, in order to properly understand the Teoria, one needs to have read all of Brandi’s works on aesthetics:

 “Brandi’s writings on aesthetics (…) are necessary for a better understanding of the Theory of Restoration” (Schädler-Saub, 2010:64).

36The prerequisite would suffice to put the work beyond the reach of most scholars, as many of these writings have been out of print for a long time and/or have never been translated outside Italy –and, perhaps more importantly, because for most scholars and conservators it may just not make sense to spend months, or years, trying to learn the aesthetics of Cesare Brandi in order to be able to gain some insight into his theory of conservation. And yet, it has also been suggested that knowing Brandi's work may not be enough: the very sources that shaped Brandi’s thinking must also be studied in order to properly understand his Teoria:

“... only by looking at Brandi's whole work, and to its philosophical sources, is it possible to understand concepts that are taken for granted in the Teoria del restauro” (Napoleone, 2005:73).

37Not far from this view is the idea that the aspiring reader of the Teoria needs to know the philosophical context in which the Teoria was created, as it is “essential” in order to fully understand it:

"[The Teoria del restauro] is often quoted, but its philosophical context is little known outside Italy –although essential for the understanding of his restoration concepts" (Jokilehto, 1999:228).

38It has even been said that Brandi’s thinking can only be grasped by those who also know his historical research and his practical (‘operative’) work:  

  • 18  “…riemerge la già richiamata imposibilita, per tracciare un giudizio complessivo sull’opera di Bra (...)

“... the impossibility that we have already seen reappears; the impossibility of canceling –of splitting his historic and critical-operative facet from his theoretical and philosophical facet, when it comes to comprehensively assessing Brandi's work or even to just seeing it from the right viewpoint. The necessary autonomy, the self-foundations of both facets, can be sustained up to a certain point. Beyond that point, integration and dialectics are required; otherwise, the complex discourse of Brandi cannot be understood18 (Carboni, 2004:141)‏.

39Of course, these exacting conditions would put Brandi beyond the reach of everyone but a handful of people. If these authors were right, only this small group of people could really understand Brandi, and it would be only them who would have the intellectual authority to correctly interpret his words. Needless to say, if this idea is uncritically accepted, things may become dangerously close to arbitrariness.

40An extreme example of this arbitrariness could be the condition recently put forward in an otherwise valuable history of conservation whose author claims that the Teoria can only be understood by the members of the “Italian conservation world”. According to this author, conservators outside Italy suffer from a “substantial incapability” (“incapacità sostanziale”) to understand this work. This prerequisite affects the author of this paper in a very direct way, since it is one of his papers (Muñoz Viñas, 2002) that is presented as a proof of this “substantial incapability”:

  • 19  “il contributo [da Salvador Muñoz Viñas] mostra ancora la sostanziale incapacità di comprensione d (...)

 “…the contribution [from Salvador Muñoz Viñas] shows the substantial incapability of the non-Italian conservation world to understand the theory of Cesare Brandi”19 (Ciatti, 2009: 440-1).

  • 20  “…one can confidently state that the culture of restoration and attention to conservation problems (...)
  • 21  “ …nowadays, when we have absorbed into our DNA the idea that the artwork has both a historic and (...)
  • 22  “…Brandi’s theory is embedded in my DNA” (“…llevo la teoría de Brandi en mi ADN”).

41Regardless of the fact that nowadays there are a number of valuable, innovative conservation thinkers in Italy, Brandi still enjoys a special status for many conservators in this country, where he played an inspiring, leading role for decades. As Caterina Bon Valsassina has put it, Brandi is embedded “in the operational DNA” of Italian conservators20 (2005:11). And even though it seems a too hyperbolic metaphor, it might not be so, since conservation thinker Giorgio Bonsanti used exactly the same metaphor in order to describe the impact of some aspects of Brandi’s thinking in the conservation world21 (Bonsanti, 2006:9), while another prestigious Italian conservator, Gianluigi Colalucci, also claimed to have Brandi's theory “embedded” in his own DNA22 (Colalucci, 2007:7).

Beyond cold reason

  • 23  Brandi published his Teoria generale della critica in 1974. In order to stress the great impact se (...)

42It is not the goal of this paper to attempt a theoretical analysis of the Teoria del restauro, but rather to highlight some of the most basic, immediate problems that may be experienced by anyone trying to approach it with an analytical attitude: firstly, its obscure, unclear and ambiguous nature; secondly, its lack of coherence; and lastly, the professional or academic pressure that can derive from the idea that only those fulfilling certain intellectual prerequisites can truly grasp the Teoria: as in the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes invoked by De Lauretis when speaking of another work by Brandi23, some people might feel a certain degree of group pressure in this regard. Furthermore, and as discussed elsewhere (Muñoz Viñas, 2007), the Teoria has become somewhat obsolete: conservation nowadays deals with a large number of objects with little or no aesthetic value (documents, industrial engines, stone tools, etc.), thus rendering Brandi’s markedly aesthetocentric theory incapable of explaining or guiding conservation as it is currently understood. And yet, in spite of all of these shortcomings (in spite of its obscurity, in spite of its inconsistencies, in spite of its analyzing an obsolete notion of conservation), the Teoria does have a number of sincere followers, including people whom the author of this paper admires, and who are undoubtedly honest and knowledgeable.

  • 24  “Have I, like a hostage, been brainwashed by Brandi’s way of thinking?”
  • 25  “Cesare Brandi’ Teoria … a text that all too often has been transformed into a fetish” (“…la Teori (...)
  • 26  “I think that Brandi has been misunderstood because of a bad reading, maybe because his ideas have (...)

43How is this possible? How can those few pages of obscure, contradictory prose be so appreciated and influential? Why does this piece of thinking enjoy what seems a near-cult status? How can a theoretical text be so persuasive as to become “embedded” in the DNA of practicing conservators? How can it push a prominent conservator so far as to publicly declare “I will continue following Brandi’s line of thinking even if I am the only one on Earth who does so” (Colalucci, 2007:7)? No other conservation theory has ever aroused this kind of response: no other conservation theory has ever had a brainwashing effect on its readers24 (Rockwell, 2005:18); no other conservation theory has ever come close to be considered a fetish25 (Catalano and Cerasuolo, 2011:146); no other conservation theory has even approached the almost-biblical status of the Teoria del restauro26 (Sánchez Barriga, 2009). Certainly, the Teoria is really perplexing in many senses, but the reactions it can provoke are no less so.

  • 27  The Teoria del restauro was to be composed of a mere four chapters only, rather than the eight cha (...)

44A possible explanation is its extraordinary historical merit. The Teoria del restauro may or may not be a good theoretical work, but it nevertheless was an extraordinary intellectual feat. True, Brandi never really bothered with conservation so much as to write a full-fledged book on the topic (as he did on other philosophical matters: while he published no less than eight complete books on aesthetics and many others on art history, the Teoria del restauro is a collection of articles that fits on just a around fifty pages –and, in fact, the Teoria was originally conceived as a much briefer work27). However, before Brandi, no one had attempted to blend philosophy and conservation in such an intimate way. Previous theorists (Viollet-le-Duc, Ruskin, Boito, Dehio, etc.) often presented their views in relatively simple ways, appealing to basic ideas and sometimes even using sarcasm (see, e.g., Boito) or impassioned ranting (see, e.g., Ruskin) as an argumentative weapon. All of this changed with Brandi, and this had exceptional, unquestionable merit.

45However, it must be acknowledged that historical merit, however exceptional, can hardly explain why the Teoria still has such dedicated followers. This can perhaps be better explained by the fact that Brandi was an inspiring figure in Italy, just as his Teoria keeps being inspiring for many people nowadays. Regardless of its possible flaws, it is undeniable that the Teoria del restauro served, and still serves, many conservators as a way to justify their decisions and attitudes, to make up their minds and to find a solid rock of faith in a quagmire of uncertainties. This is by no means a minor feat; and it might well be the reason why some contemporary defendants of the Teoria may find it adaptable to every possible conservation problem, why they feel authorized to creatively determine the meaning of the fuzzy notions that abound in the text, or why they can unconsciously ignore those passages that would cast doubts on its internal coherence.

46At the end of the day, this does not really represent any problem –except if the Teoria is approached as if it were a masterpiece of logic rather than an inspirational text. It may or may not be a sound intellectual construction; but, after all, does it really matter? It could be argued that nowadays the really wonderful thing about the Teoria del restauro is not its philosophical soundness, but rather its ability to inspire. After all, Gianluigi Colalucci might have it right: the Teoria should perhaps be contemplated as a form of poetry; and, as such, it should not be strictly constrained by the more prosaic requirements of cold reason.

47In this regard, it could be argued that Cesare Brandi’s Teoria del restauro represents a unique case in the history of conservation; while some areas, and notably the Anglo-saxon world, remained impervious to it, other areas (Southern Europe, Poland, Belgium, Latin America) became deeply influenced by its spell. Curiously enough, little discussion on the actual arguments presented in the Teoria del restauro ever took place. Perhaps everyone suspected that no discussion was needed, since inspiration is not discussed, but felt.

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Notes

1  The original Italian text for all of the quotes from the Teoria del restauro are taken from the first Einaudi edition (Brandi, 1977).

2  Unless otherwise stated, all of the quotes from non-English sources have been translated by the author of this paper.

3  As is the case with the Spanish ‘restauración’, the French ‘restauration’ or the Portuguese ‘restauraçao’, the Italian notion of ‘restauro’ encompasses restoration, ‘direct’ or ‘remedial’ conservation and preventive conservation. Brandi in fact devotes a whole chapter of the Teoria del restauro to discuss what he calls ‘restauro preventivo’ (preventive conservation). In this paper ‘restauro’ is therefore translated as ‘conservation’.

4  “Lo stesso carattere antologico e, in apparenza, disomogeneo della Teoria del restauro…”.

5  "... la patina ... esige ... un'impostazione teorica, che la tolga, come punto capitale per il restauro e la conservaziones delle opere d'arte, dal dominio del gusto e dell'opinabile."

6  "...il problema ... non può risolversi integralmente in sede storica, dato che l'istanza estetica è prevalente."

7  "Il restauro, per rappresentare un'operazione legitima, non dovrà presumere né il tempo come reversibile né l'abolizione dell storia."

8  The restauro archeologico is a school of conservation that favors the preservation of the object as-is, rather than any restoration or reconstruction. The consolidation of the Colosseum by Valadier, completed in 1826, is a well-known example of restauro archeologico.

9  It is difficult to precisely ascertain what this term means. In his Brandian glossary, Basile (2007:65) offers this definition: “A characteristic of the work of art is that it is a whole, not a sum of parts, like any other object in existential reality, such as the animal organism, which is constituted by the assemblage of a number of parts, none of which, however, is replaceable by another. In the case of the pure, not existential, reality, of the work of art, every part reflects, or even is, potentially, the whole work of art.” (Basile, 2007:65; English translation by D. Jokilehto; italics as in the original text). In practical terms, recovering the “potential unity” of the artwork implies restoring it to a closer-to-as-new condition.

10  "...il restauro detto archeologico, per quanto lodevole per il rispetto, non realizza l'aspirazione fondamentale della coscienza in relazione all'opera d'arte, di ricostituirne cioè l'unità potenziale".

11  "...un'instanza ... di conservazione integrale per tutti gli stati attraverso cui è passata lòpera, non deve contravvenire all'istanza estetica".

12  "...è chiaro che se l'aggiunta deturpa, snatura, offusca, sottrae in parte alla vista l'opera d'arte, questa aggiunta deve essere rimossa".

13  "...l'istanza estetica ... a cui spetta sempre la precedenza."

14  "...l'intervento dovrà essere compiuto secondo che esige l'istanza estetica. E sarà questa istanza la prima in ogni caso".

15  "È insomma sempre un giudizio di valore che determina la prevalenza dell'una o dell'altra istanza nella conservazione o nella remozione dell aggiunte."

16  “…come l’opera d’arte si presenta con la bipolarità della storicità e dell’esteticità, la conservazione e la remozione non potranno attuarsi né a dispetto dell’una né all’insaputa dell’altra.”

17  “Il contemperamento fra le due istanze reppresenta la dialetticità del restauro”.

18  “…riemerge la già richiamata imposibilita, per tracciare un giudizio complessivo sull’opera di Brandi o anche solo per collocarlo sotto una corretta prospectiva, di scindere, di elidere il suo versante storico e critico-operativo da quello specificamente teorico-filosofico. La pur necessaria autonomia e fondazione in se stessi dei due versanti può sostenersi fino a un certo punto; al di là, è indispensabile l’integrazione e la dialettica, pena l’incomprensione stessa del senso del complessivo percorso brandiano”.

19  “il contributo [da Salvador Muñoz Viñas] mostra ancora la sostanziale incapacità di comprensione da parte del mondo del restauro non italiano della teoria di Cesare Brandi”.

20  “…one can confidently state that the culture of restoration and attention to conservation problems, as laid out by Brandi, have by now been metbolised and are part of Italy’s operational DNA”.

21  “ …nowadays, when we have absorbed into our DNA the idea that the artwork has both a historic and an artistic nature.” (“...oggi, quando abbiamo ormai assorbito nel DNA la compresenza nell’opera d’arte delle componenti sia storica che estetica”).

22  “…Brandi’s theory is embedded in my DNA” (“…llevo la teoría de Brandi en mi ADN”).

23  Brandi published his Teoria generale della critica in 1974. In order to stress the great impact semiotics had on this work, De Lauretis humorously titled her review of the book “The Discreet Charm of Semiotics, or Esthetics in the Emperor’s New Clothes” (De Lauretis, 1975).

24  “Have I, like a hostage, been brainwashed by Brandi’s way of thinking?”

25  “Cesare Brandi’ Teoria … a text that all too often has been transformed into a fetish” (“…la Teoria di Cesare Brandi … un testo troppo spesso ridotto a feticcio”).

26  “I think that Brandi has been misunderstood because of a bad reading, maybe because his ideas have been used in an almost-biblical way” (“Creo que Brandi ha sido mal interpretado por una mala lectura, puede ser por un uso casi bíblico de sus postulados”).

27  The Teoria del restauro was to be composed of a mere four chapters only, rather than the eight chapters included in the final, published version. In 1953, Brandi wrote: “Chapters 1, 4 and 2 of the Teoria del restauro have been respectively published in the issues 1, 2 and 11-12 of the Bollettino of the Istituto Centrale del Restauro]; the one we are now publishing [“Conservation according to the aesthetic, or artistic, istanza”] is the third and last chapter” (Brandi, 1953:3; quoted in Zanardi, 2009:65).

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Salvador Muñoz Viñas, « “Who is Afraid of Cesare Brandi?” Personal reflections on the Teoria del restauro », CeROArt [En ligne],  | Juin 2015, mis en ligne le 24 février 2016, consulté le 25 mai 2016. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/4653

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Auteur

Salvador Muñoz Viñas

Salvador Muñoz-Viñas is a Professor of conservation in the Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain. He has university degrees in Fine Arts and in Art History, and a PhD in Fine Arts. He has worked as a paper conservator in the Historical Library of the University of Valencia, and as a visiting scholar in Harvard University’s Straus Centre for Conservation. Aside from different texts in periodicals and collective works, Dr Muñoz Viñas has published several books on practical and theoretical aspects of conservation, such as The Technical Analysis of Renaissance Miniature Paintings (Cambridge, MA, 1995 –co-authored with Eugene F. Farrell), Contemporary Theory of Conservation (Oxford, 2004), La Restauración del Papel (Madrid, 2010) and Diccionario Akal de Materiales de Restauración (Madrid, 2014 –co-authored with Ignasi Gironés and Julia Osca). His current research interests are conservation theory and paper conservation techniques.

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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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