JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 223 to 235)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 223 to 235)

BOOK REVIEWS

A. Elena Charola, Margaret Holben Ellis, Richard Newman, Monona Rossol, & Walsh Judith


C. A.PRICE, STONE CONSERVATION: AN OVERVIEW OF CURRENT RESEARCH. Santa Monica, Calif.: Getty Conservation Institute, 1996. 72 pages, softcover, $25. ISBN 0-8923-389-4. Available from Getty Trust Publications, P.O. Box 49659; Dept. GS37, Los Angeles, Calif. 90049-0659.

William Ginell's foreword to Stone Conservation: An Overview of Current Research prompts the author to “give us his subjective viewpoint on what is being done right, what areas of current research should be continued or accelerated, and what new directions should be addressed that would promote an increase in effectiveness of stone conservation.” C. A. Price's preface focuses this ambitious request to a more modest undertaking. He limits the scope of the book to the major publications of approximately five years prior to the summer of 1994, when the manuscript was written. He ends the preface by indicating that the references given are illustrative rather than definitive because the book “is intended to give a strategic overview of the whole field and to identify areas of strength and weakness where further research should be focused.” The book's introduction describes the apparent pessimistic attitude “among many people who are involved in stone conservation … that research has stagnated; that we are not making any real progress in the way we care for our historic buildings and monuments.”

Chapter 1, “Stone Decay,” begins by listing the most important ways of characterizing stone, continues with the methodologies that describe and measure decay, and ends with the causes of decay. The causes fall into three categories: air pollution, salts, and biodeterioration. The second chapter, “Putting It Right: Preventive and Remedial Treatments,” succinctly discusses the state of the art in preventive conservation and conservation interventions, such as cleaning, desalination, consolidation, and surface coatings. Discussion of the latter ranges from water repellents to biocides, including such topics as reaction and crystal growth inhibitors and semiconductors. However, while the author's experience with MTMOS is reflected in the detailed discussion of that material, TEOS—far more widely used in other European countries where it is commonly called ethyl silicate—is barely mentioned, and important improvements to that material such as those described in Wendler et al. (1991) are not discussed. The third chapter, “Do They Work? Assessing the Effectiveness of Treatments,” deals with two topics: characterization of the treated stone and its long-term performance. The issues raised in this chapter, such as the choice of tests used to evaluate the treated stone and the problem of documentation (i.e., the difficulty of creating and keeping up centralized databases of treatment documentation) are extremely pertinent.

In chapter 4, the author presents a balanced discussion of three topics: responsible use of surface coatings and consolidants, retreatment, and recording. The last chapter, “Doing Better: Increasing the Effectiveness of Research,” discusses publications, conferences, standards, and quality diffusion of research and its diffusion to other disciplines. The author also proposes some for improvements and advises that “funding bodies must be prepared to appoint research managers whose judgment they trust, and then be prepared to accept that judgment concerning the quality of research being conducted. … They must be seeking value for money, which entails both quality and quantity [of publications], rather than quantity alone.” The short conclusion states that “a great deal of activity is occurring and advances are being made in many different areas.” It is obvious that this conclusion was drawn from the author's experience rather than from the book itself, which covers too short a period to reflect these advances.

Reviewing this publication was not easy because it was meant to reflect a subjective viewpoint, even though the author did try to balance his “own prejudices.” The volume presents a good image—a snapshot—of the state of knowledge in the field at the time of this writing. It is particularly useful for anyone outside the field interested in learning about stone conservation, but it is less useful for those already working in the field.

In this reviewer's opinion, the most revealing section is the one on collaborative programs in the last chapter. The fact that the European Union had to enforce collaboration between relevant European Union research institutions to ensure that it occurred speaks for itself. And most of the problems listed in that chapter—for example, poor quality in publications—can be easily understood when taking that fact into consideration.

The conclusion ends with an accurate description of the problem: “that some research is poorly focused and that resources are not being used to the best effect. The resources available for stone research are small by comparison with the magnitude of the problem, and we cannot afford to waste them.” But the author fails to identify the causes that make this research poorly focused. To begin with, the ultimate object of research in stone conservation is the preservation of monuments. Not only are monuments all different, but their value changes with time and fashion, so that the resources available for their study and eventual preservation efforts wax and wane accordingly. Compounding this situation is general human shortsightedness, of which the best current example is the problem presented by the change of date in computers as we start a new century—a problem created only a few decades ago by computer scientists who are trained to think into the future.

C. A. Price's criticisms are valid, but improvements will come in time when humans take a consistent and persistent approach to the problem—that is, develop good management. In this reviewer's opinion the field of stone conservation has succeeded amazingly well taking into consideration the points above.

A. ElenaCharolaIndependent Scientific Consultant, 8 Barstow Rd., Great Neck, N.Y. 11021

REFERENCE

Wendler, E., D. D.Klemm, and R.Snethlage. 1991. Consolidation and hydrophobic treatment of natural stone. In Durability of building materials and components: Proceedings of the 5th international conference, Brighton, U.K., ed.J. M.Baker, P. J.Nixon, A. J.Majumdar, and H.Davies. London: Chapman & Hall. 203–12.

NICHOLAS STANLEYPRICE, M. KIRBYTALLEYJR., AND ALLESSANDRA MELUCCOVACCARO, EDS.HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES IN THE CONSERVATION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1996. 520 pages, hardcover $56, ISBN 0-8923-6250-2, softcover $39.95, ISBN 0-8923-6398-3. Available from Getty Trust Publications, P.O. Box 49659; Dept. GS37, Los Angeles, Calif. 90049–0659.

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage is the first in a series, Readings in Conservation, intended to make available historic texts on conservation to students of conservation and art history, conservators, and the general public. To this end, a team of three editors selected what have been deemed to be influential and significant writings and has organized them thematically and in roughly chronological order, from the “roots of appreciation and studies of works of art during the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries to the emergence of a modern conservation philosophy” (parts 1–3), rounded out by readings on historical perspective (part 4), restoration and antirestoration (part 5), reintegration of losses (part 6), the idea of patina (part 7), and the role of science and technology (part 8). The editors' clear and rational voices are heard throughout the preface and introductions of each part. Rather like a concerto with three contrasting movements, each editor attempts to harmonize a potential cacophony of conflicting tunes. They have succeeded admirably.

One editor and certainly a maestro, Nicholas Stanley Price, wrote the preface, which provides information on the book's orchestration, an explanation of how the texts were chosen, a clarification of the terminology used throughout the book, and helpful suggestions on how the book can be used as a teaching tool—in all, a modest assessment of an enormous cooperative undertaking. A close reading of Price's description of how the texts were nominated—first by 3 and ultimately by 15 conservation professionals—reviewed, and selected for inclusion in the volume explains the asymmetrical length of part 1, which is four times longer than any of the other parts. It would appear that the readings included in part 1 were excluded from the selection process described above and were the choices of a second editor and accomplished art historian, M. Kirby Talley Jr. Naturally, this different procedure resulted in the idiosyncratic tenor of part 1 and its annotated bibliography, a consequence discussed in more detail below.

M. Kirby Talley Jr. and Allessandra Melucco Vaccaro, the noted Italian archaeologist and conservation educator, wrote two and six introductions, respectively, and compiled their accompanying annotated bibliographies. The book's 46 readings and over 100 bibliographic citations are intricately interwoven thematically, but, at the same time, are wildly disparate, thus making Talley's and Vaccaro's insightful introductions indispensable for the reader.

It is important that readers recognize from the outset that the selections differ in many ways, most obviously in source, language, and date. Unlike other “readings” series, the selections are not consistently drawn from erudite essays and criticism, nor are the majority written by academics. Many have been ferreted out from far-flung sources, including oral presentations at professional conferences, occasional publications, specialized periodicals, journalistic reportage, lectures to special interest groups, popular manifestos, and doctoral dissertations. As a consequence, the audience to whom these selections were first addressed differs drastically as well. The ear of the reader must make a contextual adjustment from one reading to the next in order to distinguish the nuances between scholarly fact and the 30-year-old recollections of an agent provocateur.

Language is another way in which the selections differ. A team of 7 undertook translations of more than 15 texts from Italian, German, and French for the benefit of the English-only reader. Especially appreciated are the writings of Cesare Brandi and Paul Philippot, who were instrumental in establishing the fundamentals of current conservation thinking. The translations also underscore the limitations that language-challenged conservators face by providing a humbling glimpse of the riches of conservation literature written in other languages.

Then there is the disparity in the ages of the selections. Even when the most motivated conservator has found the original Austrian version of Alois Riegl's Der moderne Denkmalkultus: Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung and is struggling with the author's complex philosophical arguments printed in a gothic typeface of 1903, the problem arises of period language. Victorian prose can hinder one's understanding of many of the selections contained in this volume and in the citations contained in the annotated bibliographies—for example, those of Walter Pater, whose writing has been described as “effulgently purple prose” (Kimbell 1995). Similarly, the 19th-century tone of Berenson's writings strikes our modern sensibilities as “didactic condensation” (Freedberg 1989). While the short biographies of the authors at the end of the book help orient the reader to their time and milieu, once again, the agility of the reader's mind is challenged by these fundamental differences in the selections.

The temptation to be resisted when reviewing a compilation of writings such as this one is to argue with the individual points of view of the authors chosen for inclusion. The reviewer of such a tome needs to assess the collected worth of the texts selected and the degree to which they successfully address the needs of the identified audience for the book. Thus, it was possible to rise above Berenson's “stiff-jointed, starchy prose” and “self conscious Paterisms” (Freedberg 1989) and Ruskin's hysterical nihilism and press on to consider the book's overall strengths and weaknesses.

While not serious weaknesses, two curious aspects of the book are given away in the preface by some apologetic comments, which resemble premature predictions of what aspects of the books might be subject to criticism.

First must be the book's emphasis on the Western intellectual tradition, which, as Price readily admits, is “the subject of continuing debate,” noting that “certain influential strands within it are currently out of favor.” He is, of course, referring to connoisseurship, observing that it is “temporarily unfashionable in art historical studies.” Since the avowed purpose of the volume is to provide the “classics,” which upon rereading will be “useful in putting our everyday problems into perspective,” his caution at first seems just a tiresome side effect of the prevailing winds of political correctness; an obligation to take dutiful note of DWEM (dead white European male) dominance in connoisseurship (and conservation) studies. If this is the case, his concern is unfounded since, one hopes, conservators will eagerly seek the wisdom of those who can best clarify conservation dilemmas without regard to the authors' ethnicity, gender, or biological viability.

One suspects, however, that the preface's preemptive maneuver is a deflection of the inevitable observation that the contents of part 1 are more incongruous than incorrect. Because they apparently are the choice of M. Kirby Talley Jr., they naturally resemble the personal library of—who else?—a connoisseur of connoisseurship. Talley has written extensively about connoisseurship and its role in conservation (Talley 1997). His affection for and admiration of Bernard Berenson, who garners a whopping thirteen citations between selected readings by him, on him, and those in the annotated bibliography, is reflected in Talley's literary style and preferences; like Berenson, he finds Pater's, The Renaissance, “life enhancing.”1 Even the title of his section, “The Eye's Caress,” makes elegant reference to Berenson's belief that our “retinal impressions” are translated into “tactile values” when responding to works of art.

Because “the man people love to hate” has been transformed into the “perfect paradigm of the alleged shortcomings of elitist art history,” it would be easy to dismiss Berenson's preeminence in part 1, as well as the presence of Ruskin and Gombrich, with sniffs of revisionist disapproval (Calo 1994). But that is not the point of the observation that part 1 constitutes a book-within-a-book, an exquisite exposition, whose editor burns with the hard, gemlike flame of a missionary who would have us morph into BB.

I, for one, am quite happy to accept that, 110 years after his arrival in Italy, Berenson's “Four Gospels” on early Italian art should be required reading for all art history students and certainly for conservators dealing with Italian Renaissance paintings. While “the practice of connoisseurship is at an absolute nadir,” according to Talley, the purpose of Historical and Philosophical Issues is not to champion connoisseurship's cause per se. For conservators attempting to sort out conservation controversies, Talley's stand-alone introduction serves as an excellent synopsis of connoisseurship, even though he makes no secret of his dislike of the historical positivists. Because the reader is told by Vaccaro in part 3, however, that the role of the connoisseur has been taken over by the historian, some acknowledgment of the opposite camp is in order. Talley's conciliation is to discuss Gary Schwartz's article, “Connoisseurship: The Penalty of Ahistoricism,” Perhaps Schwartz's article could have been promoted from its place in the annotated bibliography, if only to describe philological methodologies of connoisseurship. Given conservators' intense interest in past and present documentation, the appropriate use of historic documents in connoisseurship could also be acknowledged.

Again in the preface, as if anticipating negative comment, perhaps even from the Getty's own Conservation Institute, Price makes note of Vaccaro's healthy skepticism of the success of science and technology in developing conservation treatments, diplomatically suggesting that her stance will be a “rich topic for discussion.”2 Even she is of the opinion that the role of science in conservation is controversial. Any alleged ambivalence on her part, however, is more than compensated by her illuminating introductions to “The Idea of Patina” and “The Emergence of Modern Conservation Theory.”

The selections in part 2, “The Original Intent of the Artist,” concentrate almost exclusively on the issues surrounding 20th-century art and seem to have been added as an afterthought. Part 2's annotated bibliography is also conspicuously lean and has been merged with that of part 1. David Carrier's Preservation as Interpretation (1991) and David Summers' Intentions in the History of Art (1986) come to mind as possible inclusions for part 2, as does Gombrich's “Aims and Limits of Iconology.”

Which brings up the subject of conservation literature as a whole: Do not “readings” in conservation presuppose “writings” in conservation? Does there exist today a corpus of conservation literature representative of the discipline? This volume roars with a resounding “yea.” But, some think there could be more. Barbara Appelbaum, in her lead article in the November 1997 AIC News, observes that, in terms of AIC publications at least, conservation writings seem confined to a limited number of categories. She calls for new parameters and new topics for conservation publications.

Also, given the visual aspect of conservation, can conservation be comprehended through its writings alone? Do conservators subscribe to Thomas Carlyle's belief that “All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been … is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books”? Do we think it possible, as did Diderot, to catalog everything there is to know about something that has to be seen to be understood? Here it would seem that Berenson has the last word. To “know” something that is primarily seen and felt—in the case of conservation, the visual result of actions, whether those of people or the passage of time—all the senses and accumulated experiences of the viewer are called into play (Talley 1990). In becoming conservation connoisseurs, we must fortify our reserves of knowledge by embracing all the humanities. All the more reason then, when settling down for a good “read,” one feels compelled to thank the editors for gathering these texts together for our convenience and contemplation.

Margaret HolbenEllisConservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 14 E. 78th St., New York, N.Y. 10021


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am grateful for the assistance of M. Brigitte Yeh in the preparation of this review.


NOTES

1. Note the similarity in both philosophy and writing style between Talley's evocative description of a full moon as representative of the quest of Bernard Berenson (Talley 1992) and the conclusion of Pater (1894).

2. Surely if his book, The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art: Treatment, Repair and Restoration, is “the Bible” of conservators and restorers, more homage needs to be paid to the recently deceased Harold Plenderleith.



REFERENCES

Calo, M. A.1994. Bernard Berenson and the 20th century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Carrier, D.1991. Preservation as interpretation: Principles of art history writing, University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

Freedberg, S. J.1989. Berenson, connoisseurship, and the history of art. New Criterion7(6): 8.

Gombrich, E. H.1972. Aims and limits of iconology. In Symbolic images: Studies in the art of the Renaissance, vol. 2, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1–25.

Kimbell, R.1995. Art vs. aestheticism: The case of Walter Pater. New Criterion13(9): 11.

Pater, W.1894. The Renaissance: Studies in art and poetry. London: Macmillan.

Summers, D.1986. Intentions in the history of art. New Literary History17: 305–21.

Talley, M. K.Jr.1990. The humanistic foundation in the training of restorers. In The Graduate Conservator in Employment: Expectations and Realities, Proceedings of the Interim Meeting of the Working Group on Training in Conservation and Restoration, ICOM Committee for Conservation. Amsterdam: Opleiding Restauratoren.

Talley, M. K.Jr.1992. Under a full moon with BB: Building a “House of Life.”Museum Management and Curatorship11: 347–73.

Talley, M. K.Jr.1997. Miscreants and Hotentots: Restorers and restoration attitudes and practices in 17th- and 18th-century England. Museum Management and Curatorship16(1): 35–44.

WALTER C.McCRONE, JUDGMENT DAY FOR THE TURIN SHROUD. Chicago: Microscope Publications, 1996. 341 pages, hardcover $36. Available from Microscope Publications, Division of McCrone Research Institute, 2820 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago , Ill. 60616-3292. ISBN 0-9049-215-6.

This book reviews scientific research on the Shroud of Turin from the 1960s to the present more thoroughly than any single publication to date. But that is not the primary purpose of the book. Walter McCrone was one of the original members of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), which was formed in 1977. He dissented from the official findings of STURP, from which he resigned in 1980, and he wrote this book (as stated on the dustjacket) to “ensure that a full record of [the author's] work is available for all to evaluate.” While certainly not objective in tone, McCrone seems to have fairly well represented the work of other researchers, primarily those of STURP, and the book makes interesting and thought-provoking reading. An amalgam of scientific exposition with digressions into the history of art and artists' materials, personal memoir, and religiopolitical exposť, this book stands in a class by itself, much like its author, a scientist best known to conservators and conservation scientists as a teacher and champion of the polarizing light microscope, one of the fundamental research tools in the study of works of art. The battlefield-diary tone of much of the book must be understood in the context of McCrone's role as STURP persona non grata, the lone member who questioned the authenticity of the shroud.

Published by McCrone's own company, the book would have benefited tremendously from thorough editing and proofreading. Its organization is somewhat confusing, and there is much repetition of material, which may test the patience of some readers. A good place for the reader to begin is the last appendix, which could serve as an abstract for the book.

The subject of this book, the Shroud of Turin, is a piece of linen with full-length, nearly complete front and back images of a man. The man is not clothed, and there are apparent blood stains on the hands and feet. The first appearance of the shroud dates to about 1356, when it was displayed in a newly built church in Lirey, France, as the shroud in which Jesus had been wrapped after his crucifixion. At the time of its second exhibition, in 1389, a letter written by a French bishop claimed that the shroud was a cunningly painted fake, as attested, so the letter states, by the painter who created it. The shroud has been restored to some extent, and contains scorch marks and water stains from a 1532 fire. From 1453 the shroud was owned by the Royal House of Savoy; since 1984, it has been owned by the Catholic Church.

In the early part of the book, McCrone summarizes research on the shroud by two groups of Italian scholars, the first in 1969 and the second in 1973, quoting at some length (with his own commentary) from their reports. Some members of the 1973 commission (whose reports were issued in 1976) concluded that the image was an artistic creation. In 1973, a Swiss forensic scientist, Max Frei, took about two dozen samples from the shroud by pressing pieces of sticky tape on various parts of the surface. In 1978 and 1981 papers, he identified pollen from these tapes that indicated the shroud had spent a considerable amount of time in Turkey and Palestine, apparently pushing its history back beyond its first recorded appearance in 14th-century France. Frei's results have been called fraudulent by some, as McCrone discusses in an appendix.

McCrone was invited to submit a research proposal on the shroud in 1974, but in part as a result of the 1976 publication of the Italian commission's examination, did not carry out any work. In 1977, McCrone joined the newly formed STURP group. Members of STURP carried out a series of nondestructive tests over a five-day period in 1978 and took 32 pressed tape samples for later analysis, 14 from nonimage areas, 12 from body-image areas, and 6 from blood-image areas. These samples were split into two duplicate sets. McCrone's research was based on one of these sets, and he describes his work on this sample. His final conclusions were that the shroud was a painting done in very thin red ochre/glue paint, enhanced with vermilion in blood-stained areas.

McCrone then reviews the work of other members of STURP. He quotes some of the published results of STURP, along with his own commentary on those results. He is convinced that many of the scientists involved in the research felt at the outset that the shroud was authentic and that their own conclusions and rebuttals of McCrone's work came more from this underlying belief than any real scientific evidence that they have produced, or from any significant deficiencies in McCrone's research. The reader will have to form his or her own opinions.

Although radiocarbon dating had been proposed as a crucial type of analysis for scientific study of the shroud as early as 1973, it was not until 1988 (with the general acceptance of the accelerator mass spectrometry procedure that required much smaller samples than the traditional analytical procedures) that radiocarbon dating was carried out. The results, from three labs, gave a date of 1325+/−65 (95% confidence level). While many accepted this as the final word on the authenticity of the shroud, challenges to the validity of the radiocarbon results came out immediately, as McCrone details.

The most fascinating part of the this book is McCrone's cordial correspondence with the late Father Peter Rinaldi, an ambassador of sorts between the Catholic Church and the various groups that carried out scientific research on the shroud. McCrone dedicated his book to Rinaldi, who was a staunch defender of the shroud's authenticity until his death in 1993. McCrone includes much of his correspondence, which took place between 1974 and 1989.

The questions addressed by all of the scientific research on the shroud fall into two general categories: What is its date? How was the image formed? All would agree that radiocarbon dating is the only direct way of resolving the first question. As already noted, the results of the radiocarbon dating have been (and continue to be) called into question. The 1995 American Chemical Society Archaeological Chemistry symposium featured one paper, by A. Adler, that questioned the radiocarbon results, noting that the samples tested came from a water-stained area near a scorch mark and was not representative of the overall shroud fabric. A second paper by D. Kouznetsov, A. Ivanov, and P. Veletsky, concluded that modifications which need to be applied to the published shroud radiocarbon date could actually push its origin back to the first or second century A.D. A paper by A. Jull, D. Donahue, and P. Damon, researchers from one of the facilities at which the shroud dating had been carried out, challenged the statements of the previous paper, arguing that they were based on unverifiable research. (All these papers are published in Archaeological Chemistry, ed. M. Orna [Washington, D.C.: ACS, 1996].) Only the pollen data, which have also been called into question, provide any direct evidence that the shroud has any history outside of France and Italy.