Volume 19, Number 1 .... January 1997

Introduction to Part VI: Reintegration of losses

An excerpt from

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

by Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro

It is very difficult to move from general principles to the criteria and precepts that ought to ensure that these principles are put into practice. Many apparent points of agreement fail to make this transition It appears to be just as difficult to clarify the relationship between the terms conservation and restoration. These terms sometimes occur in the specialized literature in the form of "conservation-restoration," for instance, as used by Marie Berducou. This conjunction also recurs idiomatically and in journalistic usage. When the term restoration is used alternately or together with the term conservation, the distinction between the two is not always clear.

According to some attempts at definition1, conservation signifies treatments, including preventative, environmental measures, designed mainly to prolong the life of an object; the object of restoration should refer to all procedures aimed at improving the object's aesthetic character and appearance, while taking into consideration its final presentation to the public. This distinction, however, appears to be unsatisfactory; the boundary between the two fields and the two types of procedures is not at all clear, given their close interdependence and the fact that they impose conditions on one another. To evaluate the first (conservation) as truly necessary and all others (restoration) as secondary or superfluous does not seem to be acceptable, if we keep in mind Brandi's definition of restoration. According to Brandi, restoration is essential to the reconstitution or preservation of the cultural value and quality of the image of an object with cultural significance, even more so for a work of art. It is not even acceptable to contrast conservation and restoration as though the first were guided by objective criteria and the second by judgment and "taste". Juxtaposing the two terms is an attempt to recover the sense of a historic tradition, at gathering together the best from the two movements that were so ferociously opposed to one another in the nineteenth century.

Max Friedlander interprets the best of the late-nineteenth-century tradition of connoisseurship. In a passage written in 1944, before the publication of Brandi's Teoria del restauro, he expresses a different point of view, in considering restoration a "necessary evil." And yet, even though Brandi would never have admitted to being in any sense in agreement with Friedlander, it is worth comparing this excerpt with those excerpts from Brandi regarding lacunae and their completion. This convergence may well diminish the impression of abstract distance and isolation that Brandi's tone seems at times to generate.

The excerpts selected for inclusion here emphasize the modernity of Friedlander's outlook in his references to various points of view and to opposing opinions on how a restoration ought to be conducted.

It could be said that neither the approach of Ruskin (who obsessively repeats "conserve, don't restore") nor those of Viollet-le-Duc and Friedlander can be made absolute. There comes a point when daily care and attentive and regular maintenance are no longer sufficient, just as on-site treatment during an excavation (Berducou touches on this) must be followed by thorough conservation so that the finds may be exhibited in museum showcases.

In short, it is proposed here that with the juxtaposition of the two terms it should be possible to overcome the nineteenth-century confrontation and show that a single process can ensure the survival of cultural heritage. Conservation-restoration is a process that removes the causes of deterioration, takes care of the environment of the exhibition space or setting, respects history, and ensures a presentation worthy of an object of aesthetic and cultural significance. It then provides for maintenance, environmental control, and so on, in a complete and, if possible, programmed continuum of procedures. These phases of treatment are all connected and are all indispensable; the sequence should never be interrupted unless limited resources mean resorting to partial and incomplete procedures.

Considerable difficulty arises when it becomes necessary to coherently apply even more principles and terms. Most people in the field would very likely agree with each one of the following principles: Brandi's definition of restoration, rejection of imitative restoration, respect for the traces of time and impossibility of erasing them from an object, using restoration to give back to an object the unity it has lost through interference and alterations, taking the original context into consideration, respect for the present context, and filling lacunae so the intervention is recognizable at close range but not from a distance.

Disagreement is just as likely to arise when all the principles listed above, or even two or three ofthem, are applied simultaneously. That is the trouble with programmatic documents known as conservation charters, the first of which was that of Athens in 1931. Almost all similar documents are derived from this one, including those published by international agencies such as Unesco. All are restricted by a common problem: declarations of principle that are too general, sometimes generic; and treatment formulas that are tied to the products and realities of the marketplace, making them outdated in a very short time. We have therefore included some readings that discuss, in concrete terms, one of the issues just mentionedone in which the problems of methodology and their technical solutions are connected in a particularly obvious way: at issue is the reintegration of lacunae, long considered to be the fundamental problem of restoration. That was in the days when no one looked beyond museums and paintings. Today conservators realize that it is impossible to discuss the reintegration of a lacuna in a mosaic if it is not known whether the mosaic is to be kept in a museum or on site, whether the public will walk on it, and so on.

In any case, the guiding principle of these readings is the search for the roots of contemporary problems and the rereading of texts that have become classics but that are still rich in suggestions and useful for putting our every day problems into perspective. It there fore seemed useful to start from the central subject, which goes back to the Teoria, and to the precepts of Brandi, to whom nearly all contemporary methods can be traced more or less consistently and more or less consciously.

It should be obvious that the problem of lacunae was first raised in relation to paintings, and it follows that its solutions have more weight and authority in this field. On the other hand, these solutions seem totally inadequate in relation to three-dimensional objects, from sculpture to architecture. It is precisely in these last fields that Brandi's Teoria seems most inadequate.

Filling a lacuna, reestablishing the unity of the image means intervening in the image itself. This ought to be done, therefore, by means that take into account the visual processes and mechanisms of the human eye. Brandi started from this basic insight when formulating his theory, He observes that a lacuna introduces an interruption into the figurative pattern that is not only local, and does not relate merely to the spot where it is situated, but disturbs the entire field of vision. It causes an inversion of perception in which the lacuna places itself aggressively in the foreground while the image slides into the background.

If the lacuna is filled correctly, it should achieve another inversion in which the lacuna recedes into the background. The method of retouching known as a tratteggio or a rigatino is based on this theoretical foundation taken from Brandi's Teoria del restauro. This method is used more or less strictly in many schools of European restoration; it is discussed by Paolo Mora, Laura Mora, and Paul Philippot, in excerpts included here.

Others have offered different approaches to the problem.2 Umberto Baldini, for example, discusses restoration as "an act of abstraction." Although these other conservators may want to distance themselves from Brandi, they are all chips off the same block.

It is necessary to turn once more to Philippot to gain a broad view of the problems of recovering and re-creating the image in a painting, with examples that relate the theoretical foundations of the problem directly to the experience and the practice of every conservator. Following this reading from Albert Philippot and Paul Philippot are the theoretical texts by Brandi that inspired it. The intention is to make the relationship between theory and practice more comprehensible by going back to the origins of precedents and precepts that are still fully valid.

In turn, there follows a very well-known section from the fundamental chapter of the manual on the conservation of wall paintings by Mora, Mora, and Philippot; it is a text of unsurpassable profundity and clarity. With extreme precision, the authors confront the subject of lacunae and the methods of their reintegration: lacunae are divided into different types according to their location with respect to the image and to the support; namely the patina, the ground, and the paint layer. They find ways of integrating each type of loss. This is an excellent and classic example of the way in which the solution of technical problems benefits from a close association with the cultural and theoretical approach.

As mentioned earlier, Baldini, former director of the Opificio delle Peitre Dure in Florence, has evolved a set of principles that he categorizes as "abstractions" or "chromatic selections." Baldini's position is a very personal one that has not had a wide following outside Florence. In the excerpt chosen here, he provides a survey of the various positions taken up in the international debate on the question of lacunae in paintings.

Compared to the accumulated knowledge and experience available for integrating losses in paintings, for archaeological material and architecture there are no valid points of reference. Examination of the fundamentals of Brandi's Teoria, as discussed earlier, reveals his inadequacy in confronting the relationship between the image and the material, and the impossibility of applying his distinction between materials as structure and "materials...as image" to three-dimensional objects. This showed that his point of departure was restricted to the character and stratigraphy of the painting (support, ground, pigment layer).

There is an enormous variety in the typology of pottery, for example, and in the fundamental problems associated with it; yet the retouching methods used in paintings can be applied with adaptations to take into account their three-dimensionalityto red- and black-figured vases from Attica.3

Architectural reconstruction, has also been much discussed, especially in relation to the rebuilding of archaeological ruins, or anastylosis. Brandi, judging from the visual point of view, disapproved of anastylosis. Today it is understood that it is possible to raise and reassemble the collapsed elements of an archaeological ruin only in rare cases. Often the traumatic events that cause the collapse also destroy and alter the dispersed elements of the building.

In order to put a fragment back into its original position and to support and integrate it, it is often necessary to introduce a great many new elements. The process is nothing but the reverse of de-restoration of sculpture and is based on the same Purist misunderstanding: the belief that time and its ineradicable marks can be eliminated. At the end of the process, an enormous part of the building consists of new elements, and these are likely to be regarded as the good part--the original--whereas the few damaged and eclipsed original fragments appear to be valueless, disturbing lacunae.

Unfortunately, the unpleasant fashion for anastylosis has been justified for the good of tourism and communication. It would be far better for the buildings and much more educational for tourists if a greater commitment were made to conserving the original parts while entrusting to the multimedia (posters, videos, and computer techniques such as virtual reality) the task of explaining and showing what the buildings might have looked like originally.

It is necessary to recall Philippot's broad view of the problems of reintegrating losses when the object is three-dimensional. He alludes to the fact that objects from the past often have many lacunae since, like a sumptuous mantle now unfortunately in tatters, these objects have been able to convey through time only a few scraps from their original context.


1. P. Coremans, "The Training of Restorers," in Problems of Conservation in Museums, Travaux et Publications de l'ICOM 8 (Paris:Editions Eyrolles, 1969), 7ff.

2. M. Koller, "Probleme und Methoden der Retusche polychromer Skulptur," Maltechnik/Restauro 85 (1979), 8ff.

3. A. Melucco Vaccaro, "La reintegrazione della ceramica da scavo: I termini del problema," Faenza 75 (1989), 8-16.(reprinted with permission of the Getty Conservation Institute)

For the numerous references cited in the article, readers should consult the original publication

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage

Nicholas Stanley Price, M. Kirby Talley Jr., and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro, Editors
Published by the Getty Conservation Institute, 1996
ISBN 0-89236-250-2 (cloth) ISBN 0-89236-398-3 (paper)
Price: $55 (cloth) $39.95 (paper) 500 pages

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