Austrian protection and restorations

In the nineteenth century, the Austrian Empire covered a large area of Central Europe including Bohemia, Austria, Lombardy and Venice in the west, Galicia, Transylvania and Hungary in the east, and extending to the south along the Dalmatian coast as far as Dubrovnik and Kotor. The earliest orders for the protection of cultural property in Austria were mainly concerned about movable heritage; the first was given by Empress Maria Theresa for the collection and safeguarding of archival documents on 12 August 1749, the same year as the State Archives were established (Frodl, 1988:181). During the first half of the nineteenth century, due to the influence from Italy, England, France and Prussia, increasing attention was given to antiquities and historic buildings expressed in several edicts aiming at their protection, and particularly forbidding exportation of works of art and antique objects. The removal of objects from old castles and ruins was forbidden in 1802 (Helfgott, 1979).

From the last quarter of the eighteenth century, there was a growing patriotism, which encouraged societies to be founded with the aim of promoting cultural and artistic aims. From 1833, initiatives were made by Dr Eduard Melly, who also consulted Didron, to establish an Altertumsverein (Society for Antiquities) in Vienna - actually founded twenty years later -and to obtain state protection for historic buildings, the establishment of a Ministry for Culture, a Central Bureau, and a Central Commission for Antiquities with appropriate personnel (Frodl, 1988:61ff). The proposal was considered too expensive, and preference was given to another by Freiherr von Prokesch-Osten in consultation with the Prussian Government in Berlin, where instructions for the Chief Conservator had been published in 1844.

Accordingly, on 31 December 1850, the Emperor signed the order for the establishment of the Central-Commission zur Erforschung und Erhaltung der Baudenkmale (Central Commission for Research and Conservation of Historic Buildings), under the direction of Karl Freiherr Czoernig von Czernhausen (1804-89), who retired in 1863 and was succeeded by Josef Alexander von Helfert until 1910.53 In 1873, the Commission was enlarged to cover all 'Artistic and Historic Monuments' from prehistoric times and antiquity to the end of the eighteenth century. The Central Commission worked mainly on a voluntary basis; it coordinated the activities of Honorary Conservators appointed to different parts of the Empire, and it was encouraged to look for the support of all available private resources, including societies. Building authorities were invited to collaborate by providing technical assistance and making measured drawings, but the conservators had no jurisdictional compulsory power until the 1911 statutes established a new basis for the organization. According to the Instructions (1853) the tasks of the Central Commission included the inventory, documentation, legal protection and approval of restoration projects of historic buildings.

The legal definition of 'Baudenkmal' (historic building, monument) was a building or remains of earlier structures that contained noteworthy (curious) historical memories or had artistic value, and which could not be removed from its site without damage (Instruktionen für die k.k. Baubeamten). Such monuments were to be protected against decay or destruction, and the Commission was to be consulted for any changes or transformations in the setting. Removal to a new site could be considered only under exceptional circumstances, and if conservation efforts had failed. In any case, an exact recording of the building was required. Restoration should generally be limited to regular maintenance, repointing, cleaning and prevention of damage; completion of such parts that were vital for the preservation of the original monument could be accepted, but not 'the completion of characteristic or stylistic elements even if such completions were intended in the spirit of these remains'.54 The latter types of restoration were considered 'rarer cases'. The first interventions under the responsibility of the new Commission were carried out in 1853 (e.g., Kefermarkt Altar,

Cathedral of Sibenik and Diocletian's Palace in Split). All restoration works were instructed to be carefully documented and published, and in 1856 the Commission published the first issue of its periodical Mitteilungen, as well as the first Jahrbuch (Year Book).

Honorary Conservators were generally appointed from noble and distinguished families, and numbered 58 in 1855, including Eduard von Sachen and Ignaz Kaiblinger for southern Austria, Dr Peter Kandler for Triest, Vincenz Andrich (Vicko Andric) for Split, and Matthias Graf Thun for Trient. One of the best known was Adalbert Stifter (1805-67), appointed for northern Austria in 1852, a landscape painter, teacher of natural sciences and writer. His educational novel, Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer, 1857), took restoration as a theme, and was the first to draw the attention of the general public to the protection and restoration of historic buildings and works of art. In a dreamlike 'Indian summer' the works of art of the past are restored to the present to be lived and enjoyed once again. The past takes an important place of reference in the educational process - the word 'old' becomes a synonym of 'right' or 'beautiful'; history itself is referred to the history of art, and a sense of styles. The novel recalls one of the first works done under Stifter's supervision, the restoration of a wooden altarpiece at Kefermarkt.55 The restoration, although done with great love and enthusiasm, in reality suffered from lack of experience, and the altar was damaged due to cleaning with soap, water and brushes.

The principal restoration architect who strongly influenced Gothic Revival and restoration practice in the Austrian Empire, was Friedrich von Schmidt (1825-91). He worked on Cologne Cathedral from 1843, taught at the Academy of Milan (1857-59), and restored S. Ambrogio in Milan, and San Donato in Murano. He prepared projects for S. Giacomo Maggiore in Vicenza, and for the 'gothiciza-tion' of Milan Cathedral. In 1863, he was nominated surveyor to St Stephan's Dom in Vienna, conducting a long restoration that started by rebuilding the spires. A large number of historic buildings in all parts of the country were restored by him, including Karlstein castle (1870), Zagreb Cathedral (1875), Klosterneuburg, as well as St Veit Cathedral in Prague.

Figure 6.24 Friedrich von Schmidt's (1825-91) proposal for the towers of St Stephan's Dom in Vienna. Appointed surveyor in 1863, he conducted a long restoration, but only one tower was actually built. (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna)

Although the honorary conservators were proud of their work, they were 'dilettanti' and though they had respect for historic character, emphasis was given to a romantic revival of ancient forms. In this period of Romanticism and Historismus, the numerous restorations were mostly inspired by the examples of Scott and Viollet-le-Duc. At the same time, research and documentation continued, and knowledge of historic architecture increased in this period.

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