Development of Austrian policies

In the few years that Riegl could work for the conservation of historic buildings in Austria-Hungary, his main attention was given to the promotion of due respect to the historic monuments in all their phases of transformation. The influence of French restoration, and of the construction of Cologne Cathedral, were felt also in Austria. Riegl was sufficiently pragmatic to accept compromises, and he considered pure conservation impossible. Even cleaning a painting was a modern intervention, and, if a public building were to lose a visible element of its decoration, he considered it legitimate to have it reproduced (Riegl, 1905: 120). Riegl identified three categories of possible treatments to the restoration of wall paintings: 'radical', 'art-historical', or 'conservative'. The most 'radical' approach was understood as a minimum intervention, aiming to keep the feeling of an old and decayed painting with its defects; the 'art-historical' approach was a compromise, giving priority to conservation and protection of the original painting as a testimony of the past; and the 'conservative' approach would insist on the completion and reconstruction of the original image as it once used to be. ('Conservative' approach was thus understood as by the mid-nineteenth-century restorers in England, and completely opposite to Ruskin's definition.)

The 'radical approach' might accept the possibility to repair broken wall or plaster, but would not agree to any intervention on the painting itself; the art-historical approach would find it essential to protect, preserve and consolidate decaying paint layers. (Wax was then being tested in Austria, but the results were not considered satisfactory as the surface remained shiny.) As a possible compromise between the art-historical and conservative approaches, Riegl suggested the possibility of keeping the original paintings, but covering them up with completed copies. This would still allow for the inspection of the originals, although it would not satisfy the radicals who insist on the 'feeling' of decay. As an extreme case of 'reintegration', or even 'integration', Riegl referred to architectural space where only part of the decoration remained. If a wall was empty, it could be newly decorated making sure that this was done in harmony with the spirit of the old. If it was decided to refresh existing paintings in order to satisfy the 'catholic spirit of today', it would be preferable to limit such interventions to highlighting the contours rather than repainting the whole surface. Conservatives preferred not to show any difference between the original and restored parts, but art-historians (as Riegl himself) found it important to indicate clearly the added parts in the picture itself as well as in the report.17

Riegl generally favoured minimum intervention, and the limitation of restorations to what was strictly necessary for the preservation of the object. In his activities, he was guided by the principle of respect for age value, and the protection of monuments from untimely destruction, as in the case of the mediaeval parish church of Altm√ľnster, where it was decided to reverse the earlier decision and keep the baroque choir. In 1904, Riegl participated in the commission for the restoration of Diocletian's Palace in Split, a Roman palace that had become a mediaeval city with a complex historical stratigraphy. He was against the reconstruction of the mediaeval bell tower of the cathedral in the Peristyle area, although at the end this was carried out. Riegl also defended the historic centre of Split as an important historic whole which should not be sacrificed in favour of restoring only the Roman remains - as was proposed. He emphasized that the antique remains were so richly combined with the mediaeval and modern parts of the city, that the conservation of the whole and the 'incomparable and irreplaceable atmospheric stimulus in its integrity requires a protection law at least as much as the predominating, scientific interest to keep only the remains of the antique palace'.18 This did not prevent the demolition of a number of buildings to liberate the main monuments, the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the West Gate of the Palace. The operation

Figure 8.1 Diocletian's palace area in Split. The bell tower was rebuilt in the early twentieth century. The open space inside the palace area resulted from demolition and restoration

was justified on sanitary, artistic and archaeological grounds. Many of the recommendations of the commission were practical, referring, for example, to the use of lime mortar instead of cement in repointing.19

Riegl was conscious of the need to educate people for a mature understanding of the values of cultural heritage, and he considered the nineteenth-century historical value to have been like a 'battering ram' that had cleared the way for the more subtle age value, the value for the twentieth century. In Austria, his work was carried further by his disciple, Max Dvorak (1874-1921), who was responsible for the inventory of Austrian artistic and architectural patrimony as a basis for legal protection in the country. The first volume was published in 1907.20 Dvorak became one of the leading conservators in Austria and promoted the conservation of nature and environment

(Heimatschutz). In his evaluation of historic monuments he took a middle way between Riegl and Dehio, considering that it was reasonable to allow for some patriotic value as well. An important contribution to the general public was his Katechismus der Denkmalpflege, published by the Central Commission in 1916. In this small book, Dvorak emphasized that conservation should not only be extended to all styles of the past, but it should also give special attention to keeping the local and historical characteristics 'that we are not authorized to change in any way, because these corrections usually will destroy just what gives the irreplaceable value to modest monuments'.21

He attacked false restorations, giving a series of examples of restorations in the interiors of churches, such as the parish church of Enns, or stylistic restorations, such as Jakobskirche in Laibach, the parish church in Slatinan in Bohemia, or the abbey church of Klosterneuburg, where the baroque style had been removed and rebuilt in Gothic Revival forms. He listed some of the major threats to historic monuments and historic environment both in the countryside and in towns, emphasizing the responsibilities of everybody for the protection of the national patrimony, which extended from single works of art, to interiors, to historic buildings, to the conservative planning of townscapes, and to the protection of nature. The concept of aiming at the conservation of the whole field of cultural heritage was shared also by others such as Adolf Loos (18701933), one of the promoters of the modern movement in architecture, in his article of 1907 (Loos, 1919). According to this concept, heritage was conceived as extending from monuments to historic areas, and from significant natural features to whole landscapes, and it became the foundation for the conservation policy of the Austrian administration.

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