Influences on practice

Winckelmann's praise of Greek antiquity as the period in history that had reached the highest perfection in art, induced him to develop a method of systematic and critical survey of all objects concerned, whether sculptures, coins, paintings, or architectural monuments. He felt that quality in classical art resulted from a particular historical development within a beautiful and morally responsible nation, which could provide artists with both a stimulus and an opportunity to reach perfection. He was thus concerned not only with the beauty of these works, but also believed that the only way for modern artists to reach similar levels was through learning from the ancients, i.e. from the still extant original masterpieces or even their fragments. It was therefore essential for Winckelmann that ancient works of art be carefully identified and preserved.

He made the first step towards using scientific methods for the study and definition of ancient objects, and for their historical and artistic evaluation. His studies and publications, in fact, have justified his being called the 'father of archaeology'. At the same time, he also made a contribution toward the clarification and development of modern conservation principles. The fact that he distinguished the original from later additions was significant, because it focused attention on safeguarding the original. This was made clear in the principles developed by his friend Cavaceppi on antique sculpture. Winckelmann did not disapprove of restoration in itself, but he insisted that this be carried out without falsifying the artistic concept of the original work of art or having any modern additions mislead the careful observer.

Winckelmann's approach to the treatment of ancient monuments soon had tangible consequences. These became apparent in the new policy of restoration in Rome towards the end of the eighteenth century, and especially in the following period. The restoration of the Monte-citorio obelisk can be considered perhaps the first conscious attempt to apply this new policy in the restoration of a public monument, and to distinguish modern additions clearly from the antique original. While there had been examples, such as the work of Michelangelo in building a church within the ancient ruined baths of Diocletian, the general policy in the restoration of ancient monuments had favoured their reintegration and renewal. No thought had been given to distinguishing the original historical material of the monument. That was the case particularly with the several ancient obelisks that had been excavated and re-erected by Sixtus V and his successors, either to mark significant sites in Rome as symbols for the Christian Church or as architectural and decorative elements in the townscape.

At the end of the eighteenth century, three more obelisks were erected in Rome for Pius VI (1775-99). One was brought from Via Ripetta to decorate the group of the Dioscuri on the Quirinal Hill; another one, found at Porta Salaria, was erected in front of SS Trinita de' Monti at the Spanish Steps. The third obelisk had been used in the sun-dial of Augustus, but was now lying on the ground near Montecitorio. It was the only one of the three with hieroglyphs, but was broken in five pieces and much of its surface was damaged by fire. In 1790-92 it was restored and re-erected in the centre of the Piazza of Montecitorio by architect Giovanni Antinori (1734- 92).

In the restoration of the Montecitorio obelisk, a large amount of new material was needed to reintegrate the lost parts. In 1703, a huge monolithic column (14.75 m high and 1.90 m in diameter) of plain Egyptian red granite had been excavated in the neighbour-hood.38 The column, which was dedicated to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, was later damaged by fire, and the decision was made to use its material for the restoration of the obelisk. The column was sawn into large blocks which were used to complete the shape of the obelisk on the side where the original material had been lost. However, instead of reintegrating hieroglyphs as Bernini had done in Piazza Navona, Antinori was given clear instructions to respect the archae-

Figure 3.5 Montecitorio obelisk was restored at the end of the eighteenth century with respect to ancient carvings

ological value of the hieroglyphs as a document that belonged to a past civilization, and that had not been interpreted. He was therefore ordered to: 'Repair properly the whole obelisk leaving the hieroglyphs intact. Missing parts should be added but without attempting to falsify them by adding decoration in reference to not-understood Egyptian mysteries.'39 This new approach was clearly felt in Rome at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when restoration of ancient monuments was initiated under the famous neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova, and Carlo Fea, who translated Winckelmann's writings into Italian. Both showed great care towards every fragment that had survived from antiquity, and this respect was carried into the practice of restoration, especially in the first decades of the century. On the other hand, Winckelmann's concepts of noble simplicity and his reservations concerning ornaments and colour in architecture might be partly responsible for certain purist attitudes in later restorations. While he can hardly be held responsible for the demolition of later constructions from classical monuments, his disciples may have scraped paint off the ancient surface to display the bare stone, or otherwise destroyed evidence from later historical periods without having understood its full significance. One can also see in Winckelmann a precursor for modern design in his refusal of unnecessary ornaments and concentration on the functional essence of the object, its noble simplicity.

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