Restauro filologico

The academic circles of Milan were another important pole of development, especially in relation to historians, art historians and archaeologists. One of them was C. Mongeri, who wrote about the restoration of works of art in 1878. He was secretary to the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera, and had close contacts with those (Consulta) responsible for archaeology (Stolfi, 1992:937). In Milan, there developed a historical approach analogous with the linguistic studies, which has, in fact, been called 'philological'. This approach can be seen to derive from the Latin definition of monument as inscription or as document. A monument, in this sense, was built to carry a message, and it was itself seen as a document. Its text represented a resource for the verification of history; it needed to be analysed and interpreted, but must not be falsified. Since the new concept of historicity had become recognized, the concept of 'text' was extended beyond the actual inscription to the material of the structure associated with historical value. While this development was much influenced by the English conservation movement, it may never have been fully accepted by the Italians due to their different cultural environment and philosophical inheritance.

A significant contributor to this policy in Italy was Tito Vespasiano Paravicini (183299), an art historian who had studied at the Milan Academy, had travelled in Egypt, and had subsequently developed an interest in the conservation movement; he became an Italian correspondent for SPAB. In 1874, in a publication of measured drawings, he referred to restoration, still giving major attention to the study of the style and character of each period (Bellini, 1992:897). Some years later, however, his articles, from 1879 to 1881 (Paravicini, 1879, 1880, 1881) showed that he had read Ruskin and had been fully converted to the conservation movement. In his observations, he compared monuments with documents, seeing them as mirrors of all periods in both their merits and their defects. The loss of such a monument would leave a lacuna in history, but even more serious would be its falsification as a document.

Paravicini saw two trends: one which was supported by idealists, visionaries and poets (Viollet-le-Duc), the other by archaeologists, who lacked a vision beyond what the reality of a monument could present, but who gave priority to maintaining the monument 'as a living page of history', without removing anything or adding anything. He considered the Arch of Titus a good example of a conservative approach to restoration, and emphasized the importance of material quality, especially of the original surface, refusing reproduction, and respecting historical stratigraphy. In 1882, William Morris quoted his letter to SPAB in an article on 'Vandalism in Italy' in The Times (12 April 1882). Paravicini's comments on restorations were quite critical of the official approach to restoration, and caused much fuss in the country (Bellini, 1992:898).

The concepts developed by Paravicini and the circles of Milan were taken up by Professor Camillo Boito (1836-1914), who became the most visible protagonist of the Italian conservation movement at the end of the century. Boito was Roman by birth, but became professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, where he was in contact with Mongeri and Paravicini. He was trained in the spirit of eclectic architecture and stylistic restoration, being the student of Pietro Selvatico. Boito's early concepts were coherent with his training, and in reference to the 1873 Vienna Exhibition, he openly expressed admiration for Viollet-le-Duc's work in Carcassonne and Pierrefonds; he still maintained this approach in 1879. His own restorations dated from the 1860s and 1870s, and were well in the historicist tradition (Stolfi, 1992:935). Boito was important for the development of modern Italian policies in two ways. First of all, through his career within the Italian administration, his major interest was to renew and build up adequate administrative and normative systems for the Italian state authority responsible for historic structures. Secondly, he promoted the acceptance of a respectful policy for the conservation and restoration of historic buildings, synthesized in a charter which became a standard reference later on.25

In 1879, at a congress of engineers and architects in Rome, Boito presented a paper on the restoration of ancient monuments. As a result, in 1882, the Directorate decided to prepare and circulate provisional guidelines for the restoration of historic buildings. These guidelines were signed by the Director General, Giuseppe Fiorelli, and were addressed to prefects in all parts of the country.26 The aim was to promote a methodology of restoration implying a better knowledge of historic monuments, avoiding unnecessary destruction and errors. Restoration was to be based on a thorough study of the building and its historical modifications, followed by a critical judgement of what to conserve, and what to remove. The aim was to distinguish between the original 'normal state' of the building and its 'actual state'. In restoration, this difference would be 'suppressed', reactivating and maintaining as far as possible the normal state in all that had to be conserved. Restoration and reproduction of lost or damaged features was generally accepted on the condition that clear evidence of the original form existed, or that it was justified by the need of structural stability. In cases where the structural condition of the monument required consolidation, reconstruction of lost features could be allowed even when there was no certainty of the previous form. If later additions were not important historically or artistically, their demolition could be allowed.27

While the main principles of these guidelines were still strongly influenced by historicism, Boito seems to have adjusted his approach soon thereafter. In fact, his new paper to the Third Congress of Engineers and Architects, held in Rome toward the end of 1883, proposed important themes for a debate: whether or not restorations should imitate the original architecture, or whether additions and completions should be clearly indicated. The first alternative resulted from French influence, and was current practice in Italy. In his new paper, Boito, himself a disciple of the French school, opted for the second approach which did not exclude restoration, but established the criteria for intervention according to the individual monument. The principles were summarized by him in seven points forming a recommendation that was adopted by the Ministry of Education. It became the first modern Italian charter, and the principal reference for the so-called 'philological restoration'. The document started with a statement defining ancient monuments as documents that reflected the history of the past in all their parts.

Considering that architectural monuments from the past are not only valuable for the study of architecture but contribute as essential documents to explain and illustrate all the facets of the history of various peoples throughout the ages, they should, therefore, be scrupulously and religiously respected as documents in which any alteration, however slight, if it appears to be part of the original could be misleading and eventually give rise to erroneous assumptions.28

The monument was not limited to the first structure; all subsequent alterations and additions were considered equally valid as historical documents, and therefore to be preserved as such. There was thus a distinct difference compared with the previous circular, which aimed at the restoration of the first 'normal state' of the monument. The 1883 document recommends the minimum restoration, and advises clearly marking all new parts either by using different material, a date, or simplified geometrical forms (as in the case of the Arch of Titus). New additions were recommended to be made clearly in contemporary style, but in a way not to contrast too much with the original. All works should be well documented, and the date of intervention should be indicated on the monument. In 1893, Boito published a revised version of the Charter in eight short statements - adding the idea of exhibiting nearby the old fragments that had been removed from the monument.

The principal ideas of this charter clearly came from the concepts developed by Paravicini, but Boito's merit was to accept them, and to bring them forward at the state level. In June 1884, Boito further clarified his concepts in a paper read at the Turin Exhibition (Boito, 1884a). Boito compared the two approaches, represented by Viollet-le-Duc and Ruskin, and was critical of both. He now considered it risky, as Viollet-le-Duc had proposed, to put oneself in the place of the original architect. Instead, one should do everything possible and even the impossible to maintain the old artistic and picturesque aspect of the monument; any falsifications should be out of the question. The better the restoration, the more the lie would triumph. A historic building could be compared with a fragment of a manuscript, and it would be a mistake for a philologist to fill in the lacunae in a manner that it would not be possible to distinguish the additions from the original. Such analogy is coherent with the methods of linguistics.

At the same time, Boito was also critical of Ruskin's approach, which he grossly simplified and misinterpreted to mean that one should not touch the historic building, and, rather than 'restoring' it, should let it fall in ruins. It is possible that he knew Ruskin mainly through articles such as those by Paravicini, although his own writings have remained as a standing reference in Italy (Stolfi, 1992:937). Such 'pure conservation', he observed, would never work in a city like Venice. He thought that Ruskin and Zorzi had not sufficiently appreciated the need of consolidation in the case of San Marco, and he proposed that this work be done in a contemporary manner. He also criticized the English approach to the consolidation of the capitals of the Ducal Palace, according to which the core of the capital should have been remade, and the original sculptural parts reapplied around it. 'Was it not better to copy them, and preserve the originals nearby, where the present and future students can comfortably go and study them? We have to do what we can in this world; but not even for monuments does there exist the fountain of youth so far' (Boito, 1884b:29).

Boito articulated architecture in three classes according to age: antique, mediaeval and modern since the Renaissance. These were distinguished by archaeological value in the first class, picturesque appearance in the second and architectural beauty in the third. Accordingly, the aim of restoration and conservation should be conceived respecting the characteristics of each class, and that is: 'archaeological restoration' (restauro archeo-logico), 'pictorial restoration' (restauro pit-torico) and 'architectural restoration' (restauro architettonico).

Monuments of antiquity had intrinsic importance in all their parts; even modest remains could be essential for study. Consequently, excavations had to be carried out with utmost care, recording the relative position of each fragment, and keeping a detailed diary. The aim was to preserve what remained of the original; any necessary support or reinforcement should be done in such a way that it could be distinguished from the antique, as in the Colosseum and the triumphal arches in Rome. Mediaeval structures could need repair and consolidation, and sometimes it was the 'least bad' solution to replace some original elements, as in the Ducal Palace in Venice. He accepted rebuilding the decayed brick structures in San Marco as a sound base on which to attach the marbles and mosaics. It was important, though, to keep the picturesque appearance, and the greatest compliment to such restoration would be complaints that nothing had been done. With more recent architecture, Boito agreed, it was easier to imitate the original forms and even to replace decayed elements one by one where necessary - except where important archaeological and historical values were involved. Reconstructions could be approved as exceptions if justified with clear documents; even stylistic completion could be accepted, as in Milan, where a new elevation was built by Luca Beltrami to unify the buildings forming Palazzo Marini in Piazza della Scala, following the rediscovered project by a Renaissance architect, Galeazzo Alessi. Later additions could be demolished if they had no special historical or aesthetic value, and especially if 'disturbing'.

In principle, Boito conceived a historic monument as a stratification of contributions of different periods, which should all be respected. To evaluate the different elements on the basis of their age and beauty was not an easy matter; generally the older parts were seen as most valuable but sometimes beauty could triumph over age. He saw a fundamental difference between 'conservation' and 'restoration'; restorers were almost always 'superfluous and dangerous'; conservation was often, except in rare cases, 'the only wise thing' to do. He insisted that conservation of ancient works of art was an obligation, not only for a civilized government, but also for local authorities, institutions and even individuals. Although his theory seemed clear, Boito showed ambiguity in the implementation. This was the case of the monument of Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome, where he supported the winning project of Giuseppe Sacconi (1854-1905) as it represented a major creative effort of our time, although it meant demolition of mediaeval and Renaissance structures around the Capitol Hill. This was a pity, but, he thought, they were less important than the new monument (Boito, 1893:204).

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