The impact of Brandis thinking

The theory of Brandi has not lacked critics: its focus on aesthetic values has created difficulties in applications on products with little or no aesthetic significance, or, similarly, comparing the requirements of the Italian artistic heritage with what is required in other parts of the world (Iamandi, 1993; Scarrocchia, 1995: 91). The theory has been accused of placing major attention on the conservation of the 'image' rather than taking into account the whole structure, in particular concerning architecture. The theory has been often interpreted as a theory of painting conservation. Many of the questions can, however, find an answer in the texts of Brandi himself, as has been shown by Carbonara, who maintains that Brandi, instead of contradicting the principles of restauro critico, has actually introduced them into a more general framework (Carbonara, 1976:46; see also Carboni, 1992). Moreover, Paul Philippot has given particular attention to the interpretation of Brandi's theories in relation to specific practical situations, especially paintings, sculpture and architecture (e.g., Philippot, 1976, 1989a, 1990).

Three of the first directors of ICCROM have published major handbooks on various aspects of the conservation of cultural heritage; all of them have become classics in their fields. The first of these, by Dr Harold James Plender-leith (1898-1997), Director Emeritus of ICCROM, was The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art (2nd edn with A. E. A. Werner, 1971), concerning especially materials sciences. The second was on the conservation of mural paintings, written by Professor Paul Philippot, Director Emeritus of ICCROM and Professor Emeritus of Université Libre of Brussels, jointly with Professor Paolo Mora (1921-1998) and Mrs Laura Sbordoni-Mora, the Chief Restorers of the Istituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome (Mora et al., 1977). The third was written by Sir Bernard Feilden on the conservation of historic buildings (Feilden, 1982). Of particular interest in connection with Brandi's theory is the book by Mora et al., as the underlying concepts were developed and tested in direct contact with Brandi himself as the director of ICR, resulting from a report by the ICOM International Conservation Committee (1959). In the preparation of the study a number of experts were consulted in different countries in order to verify the relevance of the methods proposed.33 The concepts and methodology developed by Mora et al. have also been applied in a publication edited by Marie Cl. Berducou on the conservation of archaeological sites and finds in various materials (Berducou, 1990).

The study of Mora, Sbordoni-Mora and Philippot starts with the statement that conservation-restoration, before being a technical operation on the material of the object, is based on 'a critical judgement aiming at the identification of the object in its specific characteristics, the definition and illustration of the particular values or the significance that distinguish it and justify its safeguarding. The purpose is also to determine the aim and the scope of required technical operations' (1977:1). The structure of the study itself is so arranged that the critical basis for judgement always precedes and provides the context for the clarification of relevant technical issues. In contrast with the nineteenth-century positivis-tic attitude tending to classify and separate arts according to techniques of production, mural paintings are here conceived strictly in an organic relation to the whole of the architectural context, as part of a Gesamtkunstwerk. This is essential from the iconographic point of view: through the image, the figurativeness qualifies the architectural space and visualizes the significance and liturgical essence of the monument. Formally, mural paintings participate in the articulation of the pictorial, sculptural and architectural spatiality. Each element has its specific role in this complex, and the painting has the particular capacity to simulate or to add (e.g., trompe-l'oeil) to the sculptural and architectural effects and dimensions. Architecture, on the other hand, conditions the mural paintings through the quality of space,

Figure 8.17 Pompeian wall painting with complex spatial constructions. The inner spatiality of such decoration can have an important relationship with the architectural space

colour and the arrangement of lighting. In restoration, it is essential to take into account the complexity of the issues, which also emphasize the requirement to conserve mural paintings in situ rather than detaching and presenting in a museum; which can only be justified in exceptional circumstances.

From the organizational and technical points of view, it is necessary to prepare appropriate inventories, recording and documentation systems before, during and after the operation, to organize a system of monitoring and regular maintenance, and to train the professional teams responsible for restoration. Furthermore, it is essential to have a good knowledge and specific understanding of the materials, techniques used, the condition and the causes of alteration of the mural paintings in question. Such surveys and analyses need to be extended to the architecture and the environ ment of which the paintings are part, and treatments need to be calibrated so that no harm is caused, but rather a basis is established for optimal presentation and long-term conservation. The particular problems that need to be taken into account, e.g., in relation to fixatives, include their gluing and penetration capacity, flexibility, optical properties, biological resistance, resistance to atmospheric agents and the reversibility.

The specific theoretical questions are related to the presentation of mural paintings, the problems of cleaning, treatment of lacunae, lighting and the eventual removal from the original site. As all works of art, mural paintings have a double historical character, the first owing to their having been accomplished in a particular historic moment, and the second a result of the time that has passed since. Some of the transformations caused over time may be worth conserving due to their aesthetic or historic value; others may have hidden, distorted or mutilated the image. Mora, Sbordoni-Mora and Philippot remind us that cleaning and removing substances that were not part of the original work does not return or re-establish the original condition; the operation simply allows to reveal the present state of the original materials (1977:325). In an international conference in Williamsburg in 1972, Philippot has further emphasized that: 'it is an illusion to believe that an object can be brought back to its original state by stripping it of all later additions. The original state is a mythical, unhistorical idea, apt to sacrifice works of art to an abstract concept and present them in a state that never existed' (Philippot, 1976:372). The formation of patina, sometimes called 'noble patina', is part of the normal ageing process of materials, and it should not be confused with the dirt. The treatment of such patina is not so much a problem of chemistry, but one of critical judgement. In fact, the problem in cleaning is a question of degree, and the aim should be that of 'finding a balance in relation to the whole which, taking into account the present state of the materials, can re-establish as faithfully as possible the original unity of the image that the materials have transmitted through time' (Mora et al., 1977:327).

Cleaning needs to be gradual and systematic, based on a progression and critical judge-

Figure 8.18 Reintegration of old, weathered and consumed surfaces demands sensitivity so as not to emphasize the visibility of new parts at the cost of reducing the originals. An example of reintegration in the brick wall of the Pantheon, Rome

ment with reference to a critical intuition of the expected result. Cleaning is closely related with the treatment of lacunae, the losses of material forming the image (see also Philippot, 1975). In the past, such losses were often reintegrated by a method of 'retouche' painting, which could even extend over the original. Such treatment is part of artisanal tradition, but cannot be conceived within modern restoration, which instead requires a critical-historical interpretation of the work in respect to authenticity. On the other hand, Mora, Sbordoni-Mora and Philippot do not share the rigidly archaeological attitude of 'pure conservation' regarding the mutilated state of a work of art, a refusal to consider the negative impact that the lacunae can give to the appreciation of a work of art. Even this is a form of presentation, but it completely

Figure 8.19 Detail of restoration work on the Athens Acropolis in 1984; new marble has been carefully carved to fit the old form. At the same time, new parts are identified so as not to mislead the observer at close distance

ignores the aesthetic instance of the work of art, its principal raison-d'ĂȘtre (1977:348). Instead, they refer to the discoveries of Brandi and the Gestalt-psychology in how the lacunae tend to 'produce figure' over the artistic ensemble, and therefore to interrupt the continuity of form. The real critical problem in the presentation of a painting is the need 'to reduce this nuisance in order to provide the image the maximum presence that it is still likely to realize, in full respect of its creative and documentary authenticity' (Mora et al., 1977:349).

There can be many ways of doing this, and obviously the problems related to painted surfaces differ from buildings, architectural remains, pottery or textiles. The basic principles are however the same. This question was faced by ICR in a systematic manner, especially in the period following the Second World War, when a large number of works of art, including paintings, needed to be safeguarded and restored. The lacunae are identified according to their nature, the depth, position and extent. The smallest problem is the reconstitution of continuity in small areas where patina or a part of the paint layer are worn using water-colour to give correct tonality. When the lacuna is more substantial but not excessive, nor the position too critical, there is the possibility for reintegration, for example, using the technique of tratteggio, small vertical lines to gradually provide the lost continuity in the image. The colours and tonalities should correspond to the original, as seen from a normal distance; the necessary distinction is provided by effect of tratteggio, seen at close distance. When the potential unity has been lost, or the losses are too extensive to justify reintegration, or too critical for the quality of the image to allow such treatment, it is preferable to leave them as lacunae; the treatment should be such as to give minimum disturbance to the original image retained in existing fragments. When dealing with mural paintings, the critical judgement for reintegration should be made with reference to the architectural whole of which the paintings are part, which is different compared to dealing with a painting alone.34

The above example of the conservation and restoration of mural paintings gives an idea about the use of the methodology based on the theory of Brandi. There is abundant literature about other applications. Furthermore, many of the issues related to architectural conservation and restoration should be seen in a more general environmental context, i.e., the conservation of historic towns and villages, or the conservation management of archaeological sites and cultural landscapes. These issues had been given special attention in the 1970s and 1980s, when, due to rapid development and consequent destruction of historic fabric and environment, there was a growing ecological awareness in favour of conservation of existing resources, an emphasis on sustainable development, and an increased international collaboration, research and training of specialists.

Some of the outcome of this development is summarized by Sir Bernard M. Feilden in his Conservation of Historic Buildings, published in 1982. Feilden writes out of personal experience in extensive practice in Great Britain, having been surveyor of major cathedrals, York, Norwich, St Paul's, as well as responsible for the conservation and rehabilitation of a large number of historic buildings and historic areas, working, e.g., in Norwich and Chesterfield. As Director of ICCROM, he tested this experience in the international context, in Italy, the Middle East and Asian countries. In the preface to his book, Feilden emphasizes that conservation of historic buildings instances 'wise management of resources, sound judgement and a clear sense of proportion' (Feilden, 1982:v). In the introduction, he provides a panorama extending from the definition of a historic building, and causes of decay to what is conservation; the meaning of the latter is defined as follows:

Conservation is the action taken to prevent decay. It embraces all acts that prolong the life of our cultural and natural heritage, the object being to present to those who use and look at historic buildings with wonder the artistic and human messages that such buildings possess. The minimum effective action is always the best; if possible, the action should be reversible and not prejudice possible future interventions. The basis of historic building conservation is established by legislation through listing and scheduling buildings and ruins, through regular inspections and documentation, and through town planning and conservative action. (Feilden, 1982:3)

Feilden's book does not attempt to present a theory of conservation; it is a practical manual and a handbook for architects, surveyors and builders. Nevertheless, it provides a useful reference to the extent that conservation/ restoration theories evolved in the post-war period. The major emphasis lies in the technical issues, the structural aspects of historic buildings, causes of decay in materials and structure, and the work of the conservation architect, techniques of survey and repair. At the same time, the book takes into account, in a systematic and practical manner, issues that reflect also the critical approach and methodologies illustrated by Brandi and by the example of the conservation of mural paintings referred to above. Feilden recommends that the practical alternative lines of action be determined before testing them critically in the light of 'theory' [meaning here 'hypothesis'] in order to find the 'least bad' solution. This procedure enables realistic decisions to be made. Conservation of historic buildings thus 'constitutes an inter-professional discipline coordinating a range of aesthetic, historic, scientific and technical methods. Conservation is a rapidly developing field, which, by its very nature, is a multidisciplinary activity with experts respecting one another's contribution and combining to form an effective team' (Feilden, 1982:22). This, in a nutshell, can be understood as the modern approach to the conservation of historic buildings - with respect to the enormous complexity of the task, and considering not only the variety of heritage and cultures concerned, but also the issues related to traditional and modern societies.

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