From stylistic restoration to modern conservation theory

In the nineteenth century, one of the leading figures in the development of 'restoration' principles was the French architect E. Viollet-le-Duc. His definition of restoration was the following:

The term Restoration and the thing itself are both modern. To restore a building is not to preserve it, to repair, or to rebuild it; it is to reinstate it in a condition of completeness which may never have existed at any given time.

While his numerous followers and disciples have often caused more destruction than conservation, one of Viollet-le-Duc's merits should be seen in his attention to the development of restoration methodology. To him, restoration was a form of archaeology as well as being 'pure science'. Even though sometimes carried away on hypotheses, in most cases he correctly documented and recorded the structures before any restoration, analysing all available evidence. In the case of Carcassonne, he carried out a long archaeological analysis of the ruined fortification, before any work. His restoration of the defence walls was limited to completing the upper parts — previously dismantled by the people — and his intervention remains clearly readable with respect to previous construction phases.

In many cases, however, emphasis on stylistic unity led to complete reconstruction, which became a fashion in many countries of Europe and even outside. There thus developed a counterpoint, the 'conservation movement', which has generally been identified in the figure ofJohn Ruskin, but which also had other protagonists in various countries. Ruskin emphasised life in historic buildings, claiming that 'Restoration' (i.e. actually reconstruction) would definitively abolish the spirit of time:

That which I have above insisted upon as the life of the whole, that spirit which is given only by the hand and eye of the workman, can never be recalled. Another spirit may be given by another time, and it is then a new building ...

(Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849 vi: xviii)

His disciple, the socialist and arts and craftsman, William Morris, took Ruskin's message and stated words that have since become the trademark of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) that he founded:

... to put Protection in the place of Restoration, to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof by such means as are obviously meant for support or covering, and show no pretence of other art, and otherwise to resist all tampering with either the fabric or ornament of the building as it stands; if it has become inconvenient for its present use, to raise another building rather than alter the old one; in fine to treat our ancient buildings as monuments of a bygone art, created by bygone manners, that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying.

(Morris, 1877)

These ideas were clearly reflected in the intentions of Camillo Boito (1836 — 1914) when he wrote a circular letter (in 1883) on behalf of the Italian Ministry addressed to the officers responsible for ancient monuments. He expressed the principle:

Historic buildings should be consolidated rather than repaired, repaired rather than restored, taking great pains to avoid any additions or renovations.

He also demanded:

Modern work and new materials to be kept to the minimum and to differ from the historic, in harmony with artistic appearance ... contributions of all historic periods to be respected; exception can be made and parts removed if these are manifestly of minor importance compared to forms that they cover.

These principles became the first Italian charter on restoration, and many of the ideas were later integrated in another charter, written by Gustavo Giovannoni (1873—1947) after the international meeting in Athens in 1931 (published in 1932). Giovannoni emphasised the scientific character of restoration work, and maintained that historic phases should not be eliminated or falsified by additions that might mislead scholars. He stressed the importance of regular maintenance and appropriate use. The monuments should be kept in situ, and any alterations should be kept to the minimum, simple in form, and carefully documented. He also introduced training in restoration at the school of architecture, which was established in the 1920s.

The question of values had already been analysed by Alois Riegl, the chief conservator in the

Austro-Hungarian Empire, in a study in 1903, where he distinguished between a memorial (Gewollte Denkmal) vs. historic building (Ungewollte Denkmal), one being built in order to remind people about something, the other instead being associated with historic values later on in its 'life'. Riegl identified two categories of values: memorial values (age value, historic value, intended memorial value) and present-day values (use value, art value, newness value, relative art value). Riegl also coined the concept of Kunstwollen, which means that each period or each culture has its particular conditions, within which artistic production achieves its character. In this context, there is mutual influence between an artist and his society.

Riegl's thinking was well received in Italy, where his thought was continued, for example, by G. C. Argan (1909—94), who dealt especially with works of art, and introduced the concepts of 'conservative restoration' and 'artistic restoration'. In conservative restoration, priority would be given to consolidation of the material of the work of art and prevention of decay. The emphasis would be on maintaining the status quo of the object. In artistic restoration, instead, a series of operations would be undertaken, based on the historical—critical evaluation of the work of art. The aim in this case would be to re-establish the aesthetic qualities of the disturbed object. This could involve reintegration of losses (lacunae) and even the removal of parts that were not considered essential from the historic or artistic point of view. Obviously such interventions needed to be founded in critical judgement based on the quality and significance of the work concerned. In this regard, priority was often given to aesthetic demands of the work, but on the other hand each work had to be taken case by case.

Cesare Brandi, the first director of the Italian Central Institute of Restoration (Rome, 1938), wrote the fundamental text clarifying the modern theory of restoration (Teoria del restauro, 1963). He distinguished between the restoration of'common, industrial products' (where the purpose was to put them back into use) and works of art. The restoration of the latter he defines as a methodology that depends chiefly on aesthetic and historic values:

Restoration consists of the methodological moment of the recognition of the work of art, in its physical consistency and in its twofold aesthetic and historical polarity, in view of its transmission to the future.

The theory of Brandi emphasises restoration as methodology, based on a critical judgement. Brandi maintained that a ruined structure should be understood as a fragment of architecture. In line with Ruskin, Brandi also stressed the limits of any reintegration. He was against the so-called 'archaeological restoration', which would be simply based on some principles. Instead, he stressed the requirement of a thorough analysis and identification of the meaning of each element within the whole — just as in any other historic structure.

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