The period stretching from 1789 to 1815 was characterised in Europe by an intense circulation of artworks. The suppression of religious orders, plundering and the French government’s politics favoured the dissemination of objects, whether they were dispersed through private sales, or annexed and regrouped in Paris. In this context, the restoration of artworks gained major importance, and became a common preoccupation at the European level.
This interest was noticeable in the new directives which aimed to favour the conservation of artworks, in the growing institutionalisation of restoration in museum structures, as well as the technical experiments carried out during this period. This increase in power for restoration in the public sphere favoured the emergence of much debate, sometimes on an international scale. Likewise, the actions carried out in France on displaced artworks drew the attention of various European observers.
With this precise context in mind, this study day aims to make a progress report of the different questions pertaining to the period. What was the state and evolution of the principles and practices of European restoration between 1789 and 1815? What were the new institutional, technical or deontological constraints in this context? How was the status of the practitioner transformed? How did French cultural politics influence the practice? And what were the implicit stakes linked to all of this?
Of a truly European scope, this workshop would like to being together different views of this pivotal period. All types of artworks may be studied. Art history, history, history of science and technology, and also sociology or anthropology are all fertile disciplines capable of addressing this topic. Conservator-restorers are also strongly encouraged to participate and submit a paper. Interdisciplinary, analytical and comparative approaches will be favoured. In particular, several lines of inquiry – mentioned non-exhaustively here – could be developed.
1. Institutional and political context
The restoration and conservation of artworks between 1789 and 1815 is part of a specific institutional and political context, it is notably linked to the development of Europe’s first museums. How was this practice developed? What were the technical and deontological gains typical of this period in different European countries? How did these ateliers function? And what place did the restorer occupy within this new structure? The redefinition of the activity and status of practitioners may be an object of study. The ties between the institution and the market could also be addressed.
Additionally, the appropriation of artworks by France created an atmosphere of tension in which the practice of restoration took on an unheard-of political charge. Artworks taken from all over Europe were thus restored and displayed with great pomp and circumstance in Paris. What were the criteria that governed the taking of these objects? What role did their restoration play in the practice of annexation? What are the devices and discourses tied to the moving, conservation and restoration of displaced artworks?
2. Cultural transfers
The second axis will address the exchanges made between the different countries. The period favoured the displacement of artworks and practitioners, thus allowing one to study the transfers of skills and techniques. How did the methods used evolve through the contact of the different restorers? What were the tools or materials linked to this practice, and were they diversified during this period, notably through the influence of the migrations of men and objects?
The question of the transfer of knowledge could also be addressed. The publication and distribution of books or articles spreading the technical know-how for these procedures represented an important factor of the evolution of this practice. On the other hand, the question of secrecy took on particular contrast. In the history of a public sphere of knowledge, the distribution of the report on the transposition of the Madone de Foligno in Paris in 1802 is a milestone, whose stakes and consequences throughout Europe one may choose to observe.
3. Reception and heritage
How were the restorations realised between 1789 and 1815 perceived? What were the controversies surrounding them, and what did they reveal? Many onlookers voiced opinions criticising the operations carried out in the religious and private spheres. In the public sphere in Europe, restorations provoked much debate around the conservation of artworks regrouped in Paris. Thus articles were published by the press to alert public opinion of artworks restored in a manner considered improper and unfair. How is one to understand and analyse these positions? What were their motives and what were the arguments? What do they bear witness to?
Starting in 1815, when the displaced works returned to their countries of origin, frequent reservations were made about the restorations done in France. How and by whom were those interventions judged? How was one to understand the criticisms of their former owners? Finally, we shall examine the portion of the French model of art restoration that was exported, as well as the new European prerogatives. For this question, one may of course go beyond the year 1815.
Paper proposal terms:
The proposals are to be sent to Noémie Etienne (firstname.lastname@example.org) before May 1st 2010.
Frédéric Elsig, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Geneva
Léonie Hénaut, Doctor in Sociology, Research attaché at the Centre de sociologie de l'innovation (Mines Paris-Tech, CNRS)
Victor Lopes, Conservator-restorer of paintings at the Musées d’art et d’histoire de Genève
Mauro Natale, Honorary Professor of Art History at the University of Geneva
Proposal submission deadline: May 1st 2010
Reply to authors: June 1st 2010
Workshop: October 2nd 2010
Place: University of Geneva
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