Edited by Nicholas Stanley Price, M. Kirby Talley Jr., and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro

Conservation image

This premier volume of the GCI's Readings in Conservation series, Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, is the first comprehensive collection of texts on the conservation of art and architecture to be published in the English language. Designed for students of art history as well as of conservation, the book consists of 46 texts, some never before translated into English and many originally published only in obscure or foreign journals. The 30 major art historians and scholars represented discuss questions such as when to restore, what to preserve, and how to maintain aesthetic character. Among the volume's selections are excerpts from the following books and essays: John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture; Bernard Berenson, Aesthetics and History in the Visual Arts; Clive Bell, "The Aesthetic Hypothesis"; Cesare Brandi, Theory of Restoration; Kenneth Clark, Looking at Pictures; Erwin Panofsky, "The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline"; E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion; Marie Cl. Berducou, "The Conservation of Archaeology"; and Paul Philippot, "Restoration from the Perspective of the Social Sciences." The fully illustrated book also contains an annotated bibliography and an index.

Nicholas Stanley Price is former Deputy Director of the Training Program at the Getty Conservation Institute. M. Kirby Talley Jr. is Project Coordinator for Conservation and Restoration at the Directorate for the Management of National Cultural Property in Amsterdam. Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro is affiliated with the Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali in Rome.

520 pages, 7 x 10 inches
57 color and 32 b/w illustrations
ISBN: 0-89236-250-2, cloth, $55.00
ISBN: 0-89236-398-3, paper, $39.95

This GCI book can be ordered online from this page.

M. Kirby Talley Jr., one of the editors of Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, himself contributed two extraordinary essays to the anthology. These essays tie the volume's readings together by persuasively articulating the enrichment art provides and the role conservation should play in preserving that value. Here Dr. Talley talks about the philosophy and goals that prompted the creation of the book:

The thinking behind this volume is mirrored in the title of the book: Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. The idea was to bring together very diverse readings to explore issues that have been insufficiently highlighted in recent times and to reexamine certain ways of looking at, appreciating, and conserving art that have more or less disappeared from general thinking.

What this book is really trying to do is put the conservation of the work of art into a much broader context, both from a philosophical and an aesthetic point of view. Even in the sections on intervention, the original intent of the artist and the broader issues of intervention—and what that really means—are the focus. These are matters that art historians, conservators, and conservation scientists should do a great deal of thinking about. In some ways there has not been enough thought given to the broad, basic issues of why we want to preserve something at all.

If you're a conservator, you have to look at, think about, and appreciate an object before you actually get involved in the technical side. Obviously a good conservator has to know all the treatments and be able to carry them out with the utmost ability and sensitivity. When you get into the area of sensitivity, a book like this can play a role because it makes one think.

Historical and Philosophical Issues contains ideas necessary not only to conservation but to art history as well. A lot of the way that art history is taught these days deals with documentary sources, materials, and the life and times of the artist—all of which are very legitimate and extraordinarily important. But these things are not the be-all and end-all in terms of art or its appreciation. The book attempts to balance this approach by opening up a whole realm of thinking by many writers who are today considered rather passé. How can anybody who's ever had anything sensible and wonderful to say be out of date? Somebody like John Ruskin, such a perceptive critic, had a very eloquent style of writing that's less fashionable than the kind of nuts-and-bolts writing popular these days. But his approach to these issues and his ebullient prose are, I think, very relevant to a society enraptured with technology and things that can be of 'proven practical benefit.' Of course, the most practical benefit of a work of art is its spiritual content, its pleasure content, what it gives in terms of refreshment. And it is the conservator's great role to protect these values through the conservation of the physical object.

Beyond art history students, I think the book is relevant to scientists who want to get into the field or who are already in the field. It would also be of interest to the public that goes to museums or exhibitions and is interested in such controversies as the one over the cleaning of Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel. A book like this can give people some insight into the type of thinking relevant to the conservation issues raised by such projects.

Basically this book is designed to help people consider more subtly the direct relationship between historical and philosophical issues and practical and technical issues. It should sharpen thinking and open up discussion. It doesn't set out to tell what is right and wrong--that was never the intent. It has been put together to make people think.