No Blankets, Please

One could easily configure a visual spectrum of the various theorists making arguments about conservation. Both Cesare Brandi and Camillo Boito would fall somewhere on the continuum between polar opposites, John Ruskin and Viollet Le Duc. Ruskin and Le Duc, whether they were aware of each other or not, represent a perfectly constructed sounding board for later theorists.

When Brandi argues that removing patina is a way of falsifying artworks, he sounds an awful lot like Ruskin. He also argues that removing remodeling can be an even bigger defacement than the remodeling itself. Ruskin would never have approved of the remodeling in the first place, but his approach to a building that had been remodeled might be similar. So, are there any elements of Brandi that align with Le Duc? What about when an artist specifically sought out the brightness of a particular color? How does that change the course of treatment?

Boito’s outlook, on the other hand, seems to be more solidly on the Le Duc side of the spectrum, though not perfectly so. While Boito is perfectly comfortable with sensible alterations of fabric, he is acutely aware of the concept of lying by producing new fabric to look like the old. Those fears of “lying” hearken back to Ruskin, not Le Duc.

The four all together represent something like a family of theorists. Le Duc and Ruskin begat Brandi and Boito, both of whom rebelled and reacted to their forebears, while still retaining many of the same cares and sensibilities.

Where does this family leave us, then? The more recent theories balance the poles of the older, yet we still exist without consensus. Perhaps that lack of consensus is a good thing, and is what allows for different treatments to be appropriate depending on the particular site. If no two places are the same, why would we want an overarching theory that would apply a blanket treatment to them all?

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