A Look at Art Conservation in the News.

Ruth Osborne

In order to get a better sense of how conservation is presented to and perceived by the public today, ArtWatch has undertaken an overview of art conservation as it has appeared in the media over the past year.

Thoughts and opinions on the purpose of conservation have developed and changed over the past 150 years as society considers new scientific technologies.  Noticing trends in news coverage of conservation interventions, as well as the state of the field as a whole, will allow for an understanding of the role of conservation as it is understood in the 21st century. This post will consider the following:

(1) How are conservators represented in relation to the works they’re treating?

(2) What is given precedence in reports of current conservation treatment, the work itself or benefits for the field at large?

(3) According to news coverage, what is the ultimate goal of modern conservation and what is being put in place to further this goal?

2015-03-24 - The Phillips Collection Picasso The Blue Room

Patricia Favero, conservator at The Phillips Collection, with Picasso’s The Blue Room and showing its under layer. Courtesy: Evan Vucci/AP.

Art conservation as a field was born of the need to care for works of art as they experienced the ravages of time and misuse. Taking this into consideration, would it not come as a surprise that so many news stories covering the work of conservators focus on the promise of discovery instead of preserving the physical nature of the work from further deterioration? Is the act of prodding for findings beneath layers of paint with infrared imagery to discover an underlying image that the original artist painted over considered “conserving” the work from future deterioration? Regardless of how this fits into contemporary or classical theories of conservation, research into Picasso’s The Blue Room was still presented in the media last June as being part of the work’s conservation.

Just this week, The New York TImes reported on a new “discovery” of Jackson Pollock’s technique revealed by conservators treating his 1947 Alchemy at the Guggenheim Venice. His intentional, rather than random, paint-splattering technique has in fact been acknowledged by scholars before. Time magazine’s art critic Robert Hughes wrote in 1982 that: “…Pollock–in his best work–had an almost preternatural control over the total effect of those skeins and receding depths of paint. In them, the light is always right. Nor are they absolutely spontaneous; he would often retouch the drip with a brush.” It is certainly interesting how computer imagery can unpack the layers of this painting. But cannot the eyes of connoisseurs already perceive his technique by examining the painting and its underlying grid in a thorough visual analysis, instead of relying on computer analysis to reveal his method?

But dialogue is being pulled away from connoisseurship and its capabilities and towards a heavy reliance on science to achieve “objective” proof. Is science truly as definitive and free of error as is assumed by the media?

2015-03-24 - Leonardo La Belle Ferroniere Louvre

Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronière, 1490-96. Courtesy: Louvre, Paris

After announcement was made in February 2014 of the Louvre’s plan to restore the extremely vulnerable La Belle Ferronière by Leonardo, and after Michael Daley of ArtWatch UK questioned the safety of this plan, several months later it was revealed that it was to be the first Leonardo to show in the Middle East. Its planned transportation to the Louvre’s new satellite museum in Abu Dhabi was released to the press in October. This risky proposal to transport an extremely important confirmed Leonardo was precisely what necessitated its conservation, no doubt, as Louvre representatives related: “For such an important painting it is very important for us to have time. The first [restoration] committee met last week and now we will restore the painting and take all the time we need [and then] we will be very proud to show the restored painting.” But how does one simply gloss over the danger of transporting an already vulnerable painting overseas for temporary exhibit? Is it to be assumed that restoring it will make it less susceptible to damage? We have already had our share of works severely ruined on transport within the same country – even within the same museum building.

On another Leonardo panel surrounded by much controversy is his Lady with an Ermine, which has been altered by several restorers over the centuries.  In 2007, ArtWatch reported on the promise of the picture’s digital reconstruction through a multispectral high-res camera. In these investigations, the role of conservation proposes to help undo the work of past ill-treatments and restore a more authentic version of the original. However, as we wrote:

“It is critical to remember that the conclusions drawn as a result of these diagnostic tests are not necessarily correct. Even the most ‘objective’ scientific evidence requires interpretation, and so many of the public announcements that have been made, touting the newest discoveries of the original intentions of the artist, are not universally agreed upon, nor should they be…the concern lies in the knowledge that historically latest technologies have often been used to promote rather than replace restorations. The fear in this case is that believing to fully understand what lies beneath the surface of an artwork will embolden restorers and justify their aims to go looking, with their preconceived notions, for what they now expect to find.”

2015-03-24 - Leonardo Lady with an Ermine

Digital imaging showing three different versions of Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. Courtesy: BBC News.

Come 2010, ArtWatch UK argued against its traveling to London on loan for a National Gallery exhibition. To prevent damage in transit, and to ready the painting for blockbuster exhibit, pieces are often sent to the conservator’s studio with the hope of increasing stability in the work. But the more a painting is handled and touched, the more its integrity is altered, no?  BBC coverage last fall revealed conservators were still working with the panel to reveal “extraordinary revelations” about Leonardo’s work through this process. The reporter highlights the promise of new discoveries about Leonardo’s method as this digital digging has used “intense light” emitted from a multi-lens camera to make visible three different stages of the canvas. Who knows what this might mean for any future proposed traveling exhibitions on Leonardo’s process for which this work could be put at risk again?

Conservators’ abilities to unravel mysteries about the artist and his subjects with the help of technology was certainly a popular theme in 2014.  It was seen in the multiple reports on the “artist’s original intention” that emerged from Gustave Cailleboite’s Paris Street; Rainy Day at the Art Institute of Chicago. Revelations about the artist’s true palette and the canvas’s true dimensions abounded. Here, the conservator serves to uncover a truer version of Cailleboite that had been “hidden” for decades since its last restoration (of an unknown date). Under old varnish, the sky was found to be a more saturated blue and to contain greater light and movement in its surface gradation. Sharper details overall, according to this report, have now altered relationships between the figures and buildings in the composition.

2015-03-24 - Art Institute Chicago Kelly Keegan Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street Rainy Day

Art Institute of Chicago conservator Kelly Keegan with Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. Courtesy: Art Institute of Chicago.

One article on the Art Institute’s website even suggests that: “The result is a transformed sense of light and atmosphere that is likely to change the way viewers respond to Caillebotte’s vision of 19th-century Paris and its people.” But does the woman’s hand inserted into the central man’s arm not still indicate their relationship as walking partners? Though the skies have cleared up a bit, wasn’t it presumed this would happen with cleaning of the varnish? Even if the sun may be about to come out, does it really reveal all that much about the artist’s true intentions, as the figures’ umbrellas are still up to protect from rain?

Meanwhile, the The Wall Street Journal reported that this treatment is now the reason to confirm the artist’s designation as an Impressionist: “As a result, curators now believe Caillebotte is likely to be viewed more as a bona fide Impressionist and less a traditional realist.” But wasn’t this already assumed by scholarship? Is this treatment really a breakthrough, as the media might have us believe?

These breakthrough discoveries were only made possible by a series of scientific tools, including infrared imagery, microscopy, and UV light and X-Rays, apart from the actual cleaning via swabs. While it is certainly important to have a solid understanding about a work’s makeup before treatment, will all works now expect to reveal hidden secrets every time they are cleaned? Have the expectations on a work of art increased, and will this help or hurt the integrity of works in the long run? The notion about conservation revealing hidden secrets in a painting continued in coverage of Villanova’s two-year treatment of the Triumph of David in September. In this case, the news report touted the x-ray and infrared tools that allowed conservators to “see into the painting.” According to this coverage, conservation once again aims to return works to, what is presumed to be, a more authentic state.

In a related issue, conservation has also been promoted for its “forensic” capabilities for authenticating authorship of works. Last March it was reported that two canvases by the nineteenth-century American romantic painter Martin Johnson Heade underwent testing at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center to prove their authorship through the existence of the artist’s finger print and brushstrokes, after being denied by Harvard’s Fogg Museum. In this press release, lab testing is referred to as “forensic science” that should take precedence alongside the connoisseur’s trained eye: “…the public needs to realize that connoisseurship has to adapt to a new and demanding educational standard. That standard I believe will become the future of proper art attribution…”

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Henry Lie, Director of the Harvard Straus Center for Conservation. Courtesy: Index Magazine.

Hand-in-hand with the claimed abilities of science and technology to do what the human eye is no longer trusted to, came unreserved praise for new high-tech conservation lab techniques. Reports on the newly re-opened Harvard Art Museums emphasized above all the dynamic influence of science in the origins of modern conservation: “it was really the beginning of the field…the first time a science-based approach was taken to looking at these materials.” Meanwhile, the role of new “optical illusions” was the focus of one article on conservation studies at American universities. According to this article, the microscopy, nanotechnology, and x-ray tools conservators use allow them to bring back to life that which was once considered lost. Terms like “forensic tool” are used. But can we truly bring back something from the past? Will all traces of time truly be wiped away? That seems to be what this reporter would have his audience believe is possible.

Finally, the last line from an article entitled “What does a conservator do?” adds rather presumptuously: “Above all they are soothsayers, probing cultural materials to reveal the secrets of how and when they were made, and how they will survive into the future” (emphasis added).

2015-02-29 - conserved hand

On the “Pride and Prejudice” of Conservators: Lecture by Dr. Salvador Muñoz-Viñas a the IFA.

Ruth Osborne
2015-02-29 - Salvador Muñoz-Viñas IFA

Dr. Muñoz-Viñas at the IFA.

Last week, the IFA (NYU) hosted a lecture by visiting professor and conservator Dr. Salvador Muñoz-Viñas of the Universitat Politència de València in Spain. As the author of the insightful Contemporary Theory of Conservation (2005), Dr. Muñoz-Viñas argued for the need for a more open dialogue about conservation treatments and their difficulties. Rather than presenting conservation as a dogmatic science, he took a rather humble and honest opinion that we at ArtWatch find refreshing and, indeed, necessary for the future of the field.


Muñoz-Viñas began by asserting his presentation would be thought-provoking. Choosing from a wide array of opinions from professionals in the field over the past two centuries, he asked the audience to consider the reasoning behind conservation treatment. The speaker did not shy away from such harsh criticisms for and against those removers of varnish, including Ernst Gombrich’s label of  “radical stripper” versus John Constable’s “grime-loving connoisseur.” He admitted to the risky nature of removing varnish, but did not display any kind of defensive attitude towards those who questioned the work of the conservator


The larger goals of conservation came into question: what is the logic behind such a risky endeavor? Is it to attain a closer, more “authentic” vision of the artist’s original intent? Actually, M-V argued that the classical narrative of artist’s intent is vaporous, highly hypothetical, and doubly subjective, as our minds attempt to delve into that of the artist. Pointing out the conflicting statements on the purpose of conservation in the classic essay by Neil Maclaren and Anthony Werner (1950)[1], he gave a warning to the audience (which consisted of both professional conservators and students in conservation): the logic of the field has the potential to be misleading. It can almost act as a mythology. Do we even care about the artist’s original intent when, for example, we display an ancient Egyptian sarcophagi on a white pedestal in the middle of a gallery? Certainly not. Intention behind conservation is more complicated than that. This near-mythology dangerously supposes that the individual utilizing it – the conservator – is a robot carrying out a basic procedure. He or she either obeys a command or does not.


However, as M-V went on to explain, there are elements of “pride” and “prejudice” in the conservator that will inevitably impact the work they are treating. Quoting connoisseur Sir George Beaumont’s famous line “A good picture, like a good fiddle, should be brown,” he insisted that there is aesthetic prejudice inherent in anyone’s mind. For a conservator, this will alter the way one thinks a painting should be treated, and to which aesthetic preference to which it will yield when its treatment is complete. Psychologists’ study of modern aesthetic preferences, M-V pointed out, is just now beginning. This should have the potential to help us understand what visual prejudices are behind the work of conservators that then end up on a treated canvas.


Pride, too, is at work in the hand of a conservator, for why wouldn’t one want to be noticed for their painstaking work behind-the-scenes? While “greed” and “avarice” have been presented as the major threats to artworks at the hands of the conservator, M-V countered that these are easier to deal with than the pride that inevitably impacts the conservator’s treatment. This pride, he believes, is part of the necessary process of going about planning to treat a painting. A conservator must have a pre-conceived notion of how a painting should look look (or, at least, about how a painting should not look) that is an essential part of his or her approach to the point of its “cleaning.”


This insistence that we acknowledge a conservator’s humanity, that he or she is not an objective “scientific” robot participant, is essential in opening the dialogue about how works of art are cared for. If anything, working towards a better understanding of the conservator’s preconceived point of view, their own aesthetic curiosity, sense of beauty, etc. that impact their hand and eye in treatment, is a step forward in the discussion of artistic stewardship.


By Ruth Osborne


[1] Neil Maclaren and Anthony Werner, “Some Factual Observations about Varnishes and Glazes,” The Burlington Magazine. 92 (1950), 189-92.

2014-09-11 - conservation painting

Conversing with Conservators

Angelea Selleck

While I was a graduate student I had the opportunity to interview two conservators for a research project. After reading extensively about cases of botched restorations, I felt it was important to get the opinion of professionals in this field in order to gain a deeper insight into how such atrocities can occur and how it is viewed in the conservation community.

It was clear that the conservators were aware of these issues and the mentioning of botched restorations is a sensitive topic. However, I was assured they strictly adhere to and respect the code of ethics and such cases are few and far between. Below, are accounts of my interactions with two conservators.


I spoke with a Swiss conservator who works at a very prestigious institution in Zürich. This conservator was very open and welcoming of questions, even if they were rather probing. Her methodology and practice was very conservative and had an approach of “less is more” when it came to cleaning paintings. While this is the approach that the majority of conservators apply, there are unfortunately ones who do not adhere to this method. Some of the most devastating cases are Vermeer’s painting at the National Gallery or the restoration of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. In-painting is where the majority of restorations can go wrong. However, for the Swiss conservator, in-painting is considered to be a technique of the past and resorted to only on a few occasions. However, she did have clients that requested objects in the painting to be painted a different color or elimination of a tree or shadow because the owner believed it would look better. With these clients, the conservator laughed and said she would never do any sort of thing but mentioned that there are other conservators who would. Indeed there are conservators who would restore a painting to the tastes of the client instead of preserving the integrity of the work. When this happens, the conservator is taking his or her own artistic license with the original work. In these unfortunate scenarios, the conservator’s code of ethics is not being adhered to. Are conservators under any authority that reprimands when one’s responsibility first and foremost to the work of art is tossed out the window?


Conservators either work for institutions (i.e. museums and galleries) or operate for private clients. The private conservator I interviewed was quick to emphasize that there her and her colleagues all strictly abide by the conservator’s code of ethics and place the interests of the work before those of the client. In addition to an interview, she also showed their lab, which was a large warehouse-like appendage to their offices, as well as some of the projects that she and her colleagues were working on. They were all curious and welcoming to a foreigner and answered any questions I had. Their projects ranged from a small faded portrait on wood to a large contemporary piece that needed some cleaning after being outside in the Swiss winter. My experience at this institution was positive and I did not get a sense that they felt I was intruding or looking for a scandal. They were aware of the bad publicity that conservators sometimes receive but viewed malpractice as the exception and not the rule. However, if botched restorations are isolated incidents, how do they happen to well-known works of art in major institutions around the world?


I also reached out to an American conservator who works for a museum in the United States. He knew very well the work of Art Watch and the reputation of James Beck and Michael Daley. After sending him a section of my dissertation, which focused on art restoration and advocated for greater reform, I did not hear back from him. It is unclear whether my association with ArtWatch caused him to not get back in contact with me or perhaps was too busy to reply.  In any case it is a shame. He is an accomplished conservator who would have had a lot of insight. It was a real surprise that he never replied back after showing genuine interest in my work.
Over the years, art conservation has made an effort to become a more serious and credible institution with strict codes of ethics and dedicated to preserving our world’s greatest works of art. However, mistakes and poor judgement can still transpire. Unfortunately, as we have discovered over the past 20 years, some conservators are reluctant to disclose any unfortunate mishaps on the job, which only conceals the problem for future caretakers and could result in greater damage to the work. When this happens it is important for conservators to be as transparent as possible in order to prevent further cases of destruction to our artistic heritage. And it seems they are making steps in the right direction.

2001-03-01 Sant Orso Cathedral painting Ottonian Renaissance

Aosta. Presentazione dei Atti, Medioevo aostano: La Pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso.

2001-03-01 Sant Orso Cathedral painting Ottonian RenaissanceL’esito finale di una iniziativa messa in opera più di una decina di anni fà, quando allora c’era il signor Rollandin, Presidente della Regione, René Faval, Assessore alla Cultura, il Dr. Domenico Prola e Flaminia Montanari alla Soprintendenza delle Belle Arti, si é concrettizzata oggi con questi volumi che contenono gli atti del Convegno.

Prima di tutto é doveroso per me offrire a voce alta i miei ringraziamenti, la mia ammirazione e la mia stima alla bravissima redattrice dottoressa Sandra Barbieri che a cominciare dal progetto del ” Medioevo Aostano: La pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso” fino alla pubblicazione degli atti ne è stata la locomotrice assoluta. Ha eseguito tutto il suo compito con intelligenza, buon gusto e con accuratezza esemplare. Se il libro dovesse appartenere soltanto ad una persona, sarebbe sicuramente suo, complimenti Sandra! Desidero aggiungere che senza il minimo dubbio questa pubblicazione rimarrà nella storia un testo essenziale per tutto il mondo. Nel frattempo altri storici e ricercatori di diversi livelli sono intervenuti, mentre all’origine c’era anche l’architetto Renato Perinetti che, come abbiamo sentito, possiede un assoluto controllo sulla materia aostana medievale e sui problemi, come ha rivelato nel suo contributo degli atti, colmo di novità di dati e di concezioni. Ha inoltre offerto uno spunto rigoroso per farci comprendere l’archeologia,”se si puo’ dire” della cattedrale stessa, con le riconstruzioni e molti suggerimenti tutti convincenti. Naturalmente tutta l’operazione si è svolta in un’atmosfera di completa collaborazione interdisciplinare tra architetti, storici dell’arte, studiosi di storia, restauratori, e scienziati. Il risultato dei test dendrocronologici, per esempio, offre una conferma per gli anni della costruzione, tesi sostenuta da Perinetti. Questo fu reso possible con l’intervento del Laboratoire Romand de Dendrochronologie, Moudon-Suisse. D’altro canto Daniela Vicquery si è occupata degli affreschi di lunga data. E’ stata lei a dirigere i lavori delicatissimi del restauro del ciclo, partendo dal 1987. Il suo desiderio operativo fu di non indirizzarsi “verso una musealizzazione del ciclo pittorico; ma si è tentato invece di alterare il meno possibile l’ambiente, in modo da non smarrire il riferimento spaziale all’ interno del contesto architettonico”. E questo deve essere condiviso ed applaudito.

Il discorso di Joseph-Gabriel Rivolin che tratta d’ un esame profondo delle fonti locali delle due chiese principali in argomento: la Cattedrale e la chiesa Sant’Orso, affrontando problemi di antica data sulla istoriografia, sulla cronologia nonché su i presunti costruttori delle chiese, sulla fantomatica chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, e in generale ha realizzato un quadro storico che resterà essenziale nei tempi per comprendere la pittura dell’epoca.

Il contributo focale e altrettanto impegnativo è quello proposto di Hans Peter e Beate Autenrieth, che in un certo senso rappresenta la parte più rilevante del libro, dedicato a Domenico Prola il predecessore di Perinetti in qualità di Soprintendente che diede il via ai primi lavori per il ritrovamento degli affreschi. Questi due studiosi hanno lavorato senza sosta per quasi un quarto di secolo, per approfondire argomenti sulla pittura murale aostana. Questo rimarchevole saggio diventerà da oggi un sine qua non per gli studi della pittura aostana mediovale, e anche europea di quegli anni. Il loro testo arricchito da più di 300 note sarà una miniera per i futuri studiosi. E’ quasi impossibile fare un resoconto adeguato di questo lavoro, poichè fu eseguito con passione, percezione acuta, e amore. Cominciando dal tesoro della documentazione fotografica, dalle ricostruzioni, dagli studi sulla calligrafia, dai paragoni stilistici tra gli affreschi della cattedrale e quelli di Sant’Orso. Gli autori hanno ponderato le iconografie dei murali nella Cattedrale, notando particolari unici per l’epoca, come la rielaborazione delle storie di Sant’Eustachio, e la combinazione dei soggetti del Nuovo e Vecchio Testamento. Hanno aggiunto infine che “…l’iconografia …non è ancora chiarita in tutta la sua complessità.”

Non soddisfatti di studiare soltanto le immagini nel loro contesto, gli Autenreich hanno anche esaminato la tecnica pittorica e problemi sulla distinzione delle mani sia nel ciclo della cattedrale, che in quelle di Sant’Orso. Hanno individualizzato due pittori distinti nella Cattedrale, uno
di quali, loro concludono, fu il pittore della Collegiata di Sant’ Orso. Questi loro suggerimenti di connoisseurship saranno un punto di partenza per tutti gli studi futuri.

Gli storici dell’arte sono, in genere, molto interessati, se non addirittura fissati, sulle datazioni. Dal canto loro i nostri autori hanno concluso proponendo una data intorno alla metà del secolo XI, specificatamente il 1040-50, che sembra essere confermata dall’esame dendrocronologico. Inoltre questi studiosi hanno preso in considerazione i delicati problemi che il restauro comporta. I loro commenti sui restauri combaciano molto bene con i miei, quando dicono “noi proponiamo a questo punto di desistere assolutamente da ogni ritocco o restauro pittorico….e di rinunciare a sostanze protettive. ”

A riprendere il soggetto affascinante della iconografia sia del ciclo della Cattedrale che di quello di Sant’Orso è stata la professoressa Costanza Segre Montel in un ampio studio. Montel pur prendendo in considerazione spunti da altri, fa le sue osservazioni basate molto su esperienze provate in Piemonte. Essa riconosce anche i rapporti fra i due progetti e pone più enfasi sulla loro corrispondenza. In particulare modo ha portato alla luce il registro con gli antenati di Cristo ricostruendoli a cominciare da Abramo a Santa Maria. Per quanto riguarda l’altra serie, Montel sottolinea che ci sono vescovi a mezzo busto che offrono problemi iconografici ancora molto difficili. Anche questo studio rientra nel contesto dei problemi delle “mani” dei due cicli, che vede un maestro presente in tutti e due. Questo contributo è munito di un ricchissimo apparato di note.Investigazioni di carattere scientifico vengono presentate da varie persone in rapporto al restauro, con differenziati contributi tecnici che formano una documentazione fondamentale per il futuro. Il commento di Lorenzo Appolonia, Simonetta Migliorini e Carlo Vaudan asserisce che “il processo di restauro è, di per sè, un atto di aggressione sulla superficie dell’opera d’arte.” Questo importante riconoscimento dovrebbe essere scritto in lettere maiuscole in tutte le officine di restauro. Ciò non vuol dire, però, che il restauro non debba essere fatto su un oggetto, ma è preferibile che si riconosca almeno l’esistenza e la possibilità di un’altra scelta. In questo caso, come ci ricordano gli autori, non si poteva individuare la pittura che era coperta da un voluminoso spessore, senza restauro.

Anche i restauratori hanno ragionato sul loro intervento, in cui la parte più problematica, almeno per me, si trova nella rubrica “Il ritocco integrativo.” I tecnici rilevano che: “Si è quindi cercato di intervenire in modo limitato, ma adeguato a dare una omogenea leggibilità ….alle superfici.”

Per chi si intende questa leggibilità? Per gli specialisti, per i visitatori qualificati, o per i turisti in media? Il problema della leggibilità è antico e molto complesso: ci sono soluzioni che richiedono molta ridipintura fino al punto di offrire una tonalità neutra. Poi, senza proseguire troppo su questo argomento, ci si deve chiedere fino a quando possa essere leggibile, perchè gli anni 1980 sono senza dubbio diversi da quelli del 1990, chissà come si presenterà una buona leggibilità nel 2010? Anche le questioni di reversibilità sono molto argomentative e difficili, ma di questo si può discutere altrove più adeguatamente. Cito, comunque, il testo del chimico dell’ Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze [Mauro Matteini] che scrisse di recente: “I restauratori sanno bene quanto sia difficile realizzare nella pratica un’effettiva reversibilità e come sia quasi impossibile, in particolare, andare a rimuovere un consolidante a distanza di tempo.”

Nel campo del restauro uno dei punti più urgenti è una manutenzione continua e il controllo ambientale con tutti i problemi. Per esempio, alla Sistina, dopo il restauro degli affresci di Michelangelo, si mise in operazione un sistema allora considerato moderno e, secondo il Vaticano, efficace. Per vedere le soluzioni proposte per la Cattedrale di Aosta, si consulti l’articolo di Carlo Vaudan e Simonetta Migliorini negli atti.Un contributo di un genere totalmente diverso è stato offerto dallo storico Giuseppe Sergi, che presenta un quadro delle condizioni politiche nel presunto in cui gli affreschi furono eseguiti. Storico-artistiche sono, invece, le osservazioni di Andriano Peroni, che propone i punti di partenza per la programmazione degli affreschi nell’ottica di una architettura fittizia, ricreata con l’aiuto di minime tracce rimaste. Il contributo di Herbert L. Kessler è centrato sul problema iconografico-culturale del ciclo di Sant’Orso dove sussiste una mescolanza di immagini del Nuovo Testamento e di eventi agiografici. Questi appaiono del tutto casuali e frammentari per certi studiosoi mentre per altri fanno parte di un programma coesivo. Siccome non è possibile risolvere completamente il problema, Kessler li connette con altri cicli presenti ad Assisi e a Roma, fino al punto di collegare Sant’Orso (anche dedicato a San Pietro) al Vecchio San Pietro.

In una lezione presentata da Paula D. Leveto, che concentra la sua attenzione su i famosi murali di Castelseprio, che per mezzo secolo se non dippiù sono stati discussi dagli specialisti per quanto concerne la loro datazione. Con l’aiuto di modernissimi metodi, come il Carbone 14, e con una esaminazione tecnica dei materiali, Leveto è giunta a una conclusione, contraria di quella esposta da Bertelli, per cui gli affreschi sarebbero stati dipinti durante una fase posteriore alla construzione dell’edificio, un tipo di argomento questo molto rilevante per gli affreschi aostani. Nel caso di Castelseprio, esistono indicazioni fisiche che dimostrano che la preparazione e la dipintura furono eseguite in un singolo processo. La situazione contemporanea della pittura murale sono state studiate da Marie-Thérese Camus per certe chiese nella Francia centrale che ci offrono paragoni assai indicativi con Aosta, mentre Joaquin Yarza Luaces fa un confronto con la pittura e le miniature nei regni di León e Navarra intorno all’anno Mille.

Armata di un bibliografia formidabile, che comprende dozzine di manoscritti, con questa pubblicazione si è aggiunto un immenso e utilissimo repertorio fotografico dei due cicli. A parte, il secondo volume potrà essere utile agli studiosi con cui facilmente potranno fare i confronti dei due monumenti: questo “Atlante Fotografico” è in sé un modello di qualità.

Sono, devo ammettere, molto orgoglioso di aver fatto parte di questa pubblicazione anche se minima, con la convinzione che abbiamo davanti a noi un modello di come si deve fare uno studio di questa complessità. Sono anche convinto che con la presenza di questi due volumi la centralità di Aosta per il sviluppo della pittura subito dopo l’anno Mille, ironicamente giustamente 1000 anni fa, sarà confermata. Nel senso non di retorica politica, ma dal punto di vista della qualità sia per gli studi, sia per le pubblicazioni, sia per tutto il lavoro dedicato alla presentazione dei lavori fatti che hanno reso visibili questi meravigliosi dipinti, la Regione della Valle d’Aosta deve essere vivamente congratulata.Voglio augurare, infine che tra non molto un simile congresso possa essere organizzato per la scultura aostana della stessa epoca come era stato già programmato, con particolare attenzione a Sant’Orso, e con la speranza che Sandra Barberi avrà ancora la forza di portare avanti questa iniziativa.