Volume 17, Number 3 .... September 1995
"Conservators are racing to save monuments threatened by development, pollution, looting and neglect. In the process, they are transforming the field of archaeology into a new science."
An insightful and thought provoking essay on the current state of many of the world's most significant heritage sites. The archaeological community is faced with the reevaluation of field archaeology as crisis proportions are reached with regard to monuments' physical deterioration. Marguerite Holloway describes the complex task of site conservation from a number of different perspectives including that of archaeologists, conservators, and research and cultural welfare organizations.
Twenty thousand year old stone engravings located in northeast Portugal may be flooded in the reservoir of a dam that is under construction in Vila Nova de Fozcôa. Announcement of the site was made public last November by Archaeologist, Nelson Rabanda, who is said to have made the discovery as early as two years ago.
Some archaeologists from Lisbon have organized a lobby group opposed to the dam. A French rock-art specialist, Jean Clottes, inspected the site at the request of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture and UNESCO. He recommended that the flooding of the site should be considered only if it is determined that the water would not harm the engravings. "Submersion", he says, "would protect the site from vandalism and save some 2,000 jobs". It is noted that more than half of the engravings have been underwater since the 1980's when two other dams were constructed in the area.
Computer analysis addresses a number of art historical issues. The superimposition of images, proportional analysis, the recreation of three dimensional settings, and the subtraction of various colors or coatings, produce insights into artists' intentions.
Superimposing images such as a self portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Mona Lisa indicates that Leonardo may have used himself as a model in the absence of the original model. The perspective needed to align the decorative elements located in the room that houses Leonardo's Last Supper, is located 15 feet above the floor of the refectory. Computer assisted reproductions indicate that the image is meant to be viewed from the side walls or from the original side entrance to the refectory. Electronically subtracting the remnants of a white coating from Pierro della Francesca's The Resurrection of Christ indicates that the original fresco was painted in warm colors and unseen elements of the composition, such as a tree of thorns and details on the Christ figure, are uncovered.
The Chinchorro culture of Chile produced mummies dating back 7,000 years. The process described emerged 2,000 years before that which was found in the Nile Valley. The evolution of the mummification is brought to light and Chinchorro culture is analyzed on the basis of the archaeological finds. The need for help in the conservation and preservation of these incredible artifacts is stated.
The discovery of a number of fragments of statues ranging from the fourth century B.C. to the third century A.D. have lead anthropologists to speculate that the bronzes were part of a cargo which had been collected during ancient times for recycling at the port of Brindisi, Italy. As no remnant of the vessel have been found, some scholars believe that the cargo was probably jettisoned off the boat during a storm so as to lighten the vessel. Restoration of the objects has yielded information on the casting and finishing of the artifacts.
Companies such as Microsoft Corp., Corbis Corp., and Digital Collections Inc., which produce fine art on CD-ROM are trying to make fine art digitized imagery into a large money-making industry. Currently collections of art such as that of the Mapplethorpe Estate, the Barnes Foundation, and portions of the Frick Collection are available to the public on CD-ROM. The companies are hoping to increase their current audience of universities, libraries and museums to include the over 17 million consumers who own multimedia PCs.
Claudio Tuniz, an Australian researcher, has put a date to the resinous glue used to repair the terra-cotta cherub in Donatello's Annunziazionne Cavalcanti at Florence's Santa Croce Cathedral. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) was used to reveal that the "glue was applied between 1398 and 1439". Because the AMS date falls during the first forty years of Donatello's life, Tuniz speculates that the sculpture was repaired by Donnatello himself. AMS is a technique based on the same principle as Carbon 14 dating but is "far less invasive and requires a significantly smaller sample".
A sixteen year restoration effort by Milanese restorer Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (1495-98), is almost complete. The mural is an oil painting done on a layer of gesso which has been severely damaged by humidity (an underground spring is located 23 feet beneath the supporting wall). Brambilla's work has included the cleaning of old restoration which dates as far back as the 17th century, and the stabilization of the painted surface. Further preventative treatment includes the construction of a number of chambers that visitors pass through which control temperature, humidity and dust levels within the refectory.
Daims dans un paysage by Turpin de Crisse was cut out of its frame with a blade and taken out of the Louvre museum during visiting hours. A week later, an axe which is part of a 17th century sculpture was also stolen during visiting hours. Though the axe was found in the Louvre's courtyard, the thefts have put the spotlight on security at the Louvre.
Forty-two paintings by Arnuf Rainer were defaced during a break-in at his studio. "Black paint and spray paint were thickly applied over 28 of Rainer's canvases, leaving visible only the artist's signature". Conservators believe that the restoration of these 28 canvases is virtually hopeless while the other fourteen paintings may prove salvageable.
The French Ministry of Culture announced the discovery of a network of caverns near the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc in the Ardêche region of France. The Paleolithic site contains more than three hundred paintings and engravings of a variety of animals as well as numerous prehistoric artifacts and bones. The size and variety of artifacts found in the caves, and the fact that the area was found undisturbed has led archaeologists to speculate that the site will eclipse that of Lascaux.
A Merchant Ivory film about Picasso's life in the forties has been denied permission to show any of his art, after the artist's estate objected to the screenplay, This poses a dilemna for the filmmakers as the movie was to show how Picasso's art changed as his women changed. Warner's solution: copies and sketches; Claude Picasso's opinion: "they are perpetuating a forgery. In France, it's very clear-cut."