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George Galavaris, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 93/2000, pp 185-186

Ivan Bentchev/Eva Haustein-Bartsch (Hrsg.), Ikonen, Restaurierung und naturwissenschaftliche Erforschung. München 1997 (Editio Maris), 196 Seiten, 147 Abb.

In Russia in the second half of the 19th and the early 20th century a revival of the icon occurred which coincided with what is known as "the Russian renaissance", a cultural movement the character of which was a return to the orthodox splendour, a re-examination of Russian heritage. A restoration and cleaning ol old icons was undertaken and exhibitions were prepared of which the one in Moscow in 1913 made the Russian public aware of the aesthetics of the icon. Prior to that. Westerners had already been exposed to the icon at the first exhibition of the Lichachev collection of icons held in Paris in 1906, part of the exhibition of paintings in the Salon d'Automne organized by Sergei Diaghilev. Most of the restorers of icons were painters who had access to private icon-collections, such as Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) and her husband Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964). In restoring icons at the time restorers depended on current methods of painting and their aesthetic awareness of a work of art. (For the influence of the icon on the work of these and other artists of the early 20th century see Constantinople—Moscow—Munich. Byzantium // Twentieth-Century European, Painting, Toronto 1994).

A systematic approach to restoration, a "museale Restaurierung" as the editors of this volume call it, was to take place much later both in western and eastern Europe. Students of icon-painting and curators of museums became aware of the necessity to investigate the icons scientifically by applying methods and technological means used in natural sciences.

And this is the theme of the present volume that forms a collection of 16 short papers most of which are written by restorers of icons, few by Museum curators, one by a radiologist and one by an atomic physicist. The papers were presented at an international-colloquium at Recklinghausen in 1994. All papers are significant. They deal with technical problems exemplified by chosen examples most of them belonging to the area of Russian icon-painting. Some of them are well known but they are reconsidered in the light of new technological approaches, such as: the "Saviour with the Blond hair" in the Kremlin fig. 99, Christ and the Abu Mena in the Louvre fig. 45, the icon of the Virgin and Child with christological scenes in the Benaki Museum, Athens fig. 58, the icon of the Dormition of the Virgin in the Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen, which decorates most effectively the cover of the book, and several others. Every contribution demonstrates the importance of the application of scientific methods not simply for dating an icon but by analyzing, for example, colour structure, layers of pigments etc, the reader is led to new avenues of investigation by which the hand of a particular master and the study of group of icons or even schools can be determined; furthermore, the reader can become aware of problems facing a restorer, (sometimes without a definite solution), and of aesthetic questions related to the restoration of an icon.

In a short preface the editors, Ivan Bentchev and Eva Haustein-Bartsch give a brief, factual account of the technological approach to the icon which began once the icon became a museum object. The various restoration centers and activities in Fast and West are pointed out and the importance of this approach is stressed particularly for the discovery of fakes. Icon-restoration has advanced so much that in Russia and other countries specialists have been created who treat painting in tempera differently from painting in oil.

Here I can touch on some of these contributions. The first two papers (Heinrich Schüller, Hans Mommsen) deal with the importance of X-ray fluorescence analysis for the study of icons. The researcher should go beyond the optical evaluation of an icon and by the use of all possible, modern methods used by physicists, to enter into what the English call "the field of archaeological science". Examples are taken from the Russian tablets (tabletki), the double-faced icons, found in Russia, 15th-17th centuries, of which most famous are those from the Cathedral of St. Sophia at Novgorod. Olga Lelekova demonstrates the scientific methods by which copies of icons can be discovered which were made in the second half of the 19th century mostly after original icons of the 17th century. The conclusion of the technological study of the icon of Christ, and Abu Mena in the Louvre by Nicole Delsaux and Elisabeth Martin is most interesting. The technique is austere and the question raised is whether this is due to reasons of economy or it is a deliberate choice expressing the spirit of Egyptian monasticism. Kalypso Milanou stresses the need for a multidisciplinary approach to the icon: photographic techniques, ultraviolet and infrared fluorescence are used to investigate the layers of painting and the material used for the Virgin and Child with scenes from the life of Christ in the Benaki Museum, Athens which has developed an extensive, successful icon-restoration programme. It is demonstrated that the various materials were applied at the same time, during the making of the icon, and not at different periods as was asserted by art historians in ihr past. In the paper of Galina Sidorenko, dealing with stylistic and technological investigation of Cretan icons, the example is a triptych in the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow, the reader can find some hints on the spirituality of the icon, mostly based on iconographic grounds. Thalia Papageorgiou touches upon a vital problem, faking and smuggling. In her example from Athens, an iron is being disguised as a small ship in enamel over copper and based on i wooden support. The material is most suitable for an exciting detective story.

Very few attempts to consider stylistic tendencies of an icon are noticed among these papers. One of them is Anna Jakovleva s on the Kremlin icon of "The Saviour with the golden hair" which the author relates to the Gothic style in the West and the Comnenian art in Byzantium. The analysis of pigments shows that the icon follows more the European artistic tradition than medieval Russian painting. The discussion of the only known signature of tbr icon-painter and restorer Nikita Sevast'janov Racejskij (1872) on a Mandylion-icon now in Recklinghausen by Ivan Bentchev is of special interest. The famous Russian writer Nikolaj Leskov and his son Andrei have written on the painter. And while Nikita was busy at restoring the Mandylion-icon, Leskov wrote his most famous story "The Sealed Angel", significant for a consideration of the nature of the icon proceeding from a way of life.

This is a volume dealing with the technology of the icon. It contains important material and it must be taken as such. It is a pity, however, that art historical papers have not been included. They would have balanced the image of the icon developed here. After all the icon is not and cannot be considered a museum object only. Each one of these papers leave questions unanswered and the interdisciplinary approach stressed is not finally reached. Nevertheless, this remains a significant book that must be on tin; shelves of every icon-museum library. We are grateful to the organizers of the colloquium, the contributors, and the publishers, the Editio Maris, Munich. Indeed the book is beautifully produced with ample space, careful layout, attention paid to every detail, and good colour reproductions.

Athens George Galavaris


book review by Marie Louise Sauerberg & Alan Phenix

PAINTINGS / Conservation and Restoration of Paintings

PEINTURE / Conservation et restauration des peintures

About Paintings I Alan Phenix

(Newsletter No. 4, Summer 1999, p. 6; ICOM-CC, Paintings II (ed. Alan Phenix & Jorgen Wadum)

Paintings 1 Programme, Triennial meeting, Lyon 1999

As I mentioned in the last Newsletter, 26 papers were submitted for inclusion the Paintings section of the Lyon proceedings. Out of these, a total of 16 papers were finally accepted by the conference Preprints Committee, and several others were successfully transferred to Paintings 2.

The large number of contributions to our Working Group was both a blessing and burden: it meant that, overall, the standard of papers is good, but it meant also that a great deal of work was necessary to try to get some of the marginal papers into acceptable, publishable condition. It was somewhat frustrating when such papers were ultimately not accepted by the Preprints Committee. The large number of accepted papers has also presented me with some, not inconsiderable, difficulties in devising the lecture programme for our Working Group sessions, but I will come back to this issue shortly. Clearly, the current process by which contributions to the Triennial meetings are initiated, edited and selected is not as effective as it might be, and during the course of the next Triennium I shall - if, of course, I am re-elected - lend my support to any initiatives there might be to update and improve procedures for preparation and editing of the conference papers.

Returning to the programme for our Working Group sessions, the main difficulty we faced was trying to fit 16 talks into just the two three-hour sessions that we were ultimately allocated. This is a matter that I will be taking up with further with the Directory Board, since there clearly must be better correlation between numbers of papers accepted for a given Working Group and the time actually, allocated for its presentations. I have approached the conference organizers in an attempt to get extensions to the duration of our Working Group sessions, but at the time of writing I have not yet had any reply. For the present, then, the programme is devised to allow for the maximum number of papers to be presented verbally at the conference. Only one of the papers in the Preprints will not - unless we get an extension - be given as a lecture: this is a paper submitted by Dr. A.E. Hill and colleagues at the University of Salford, GB, which is titled "Canvas glue removal using a 248nm excirner laser'.. In order to accommodate the fifteen other papers, we have been forced to confine lectures effectively to 20 minutes, with questions being dealt with in dedicated Question/Discussion periods at the end of each session. This is not ideal, but seemed the best compromise. What all this means is that speakers will have to be extremely conscientious in sticking to their allotted 20 minutes, and the Chairs of the sessions will be very firm in keeping speakers to time.

One of the criteria for selection of papers for the Lyon meeting was the consistency of subject matter with the stated research programmes of Working Group Paintings 1, which were published in the first Newsletter of this triennial period. I believe that the selection of papers for the Lyon meeting honours most aspects of the Working Group's stated purpose. This is with the exception of Icons, for which there are no contributions this time. The apparent shortage of papers from the Icons research area is something I hope we can work on over the next three years.

Elections for Working Group Co-ordinator At the Triennial meeting in Lyon we must elect a co-ordinator for the next triennial period, 1999 -2002. Those persons eligible to vote are Working Group members who are paid-up members of ICOM and who are voting members of ICOM-CC. Please do not forget to bring your ICOM card with you to Lyon, as we will use this to demonstrate eligibility to vote!

I am willing to act as co-ordinator for another three years (after which time I must hand over to someone else), so I will be standing for re-election. However, other nominations can be accepted.

Any nominations for candidates for Paintings 1 Co­ordinator should be handed to Alan Phenix before the close of the Paintings 1 session on the afternoon of Monday 30 August.

The election of co-ordinator will take place at the end of the session on Tuesday, 31 August. If you would like information on the duties of the Co-ordinator, please let me know and I will provide the Guidelines issued by the Directory Board. I look forward to an interesting conference in Lyon.


ICOM Committee for Conservation

Newsletter No. 20, November 2001

Co-ordinator: Alan Phenix
Assistant Co-ordinator: Mikkel Scharff
Please see the Joint Report which immediately follows.

Coordinator: Anne Rinuy
Assistant Co-ordinator: Jorgen Wadum

The specialist Icons research area of Paintings I and II, which has a very active membership, organised an Interim Meeting of its members October 14-17 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Conference was entitled 'Changes in Post-Byzantine Icon Painting Techniques' and featured more than 20 papers covering diverse aspects of this topic. Preprints are available; please contact the Icons Research Area Co-ordinator, Helena Nikkanen; e-mail:
Lastly, a second issue of the joint Newsletter of Working Groups Paintings I and Paintings II is planned for late 2001.