Enfilade

New Book | Condition: The Ageing of Art

Posted in books by Editor on June 23, 2016

From Paul Holberton:

Paul Taylor, Condition: The Ageing of Art (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2015), 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1907372797, £30 / $45.

51qJi3weHZLThe paintings we see today in museums, galleries, churches, and temples are often much altered by the centuries. Pictures can split, rot, be eaten by woodworm, warp, blister, crack, cup, flake, darken, blanch, discolour, become too translucent, and disappear under a centuries-old varnish; and they can also suffer from the efforts of their owners to rectify these situations: they might be transferred, relined, ironed, abraded or repainted.

Anyone considering a work of art needs to establish at the outset how much it has changed since it was first made. This act of understanding is far from easy. We need to develop a knowledge of the physical and chemical processes which have brought paintings to their current state, in the hope that we can imagine their reversal. And we have to look as much as we can at a wide variety of paintings, so we can learn to distinguish those in a worse or better state of preservation; we have to try to understand what it is about a picture that differentiates good and bad condition. Theories of art history have been built on works whose appearance is made up of little more than repaint and decay, and the beginner needs to be warned about the many pitfalls dug by time for the unwary. This book is meant both for that beginner and for the qualified practitioner who might have missed a step along the way.

While there are many books on conservation and restoration, there is nothing which focuses specifically on condition. The plan here is to provide a hands-on introductory text, which can be used as a first orientation in the study of condition, and can remain as a basic reference work when the reader’s studies have progressed further. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in art.

Far too complex for their own good, European ‘Old Master’ pictures—by the likes of Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Leonardo, Poussin, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Gainsborough, Turner, and Van Gogh—rely for their delicate effects on layers of fragile materials, all of which are subject to change and decay. No-one can enjoy them to the full without an understanding of how and what they may have survived, suffered, or lost in the journey through the years.

Paul Taylor is curator of the photographic collection at the Warburg Institute, University of London, and editor of the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. He has written numerous articles and contributed to many books; he is the author of Dutch Flower Painting 1600–1720 (1995) and the editor of Pictorial Composition from Medieval to Modern Art (2000), The Iconography of Cylinder Seals (2006); Iconography without Texts (2008); and, most recently, Meditations on a Heritage: Papers on the Work and Legacy of Sir Ernst Gombrich (2014), also published by Paul Holberton publishing.

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