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Conservation in the Nineteenth Century (CiNC)

The National Museum of Denmark. Copenhagen, May 13-16, 2013

Conference announcement

The conservation profession has its roots in the intellectual movements of the first half of the 19th century, which followed the Enlightenment. Scholarly study of objects made available by important archeological excavations and discoveries gave birth to the first debates on theoretical issues of preservation. Additionally, playing a significant role in conservation practice were political events disrupting Europe in the first decades of the 19th century, in particular, Napoleon’s appropriation of works of art.

We have come to think of the nineteenth century as a time marked by much negative activity resulting in practices that are much criticized nowadays, such as widespread impregnation of porous materials with organic substances, or the transfer of paintings, both from walls and panels, to canvas supports, or restorations of paintings and sculptures based on artistic fabrications. As much as early conservation treatments do create many problems for conservators nowadays, we also can acknowledge that, in some cases, they did prolong the life of an object that might not exist today. In some of these treatments we can see the inchoate interest in scientific methods that comprise the foundation of current conservation treatments. An example of a 19th century contribution that has had both positive and negative aftermath is the alum treatment of waterlogged wood, where methodological shortcomings acted as the spur to the development of modern treatments with PEG. Artistic restorations prevalent in the 19th century were decisive in the formation of antipodal views on reconstruction and over-painting that have strong influence on the appearance of paintings today.

Nineteenth century technical inventions brought about by the industrial revolution led to the mass production of many materials, such as paper, textile and metals. These have also a positive and negative influence on conservation. On the one hand, new techniques, such as the electrochemical treatment of corroded metal have marked an advance in conservation interventions. On the other, many mass produced materials were often inferior to the traditional materials used in the production of artworks and objects, and inherent weakness and impermanence of such materials afford special challenges to conservators nowadays.

Conference themes

This conference will focus on both the theoretical and technical aspects of conservation in the nineteenth century, as well as their impact on the profession today.

  •  Nineteenth century treatment methods that have withstood the test of time (are there any?)

  •  The evolution of documentation and its impact on the professionalization of conservation.

  • Case stories contributing to new knowledge about nineteenth century treatment methods.

  • Use of nineteenth century technology in the conservation of cultural heritage.

  • Finding solutions for problems caused by nineteenth century interventions.

  • Finding solutions for problems caused by nineteenth century materials.

  • Historical persons’ contributions to conservation and their impact on the field.

  • Philosophical trends and their impact on practice.

Conference publication

The presentations are planned to be published in the form of Preprints. The papers will be subject to a peer review and editing process.

Call for papers

To be announced early 2012.


National Museum of Denmark

Department of Conservation

I.C. Modewegsvej, Brede

DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby

tel.: +45 33 47 35 02

fax.: +45 33 47 33 27


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