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The Renaissance Restored: Paintings Conservation and the Birth of Modern Art History in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Matthew Hayes

This handsomely illustrated volume traces the intersections of art history and paintings restoration in nineteenth-century Europe.  

Repairing works of art and writing about them—the practices that became art conservation and art history—share a common ancestry. By the nineteenth century the two fields had become inseparably linked. While the art historical scholarship of this period has been widely studied, its restoration practices have received less scrutiny—until now. 

This book charts the intersections between art history and conservation in the treatment of Italian Renaissance paintings in nineteenth-century Europe. Initial chapters discuss the restoration of works by Giotto and Titian, framed by the contemporary scholarship of art historians such as Jacob Burckhardt, G. B. Cavalcaselle, and Joseph Crowe that was redefining the earlier age. Subsequent chapters recount how paintings conservation was integrated into museum settings. The narrative uses period texts, unpublished archival materials, and historical photographs in probing how paintings looked at a time when scholars were writing the foundational texts of art history, and how contemporary restorers were negotiating the appearances of these works. The book proposes a model for a new conservation history, object focused yet enriched by consideration of a wider cultural horizon. 

Matthew Hayes is a paintings conservator in private practice and founding director of the Pietro Edwards Society for Art Conservation in New York City.  

“The volume paints an interesting picture of the different materialisations of the dialogue between art history and conservation throughout the century.”
—Maartje Stols-Witlox, Journal of Art Historiography

“A detailed, intelligent account of the development and correlations between painting conservation and the emergence of art history in nineteenth-century Europe.”
—Andrea Walton, ARLIS/NA

“[An] enjoyable, intelligent, and well-written book on the history of art and of conservation in the nineteenth century.”
—Giorgio Bonsanti, The Burlington Magazine

“A book of great interest, aimed at capturing the interaction between art history and conservation during the nineteenth century, i.e. the century that saw the respective professional figures getting a ‘modern’ shape.”
—Giovanni Mazzaferro, Letteratura artistica

“The principal distinction of this carefully researched and dense account of the subject is that its author, Matthew Hayes, is a practicing paintings conservator. Rather more unusual is Hayes's keen and abiding interest in his profession's philosophical intent and historical evolution. This is not a 'how-to' book, but rather a 'why and when' one.”
—Marco Grassi, The New Criterion

“This book is for anyone with an interest in Renaissance artworks and the history of their collection and conservation. . . . The accuracy of the information and images are superb.”
—Kimberly Frost, News in Conservation

“Important new book. . . . [Sheds] new light on neglected practitioners while offering a fresh perspective on familiar art historians.”
—Luke Uglow, APOLLO 

“A conservator makes the case that in 19th-century Europe, restoring Renaissance masterpieces wasn't just a matter of upkeep: it also led to the kind of close study that constitutes art history as we know it. Were it not for the cleaning and repairing of works by Giotto and Titian, Hayes proposes, we wouldn't look at art the way we do today.”

“An enjoyable book, full of new information and pertinent critical judgments. The central role of restoration in the history of museums has never been more visible.”
—Neville Rowley, curator at the Gemäldegalerie and Bode-Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

“Matthew Hayes’s radical new study, written by a professional conservator, affords fascinating fresh insights into the complexity of conservation campaigns on Renaissance paintings in the nineteenth century, examining how successive interventions record and embody vital, but all too often neglected, knowledge. Re-situating the work of significant restorers within their historical, intellectual and cultural contexts, he elucidates their distinctive contributions to the interpretation of the art of the past within a network of diverse authorities, including owners and custodians, art historians, dealers, and museum professionals. Bringing to bear new conservation data as well as archival discoveries, Hayes argues that past restorations were never value-neutral but evidence instead their own complex art historical contexts. This rigorous yet highly readable study raises many questions relevant for contemporary practice and will be an indispensable, thought-provoking resource for art historians, conservators, and non-specialists alike.”
—Susanna Avery-Quash, Senior Research Curator (History of Collecting), National Gallery, London  

“This book explores the complex relationships between two disciplines that were in flux in nineteenth-century Europe: the history of art, in particular that of the Italian Renaissance, and the restoration of paintings. The author, a paintings conservator and art historian, is uniquely qualified to provide what is a fascinating historiographical deep dive into the period. Focusing on a series of thematically arranged case studies, Dr. Hayes explores the nature of restoration, highly specific to its time and place, and its connections to the people and ideas that shaped Europe’s great picture galleries. Important questions are threaded throughout: What did those early art historians, restorers, dealers, curators, and museum directors likely see when they looked at paintings? What was done to restore and preserve these works? How did this change their appearance? What traces of these activities exist today? And critically, how do these observations and interventions intersect with the contemporaneous art historical imaginations that were creating the concept of the Italian Renaissance? The answers make compelling scholarship. Familiar artists, paintings, and collections are viewed through a new lens. Using a wide range of sources—the nineteenth-century art historical literature of course, but also museum archival records, photographs, restorers’ accounts and letters, modern examination reports, and the material record of the paintings themselves—the author expertly creates a persuasive narrative of museum practice, art historical scholarship, and restoration in dialogue. This is a timely and important book; many of the traces of early restorations are disappearing as pictures are treated anew, just at a time when scholarly interest in the history of restoration is growing, and our scientific ability to study and understand the material history of a work of art becomes more accurate and less invasive. Elegantly written and amply illustrated, scholarly yet refreshingly jargon-free, this accessible book clearly explains both conservation activities (many no longer practiced) and the historiography of Italian Renaissance art. There are also concise biographies of the restorers who worked on pictures in Florence, Milan, Venice, and Berlin, giving welcome presence to the people so often overlooked in traditional art historical accounts. For all these reasons, The Renaissance Restored is essential reading for art historians, curators, conservators, and scholars of European intellectual history.”
—Michele D. Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

208 pages 
7 x 10 inches
56 color and 50 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-696-6

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute