Works of art are, in our days, exposed to extreme threat, the aggressive environment and our own negligence. A psychologically comprehensible reaction to this condition is the strong trend toward the renovation of such works, the endeavour to restore them to a state where they lock like new. In so doing we often rid them, without inhibition, of the marks of age. Our age does not suffer from antiquarianism, though we are often accused of this. In recent years we – in the sphere of institutional care for ancient monuments – have altogether ceased to speak of the once frequent term the value of age«, which, strangely enough, is not even mentioned in our two laivs dealing with such monuments. We tend generally to forget what Alois Riegl meant by the German term »Alterswert«: we link it incorrectly with the absolute age of works of art and we oddly quantify it in this manner or equally incorrectly see in it merely the patina of antique value of works which may not even exist in the original material, and thus we transfer them to the level of simply aesthetic observation.

A relatively short time ago I had the opportunity to draw attention to the basic significance of the value of age, in reference to the preceding interpretation by Václav Richter, who stressed that, in Riegl's conception, the value of age is a confirmation of the law of the inevitable course of Nature accompanying the origin and demise of all objects. It should further be said that Riegl did not discover, in the true sense of the word, a new feeling of Man, ivho, since time immemorial, sought the meaning of this process of Nature, but he reflected simply its new positive evaluation since the end of the 19th century. At that time marks of age ceased to be looked upon as unsightly symptoms of disintegration which restorers were given the task of removing. Instead they began to be regarded as basic qualities of every work of art which cannot be determined by the value appropriate to a new ivork (»Neuheitswert«), and gradually this led to a change in aesthetic approach.

If Alois Riegl's value of age is rigorously adopted, all symptoms of age in a work of art include changes in the original that take place with the passing of time, not only the ageing of the material, but also the destruction of all its original structure that occurred and may threaten the very substance of the original message of the work. Care for works of art that would adopt such extreme respect for the value of age would inevitably reach a point of explicit anti-restoration attitude. In practice this ideal can be followed only in quite exceptional cases, e.g. in cases of works unique in kind or those greatly damaged and of incomparable artistic value (classical Greek sculpture). Nonetheless, there are countries where this approach has been applied even in relation to Gothic sculpture in galleries. Let us recall the exhibition »Art of the French Middle Agesin Prague in 1979«. Miloš Suchomel noticed this correctly and wrote: »The sculpture at the exhibition... did not show any signs of recent mending, steps taken by restorers with putty or retouching, and even less so contemporary modelled additions.

In the case of polychromed sculpture the overpainted layers seem to have been left untouched in recent times and were sometimes left in fragments even on the uncovered original painting on the sculptural block.

The opposite extreme is the endeavour to return to the old work of art its original appearance with the aid of all accessible media, ignoring marks of age of any kind. This ideal can only be followed in quite exceptional cases – perhaps only in objects of gold surviving untouched. Yet this gnoseologically unjustified aim was still laid down in the programme in our country in the fifties. In the Czech School of Restoration this fitted the assumption of an identical perception of old and contemporary art. To this day we have not been able to distinguish in the terminological dictionary of our care for ancient works of art between »restoration« and »renewal of works of art« And often we meet the wishes of investors that the objects tinder their care should »shine like new«. There are many examples where this was truly carried out. A significant example is the approach used in the recently restored furnishings of the Church of St. Ursula on Národní Street in Prague.

The Czech School of Restoration, applying the concept of its best representatives, has rejected both extremes in its attitude to the age of a work of art. Its programme does not involve the conservation of the present condition of the work nor the restoration of its original appearance. All considerations are based on preserving the material and structure of the artefact where this can be traced and correctly generalised, that is, dealing with the active part of the work which is directly perceived and artistically evaluated. On this basis justification has been put forward for removing later aesthetic measures (overpainting, additions), and gradually this led to a gnoseologically substantiated view of the question of the marks of age as such. In 1963 Mojmír Hamsík wrote a basic paper on this theme in which he stated that it is not possible »to return a picture by any measure of restoration to the state it was in when completed. It is clearly not possible to remove the marks of time that divide us from the time of origin of the work of art«. This should not be forgotten even today. Otherwise we shall continue to apply undesirable and useless camouflage, e.g. the general colour toning of sandstone sculpture, or we shall even threaten the very authenticity of the work (e.g. by removing the surface crust of such a sculpture) or fight with windmills in the search for various forms of regeneration. Generally we have to come to terms with the fact that works of art are valuable for us mainly by the fact that they arose in ages past and are accompanied by the marks of ageing.

PhDr Ivo Hlobil (T.G.)