In the last twenty to thirty years restorers working in the region of Most and the industrial areas beneath the Ore Mountains have been dealing with work in extreme conditions, making extreme demands on the work of the restorer. I am not speaking only of the influence of exhalations and the influence of the devastation caused by the non-cultural usage of the local inhabitants, who, to a great extent, have not been exposed to cultural processes and therefore lack family traditions and personal relationships to the places where they are living. What I have in mind is the frightening impact of the industrial exploitation of the landscape, surface mining of coal and often the complete destruction of everything living on the surface, as well as the disappearance and wiping out of entire villages, including buildings of artistic value.

There, restorers are among the last to be entrusted with investigations in the evacuated villages, mostly in the churches, and if they do discover mural paintings, also with uncovering these, restoring them and ensuring transfer. The paintings then become the only witnesses to the cultural level of the inhabitants of villages that today no longer exist and are covered by waste dumps. Such work is sad and usually also hectic under the pressure of time limits set by the industrial colossuses, as well as physically exhausting, for the restorer is fully aware that the transfer of a painting from its original site is an extreme measure that can be undertaken only under exceptional circumstances. One reason is that it interferes with the internal material and mainly the external spatial interconnections of a work. Another is that such measures deprive the object of protection as a work of art. And the chief reason is the mural painting is exposed to considerable risk. This risk does not concern the operation as such, for the technology of transfer of a mural painting has nowadays been worked out in detailed variants that can be found under our conditions and it is safe (if we leave aside the losses incurred in dividing the painting into parts). Nor am I thinking of the risk of the loss of the authentic appearance of the surface and the relief unevenness of the wall, for we have even dealt with this problem using a modified method of stacco a masello, adapted for Gothic painting under our conditions. We regard as the main risk the removal of the painting from its context and the necessity of finding a corresponding substitute space that will be suitable for permanent installation, at best placing it on a wall with the original technology. If the painting is set on movable panels, it is naturally more vulnerable, even on the strongest of supports. The fact that they are portable provides for the possibility of presentation at exhibitions, which involves transportation, manipulation and storage, often under unsuitable conditions.

We discovered how difficult it is to find suitable substitute space for placing frescoes when we dealt with the transfer of Gothic frescoes from two villages in the Most area, Kopisty and Židovice. In 1976 we transferred the frescoes from Židovice, which originally were to be fitted on the wall of the former malt-house of Osek Monastery, which nowadays is »under reconstrucion«. After twelve years of storage they were placed, in 1987, on portable panels and are to be shown in the Dean's Church in Most. That is the reason why we are convinced that the transfer of paintings onto portable supports should truly be an exception, and we should make every effort to keep the works in situ with all the relationships under which they came into existence. In fitting the paintings onto panels an area remains around the original which is of geometrical shape and which needs to be clearly distinguished from the original.

  

To prevent the emergence of an illogical, optically new formation of a rectangular frame to the original Gothic fresco we abandoned the idea of a mere distinction of the structure and of masticking (luting) in the colour of the original ground of the painted layer, which, at a great distance, would merge and lessen the authenticity of the shape of the fragment.

In retouching original fragments we again have to take into account the same problem of the space-gap: the entire artistic conception of restoration of frescos, including retouching and luting, is subordinate to the installation at the original height of placement from two to 6-5 metres from the ground, and even hatching in the retouching in local tone has to take account of this distance.

In no case was it our aim to let the restoration measures pass unnoticed, for we did not wish to deprive the work of its authentic appearance by complete suppression of defects. It is my opinion that the perfect optical covering up of paintings surviving only in fragments, where in places the area of defects is greater than the area of the original, does not benefit the work of art. It is, therefore, necessary to deal with the amount of filling in and retouching in a highly restrained manner, otherwise it may lead to complete loss of authenticity. On the other hand, certain fillings washed with local tone, afterwards distinguished by hatching, enable us to make badly damaged parts more intelligible to the layman. It should be our aim to use retouching to acknowledge defects and yet unify the fragments into a visual whole.
In this connection I would like to mention the present-day tendencies to use imitative retouching. I think that this pressure is based on two factors :

1. the layman's approach of .certain investors influenced by the contemporary fashion in world trends and the demands of collectors that lead to total reconstruction without acknowledgement of defects and the patina of age (e.g. the complete removal of varnish from the Dutch Masters in Western Europe or, in our country, the lay demands of investors for the reconstruction of the gilded altars in the Prague Convent Church of the Ursulines). The result is a  preference for the craftsmanship of the measures undertaken and hence the wiping out of the damaged original (e.g. the reconstruction of the ornamental decorations in the Prague National Theatre and elsewhere).

2. A second factor that influences the trend towards reconstruction or at least partial attainment of imitative retouching is due to the fact that this approach requires no tests, verification or considerations and is, therefore, easier. This apparent paradox can be found also in free-lance work: it is far easier to make a  copy, an imitation, than a fitting symbol.

But such pressure leads, in its consequences, to the gradual return to the 19th century, to over-gilding (since this makes the object more shiny) and adding of paint (or even reconstruction), for the picture is than more unified and more acceptible to the layman, easier for the restorer. This leads to the loss of what must be regarded in a work of art of the past as an indelible part of its artistic value, a loss of authenticity, patina, signs of age, which gives it its third or fourth dimension of time and arouses that fascinating awareness of the survival of the human spirit in time.

  author
doc. Karel Stretti (T. G.)