Cesare Brandi (1906-1988)
His thought and the European debate in the 20th century
Cesare Brandi stands out as the most important figure for the theorization and diffusion, in Italy and also within the wider international context, of a modern restoration culture.
It was namely Brandi who in 1939 established the Istituto Centrale del Restauro and managed it for more than twenty years: after that he started again giving lectures at the University in Palermo and at the “La Sapienza” University in Rome.
The vastness and complexity of his learning ranged from the figurative arts to poetry, music, dance, theatre and cinema and expanded over the Italian boundaries: his learning formed in the wake of the most distinguished tradition of the European culture which, from the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, had developed through the Kantian revolution up to the most innovative expressions of the thought of his time in the fields of aesthetic, hermeneutic, linguistic, structuralism, psychology of art perception. Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Arnheim, Jacobson, Levy Strauss, Barthes, Gadamer were for him, among others, important landmarks.
The most precious and mature result of his sensibility and education was his theory of conservation-restoration which, when it come to the safeguard of our past, reasserts the common roots of the various European identities
On the occasion of the first centenary of his birth (Brandi was born on the 8th April 1906 in Siena) the Italian Ministry for the Cultural Heritage together with the Istituto Centrale del Restauro, asked and achieved the creation of a National Committee responsible for the celebrations and the organization of cultural events in Italy. The Committee numbered the most distinguished experts on Brandi’s thought and activity as well as the institutions he had dealt with.
The goals of the Project are numerous:
• to highlight the European dimension of his thought which is of great importance in the history of conservation of the cultural heritage and goes well beyond the boundaries of the Italian culture
• to deepen and spread Brandis’ figure and thought in different European countries highlighting the complexity and the eclecticity of the different roles he played as an history of art expert, founder of the istituto Centrale del Restauro, father of the modern conservation-restoration theory and uncompromising defender of the safeguard of the cultural heritage, the last one being his life lasting commitment
• to bring into meaningful confrontation the different approaches to his thought and the consequent interpretations, this in consideration of the most pressing conservation-restoration issues afflicting contemporary society.
There’s no easy and common solution to these issues, however the complexity of Brandi’s theory and its practice have proved to be the most effective tools to tackle them: as a matter of fact they give practical answers to the challenges of phenomena that are becoming more and more specific and differentiated (an example was the fact the Brandi, more than fifty years ago, was the first person to understand and theorize the importance of prevention in order to safeguard the cultural heritage).
• To continue the monitoring of the up-to-dateness of Brandi’s theory and practice in the European countries involved in the Project paying particular attention to the fields of conservation and restoration. This activity begun in 1998 when a large debate took place among experts as well as in the public opinion on the destruction caused in Italy by the earthquake of 26th September 1997: a considerable part of Giotto’s and Cimabue’s frescos in the Basilica Superiore di San Francesco in Assisi were reduced to crumbs. The first important result of the debate was the European Ministries of Culture meeting held in Assisi from 28th to 30th November 2003 (Brandi fuori dall'Italia. La ricezione della teoria e della prassi del restauro di Cesare Brandi all'estero: alcuni esempi) with the contribution of representatives from Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, the U.S., Japan.
The Project activities were formulated so as to meet the requirements of different targets of people, therefore they unfolded on three different levels:
• national Seminars held in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Portugal. These seminaries, dealing with how Brandi’s restoration theory and practice could contribute to solve the specific problems pointed out by each country, were mainly meant for field experts and their scientific and organizational structure was decided by the Project Steering Committee.
• an itinerant Exibition held in the different countries involved in the Project illustrated Brandi’s life, his lesson as well as his theory and publications. Besides this the Exibition dealt with some of the most important interventions performed when Brandi was managing the Istituto Centrale del Restauro (1939 - 1960): in that lapse of time his restoration theory was practised almost every day, and therefore consequently improved.
This resulted in some outstanding restoration interventions such as those performed on the frescos of the Paduan Cappella Ovetari by Andrea Mantegna, which had been destroyed in the last World War, on Duccio da Buoninsegna Maestà in the Museum of the Siena Dome, on Giotto’s frescos in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi.
• the compilation of a “Brandi’s Glossary” in the different co-organizers languages containing some of the most complex concepts and terms of his thought.
Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali - Dipartimento per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici (Roma)
Associazione Giovanni Secco Suardo (Lurano - BG)
Associazione Amici di Cesare Brandi (Roma)
Academy of Fine Arts Warsaw - Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art (Warsaw)
Universität von Hildesheim, Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaft und Kunst, HAWK Hildesheim / Holzminden / Göttingen (Hildesheim)
Institut Nationale du Patrimoine (Paris)
Universidad Politecnica de Valencia - Departamento de Conservaciòn y Restauraciòn de Bienes Culturales (Valencia)
Universidade Tecnica de Lisboa - Faculdade de Arquitectura (Lisboa)
Universitè Libre de Bruxelles, Facultè de Philosophie et Lettres, Section d'Histoire de l'Art (Bruxelles)