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Posts tagged “Stirling Castle

Chartres Cathedral Make-Work Scheme

A Columbia University trained architectural historian, Martin Filler, has reported (A Scandalous Makeover at Chartres) his great shock when visiting Chartres Cathedral to discover that:

“In 2009, amid a rising wave of other refurbishments of medieval buildings, the French Ministry of Culture’s Monuments Historiques division embarked on a drastic, $18.5 million overhaul of the eight-hundred-year-old cathedral. Though little is specifically known about the church’s original appearance—despite small traces of pigment at many points throughout the interior stonework—the project’s leaders, apparently with the full support of the French state, have set out to do no less than repaint the entire interior in bright whites and garish colors that are intended to return the sanctuary to its medieval state. This sweeping program to ‘reclaim’ Chartres from its allegedly anachronistic gloom is supposed to be completed in 2017.”

Filler (correctly) notes that:

“The belief that a heavy-duty reworking can allow us see the cathedral as its makers did is not only magical thinking but also a foolhardy concept that makes authentic artifacts look fake. To cite only one obvious solecism, the artificial lighting inside the present-day cathedral—which no one has suggested removing—already makes the interiors far brighter than they were during the Middle Ages, and thus we can be sure that the painted walls look nothing like they would have before the advent of electricity.”

At Chartres, although the interior had initially been painted, Filler further notes that:

“…the exact chemical components of the medieval pigments remain unknown. The original paint is thought to have flaked off within a few generations and not been replaced, so for most of the building’s eight-century history it has not been experienced with painted surfaces. The emerging color scheme now allows a direct, and deeply disheartening, before-and-after comparison.”

Shocking though the case is it is no aberration. To the contrary, it is part of a well-established mania for the execution of aggressively radical transformations of world heritage buildings, the most dramatic of which was the notorious so-called restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes in the 1980s. In his New York Review blog, Martin Filler maintains – despite all criticisms and evidence – that the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling did no harm and he declares that “in the opinion of many, myself included, the ultimate emergence of characteristically high-keyed Mannerist colors—acidulous pinks, greens, yellows, and oranges—from beneath the Sistine ceiling’s long-predominant blues and browns confirmed the project’s correctness”. (For the material and historic evidence of injuries published on this site, see Michelangelo’s disintegrating frescoes)

At St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the opposite process to that underway at Chartres was executed. Here, parts of the original painted interior applied by Sir Christopher Wren had survived and their pigments had been analyzed. It was known that Wren had applied three coats of oil paint to produce a uniformly warm not-white, not bare-stone finish. The cathedral’s present architect surveyor, Martin Stancliffe, harboured a modernist infatuation with dazzling white interiors and, accordingly, he stripped St Paul’s of the last vestiges of its original painted interior surfaces. Having done so, he then greatly increased the amount of artificial light to heighten the effects of his own historical falsification. See our accounts:

Brighter than Right, Part 1: A Modernist Makeover at St Paul’s Cathedral

Brighter than Right, Part 2: Technical Problems of Protection, Health and Safety at St Paul’s Cathedral

Concern on the repainting of the Chartres Cathedral was first raised in the Spectator on 12 May 2012 (Restoration tragedy ~ Alasdair Palmer questions the ill-conceived makeover of Chartres cathedral which robs us of the sense of passing time that is part of its fascination and mystery). The contempt for history in Grandiose Conservation Projects is as much a constant as their high costs. Against the estimated $18.5m at Chartres the whitening at St Paul’s Cathedral (inside and out) cost £40m.

Self-evidently, major transforming restorations serve substantial vested material and professional purposes. They also take place in economic and cultural climates. The now long-running attempt to create a United States of Europe is an economically and politically failing enterprise. As manufacturing jobs flee the continent and democratically elected governments are replaced by bureaucrats, make-work schemes in the cultural sector are finding great favour as a means to stimulate compensatory economic growth. Not only do such grand and labour intensive restoration schemes make jobs for their duration, they stimulate tourism which is now one of the world’s greatest industries.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (See the future of tourism), the UN’s World Tourism Organisation reckons that, by 2020, the number of travelling tourists will approach 1.6 billion, double the number who packed their bags this year. Those directly employed by tourism worldwide will rise from 238 million this year to 296 million, or one in every 10.8 jobs, by 2018. The USA will build 720,000 new hotel rooms over the next ten years, and a further 432,000 will be built in Asia over the same period. In this respect, we discussed the pressures to create blockbuster exhibitions and increase the velocity of borrowing and lending works of art by disregarding the known risks in two posts in 2011:

Why is the European Commission instructing museums to incur more risks by lending more art?

The European Commission’s way of moving works of art around

In 2001 we complained of the role being played by heritage bodies in stimulating tourism with recreations of long-lost historic interiors – see:

Applying recreated authenticity to historic buildings in the name of their conservation

In addition to boosting tourist revenues, another benefit of major restoration projects is that they continue to make work further work down the line. At Chartres, the interior was untreated for 800 years but its new and speculative livery will rapidly go dingy and need re-doing every twenty or so years. As we have recently seen, within twenty years at the Sistine chapel, urgent restoration measures have been carried out (in part in secret) because Michelangelo’s frescoes are physically disintegrating following the destruction-by-restoration of his final coat of secco painting. As for the resulting over-bright “restored” colours, to compensate for their already fading appearance, a new, immensely brighter artificial lighting system (with thousands of LED lights) has been installed. As the great “conservation” merry-go-round goes round, lightening, brightening, physically undermining and aesthetically falsifying, it is becoming increasingly necessary for those concerned for the integrity of our common artistic heritage to join the dots and to “follow the money”.

M. D. 15 December 2014

Above, top: Chartres Cathedral, with repainted vaulting in the choir contrasting with the existing nave and transepts in the foreground, Chartres, France, July 11, 2012

Above: The ambulatory of Chartres Cathedral, with repainted vaulting visible (right), July 11, 2012

Photographs by courtesy of Hubert Fanthomme/Getty Images. For more photographs and for treatment of statuary, see Art History News

UPDATES: 16 December 2014. The painter and former Rhodes Scholar Edmund Rucinski writes:

This even further compounds the damage done during the horrid “restoration” of the stained glass. Instead of doing the proper thing and sandwiching the original glass between protective layers of modern clear glass and re-leading the windows, the original glass was impregnated with some acrylic which filled in all the tiny irregularities that gave the original glass its famous quality.

Bear in mind that the leading naturally deteriorates and needs to be re done every so often (like replacing deteriorated stonework)… none (if any) of the original medieval leading is there anyway.

The result of the glass ‘restoration’ was to give the appearance of a garish plastic reproduction of the originals. This impregnation with the offending plastic may never be able to be reversed.

Fortunately, I managed to see Chartres before the vile attack on the windows. [See below]

For a grossly irresponsible and exploitative treatment of glass from Canterbury Cathedral, see How the Metropolitan Museum of Art gets hold of the world’s most precious and vulnerable treasures viz:

“An exhibition of stained glass that has been removed from “England’s historic Canterbury Cathedral” has arrived at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, after being shown at the Getty Museum in California. The show (“Radiant Light: Stained Glass from Canterbury Cathedral at the Cloisters”) is comprised of six whole windows from the clerestory of the cathedral’s choir, east transepts, and Trinity Chapel. These single monumental seated figures anticipate in their grandeur and gravity the prophets depicted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. They are the only surviving parts of an original cycle of eighty-six ancestors of Christ, once one of the most comprehensive stained-glass cycles known in art history.”

Applying recreated authenticity to historic buildings in the name of their conservation

12th October 2011

Simon Jenkins’ apologia for heritage industry “Disneyfication” (- as discussed in our last post) was echoed by Simon Thurley, the Chief Executive of English Heritage, in last weekend’s Financial Times (“Disneyland with footnotes or ancient skills revived”). Thurley claimed that at Stirling Castle, Historic Scotland has “recreated Queen Mary’s Lodgings with a fearsome degree of authenticity”, even though it had almost no surviving interior material to go on, other than “a few chimney pieces and a couple of doors”. Such an oxymoronic combining of the terms “re-creation” and “authenticity” merits examination. Current attempts to remake history are occuring in a distinctly complacent and insufficiently examined cultural/bureaucratic context.

The peg for Thurley’s article was the payment by Historic Scotland of one of those nicely rounded restoration bills (£25m) queried by the Daily Telegraph blogger, Andrew Brown in response to a public appeal for a neat half a million pounds to “conserve” Roald Dahl’s writing hut by moving its contents to the nearby Roald Dahl museum as a “major new interactive exhibit” for school groups and “thousands of visitors a year”.

The Royal Palace at Stirling Castle was built in the late 1530s for King James V and his wife Mary of Guise but it had been used as a barracks for nearly 300 years. £12m was spent “putting the interiors of the palace to rights” (Fig. 1) and £2m alone was spent copying the (authentic) Unicorn Tapestries in the Cloisters Museum, New York (Fig. 2). Thurley cites as an antecedent for this kind of hypothetical “recreation”, the Governor’s House in Williamsburg, Virginia, which having been burned to the ground in 1781 was rebuilt as new in the 1930s (Figs. 3 & 4). Although Thurley sniffs “This was not restoration; it was a recreation” he seems untroubled that the original authentic contents of the Stirling Castle interiors had been lost before the Governor’s House was first built. While noting that although the Williamsburg rebuilding was judged by some American academics and most European curators to be “Disneyland with footnotes” when just such recreations were later made on this continent in the wake of the devastation of the Second World War, Thurley misses the fact that frankly declared attempts to recreate historically and architecturally important buildings on the basis of surviving visual and documentary evidence are of a different order from Britain’s heavily bureaucratised drive to convert old buildings, by means of speculative, “interactive, historical enactments and vulgar websites that dangle Reality TV style soap operas as history, into tourism moneypots.

English Heritage explicitly states that the conservation movement has evolved from a “reactive process” that prevents change into a “flexible process” that recognizes the best way to save a building is “to find a new use for it.” It further admits that to achieve this more “constructive” end, “we work collaboratively with architects and developers at early pre-application stages”. Such collaborations spawn increasingly patronising and crass marketing campaigns.

At Stirling, a truck decorated with the castle’s Unicorn emblem constitutes “The Stirling Castle Road Show” which tours Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee offering city centre shoppers the chance to discover what is on offer at the castle for “a great day out”. Marketing Executive Nicola McCrae masterminds this “new way to promote the castle and visitor experience”. The visitor experience includes a deceiving invitation to: “step into the astonishing richness of royal life in the 1500s” by presenting James the Fifth’s palace as “one of the finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings in Great Britain”. The claimed “crowning achievement” of this supposedly best-preserved palace is the banqueting hall (Figs. 5 & 6) where the original roof, which was removed in the late 1700s, has been replaced with a replica of an original roof that survives at Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall. Replications and hypothetical reconstructions now abound at the castle.

In the King’s Inner Hall the ceiling-mounted brightly coloured roundels known as the Stirling Heads are facsimilies made from surviving original heads after their “painstaking conservation” (Fig. 7). On the basis of surviving scraps of colour on the carved wooden originals (which, mercifully, are exhibited in a separate gallery within the castle), the facsimilies have been speculatively painted in the “bright colours” that were “almost certainly” used originally. Colour looms large throughout these reconstructed interiors on the belief that they “would have been overwhelmingly colourful, rich and elaborate [because] James and his French wife Mary of Guise aimed to present themselves as wealthy, learned and sophisticated.” The visitor will learn that “royalty ate well and entertained lavishly” but less of what their learning and their beliefs consisted.

The Palace contains a Chapel Royal that was one of the first Protestant churches in Scotland and retains authentic 17th century murals (Fig. 10). It was taken over by the army and became a dining hall, schoolroom and storerooms. Today, it can be hired for weddings and/or wedding receptions: “Stirling Castle’s Chapel Royal offers a spectacular area for a wedding ceremony, wedding reception, or pre-dinner drinks for those dining in the Great Hall.”

Speculative reconstructions reach their apotheosis with old bones (Fig. 8). In the Great Kitchen, visitors are invited to “Rub shoulders with the busy kitchen staff preparing food and drink for a royal banquet” – the said staff members being the ubiquitous heritage industry tableau dummies (Fig. 9): “This bustling scene has been re-created for visitors, with a soundtrack to help create the atmosphere.” A soundtrack from the 16th century? For such deceptive absurdities, visitors are charged £13 a head (£10 for “concessions”, £6.50 for children).

With a staff of 4,300 and comprising Europe’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust similarly hopes to achieve its seeming goal of preserving and protecting everything that doesn’t move by “encouraging millions of people to visit and enjoy their national heritage”. Keeping children – even small unruly ones – happy is seen as the key to maximising Heritage Income. The National Trust’s chairman, Simon Jenkins, concedes that although you cannot have blazing sun on a medieval tapestry, or children bouncing on an ancient bed, “it is jolly nice to have a bed they can bounce on somewhere.” To the charge of “Disneyfication” he responds “If it means making our properties more popular, then I am totally unrepentant.” There are other ways of presenting history. For those repelled by crassly commercial exploitations, we would commend the delightfully kept, privately-owned, magically tranquil ruins of Jervaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire.

Michael Daley

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Above, Fig. 1: One of the main rooms at James V’s Palace at Stirling which is said to be “much as it may have looked on completion around 1545″.
Above, Fig. 2: A detail of one of the copies of the Unicorn tapestries in the Cloisters Museum, New York.
Above, Fig. 3: The front of the Governor’s House in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Above, Fig. 4: The back of the Governor’s House in Williamsburg, as photographed around 1935 by Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of America’s earliest female photographers.
Above and below, Figs. 5 & 6: The Banqueting Hall, Stirling Castle, which can be hired for corporate seminars, formal banquets or ceremonies.
Above, Fig. 7: Some of the surviving original Stirling Heads, as exhibited in the castle museum.
Above, Fig. 8: A facial reconstruction of skeleton made for the Castle Exhibition where visitors can study a “cold case investigation of the injuries suffered by a man killed at Stirling about 1300.
Above, Fig. 9: One of the Great Kitchen scenes, as re-created for visitors, with an accompanying soundtrack.
Above, Fig. 10: The Chapel Royal. On Scottish gala evenings “Following in the footsteps of kings and queens of centuries past… guests are welcomed by a piper for a drinks reception in the Chapel Royal.”
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