Review by Katie Harrison
The International Council on Monuments and Sites’ (ICOMOS) 9th Forum for the Conservation and Technology of Historic Stained Glass was held in Paris 8–10 July. The forum, Stained-glass: How to Take Care of a Fragile Heritage?, drew speakers and delegates from across the world, with a stimulating combination of two days of lectures followed by visits to the Chagall, Soulages, Benzaken … Le vitrail contemporain exhibition at Cité de l’architecture et du Patrimoine, the Sainte Chapelle, and a selection of Parisian churches with notable stained glass.
The first day was dedicated to papers focusing upon the maintenance of stained glass as part of its long-term conservation. In the keynote lecture, Michel Hérold, Director of the French Corpus Vitrearum, stressed the interdisciplinary nature of the study and conservation of stained glass and drew attention to the need to engage with other professionals across disciplines. Hérold highlighted recent work by the French Ministry of Culture to investigate ways of engaging and educating the general public and called for greater efforts to provide information on stained glass and its conservation in simple and easily understandable formats.
The speakers who followed Hérold discussed the role of maintenance as part of long-term programmes for the conservation of stained glass within architectural contexts. Silvia Cañellas (Professor, Torrelles del Llobregat), having presented research into medieval maintenance in Catalonia, observed that many buildings would benefit from comparable approaches to regular maintenance. Many speakers raised questions regarding the distinction between maintenance and conservation, as well as the types of treatments that can be applied in situ. Several, including Raphaëlle Chossenot (Ingénieure d’études en sources anciennes, CNRS Université, Paris), Jessica Degain (Conservatrice du Patrimoine, Direction des Affaires Culturelles de la Ville de Paris), Nancy Georgi (Stained Glass Conservator, York Glaziers Trust), Drew Anderson (Conservator, Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Jean Parker Phifer (Consulting Restoration Architect), demonstrated the importance of careful preliminary research and condition assessment prior to the development of maintenance and conservation treatments. Similarly, Annick Textier (Researcher at the Laboratoire de recherche des monuments historiques (LRMH)), presented valuable insights into the importance of selecting the most appropriate maintenance programme and conservation treatment for ferramenta.
The round-table session on maintenance, which followed the first day’s lectures, encouraged a lively discussion of the issues raised by the speakers. These debates continued in the question sessions of the lectures presented on the second day, which was divided into two sessions on new developments and case studies. Two case studies of the conservation of relocated Flemish glass, presented by Keith Barley MBE (Director of Barley Studios), and Aletta Rambaut (independent conservator and art historian) and Marc Vanderauwera (engineer architect, Studio Roma), were of particular interest in demonstrating the range of challenges presented by relocated glass, as well as the benefits of minimally interventive approaches to conservation.
Alongside the significant technical developments presented by Reiner Meindl (President of Glashütte Lamberts) and Christa Heidrich (Conservator, Glasmalerei Peters), several speakers demonstrated the benefits of employing digital technologies in stained-glass conservation. Nick Teed (Senior Conservator, York Glaziers Trust) stressed the importance of employing a standardized procedure for photographic documentation and highlighted the benefits to documentation and future conservation, as well as the potential of future technological developments. Similarly, Léonie Seliger (Director of Stained Glass Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral) and Virginia Raguin (Distinguished Professor of Humanities, College of the Holy Cross) demonstrated the value of digital reconstructions of lost painted details, both as records and as alternatives to physical reconstructions.
A further session of work by recent students presented insights into the issues faced when conserving nineteenth- and twentieth-century glass, as well as how best to approach the relocation of stained glass in a sustainable manner. The focus on more recent glass was particularly pertinent given Hérold’s announcement of the intention to include more recent glass within the remit of the Corpus Vitrearum, and provided another dimension to the discussions at the visit to the Chagall, Soulages, Benzaken … Le vitrail contemporain exhibition, which presented a rare opportunity to see test panels and developmental material from ground-breaking twentieth-century stained-glass installations. Thanks and congratulations are due to the many members of ICOMOS France who ensured the success of this stimulating and thought-provoking conference. Many delegates are already looking forward to the next meeting at the 10th Forum.