'La duplice polarità estetica e storica' - Method, Aesthetics and Function of Photographs in the Work of Restorer Barbara Schleicher

Ute Dercks and Elisabeth Sobieczky

Barbara Schleicher, Madonna with Child, 13th century from Sant'Andrea in Cercina di Sesto Fiorentino during the restoration, 1986-1989, 35 mm slide. Florence, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence - Max Planck Institute, Photothek, Inv. flc0619551z

Barbara Schleicher is a renowned specialist in restoring the original colours of polychrome wooden sculptures from the Middle Ages and early modern period. The restorer photographed the difficult process of removal and cleaning, documenting the various stages of her work. In 2017, she donated the photographs, mostly in colour, of 82 sculptures and paintings to the Photothek, where they were digitised, inventoried and made available online for consultation. Particularly significant are the photographs of partial exposures of juxtaposed areas, which look like vertical sections through the face or eye of a figure and show different colour versions or chronological states of the same sculpture.

In the research project on the Schleicher donation, both the significance of this particular procedure for the study of polychrome wooden sculptures and the aesthetics of the photographs themselves are studied, which, beyond their function as technical images, capture a temporal dimension in the image as the restoration and conservation work proceeds. This applies both to works of art, whose removed versions are irreversibly lost, and to photographs, which as material objects are also subject to processes of decay, restoration and transfer to other media.

The collaboration is part of the project P 32716-G "Die Fassung der früh- und hochmittelalterlichen Holzskulptur", funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (PI Elisabeth Sobieczky).


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