Retouching a painting at the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery. Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Jenni Nurminen

On the Will of Preservation

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, senior conservator, Finnish National Gallery

An extended version of the paper presented at the 3rd International Artefacta Conference ‘Agency’, University of Turku, Finland, 16–17 February 2023


There are countless artworks and other objects of cultural heritage that have been destroyed, intentionally or unintentionally, over the course of history. This fact seems to call into question the categorical imperative for conservation that Cesare Brandi (1906‒88) put forward in his theory of conservation (Teoria del restauro, 1963). Brandi ‒ an art historian, art theorist, critic, and poet[1] ‒ is one of the most cited names in conservation theory, but this particular issue has received surprisingly little attention among Brandi scholars. Brandi claimed that when an individual encounters an artwork they ‘feel immediately an imperative […] for conservation’.[2] Yet one might ask whether Brandi’s imperative has anything to do with what is happening in the real world or is there a serious flaw in his reasoning?

Cesare Brandi´s Teoria del restauro

It should be noted that Brandi theoretically deals only with artworks in his book, which can be considered a shortcoming.[3] Brandi’s theory of conservation is connected to his art theory, which is based on semiotics and phenomenology; he has been influenced by philosophers such as Benedetto Croce (1866‒1952), Edmund Husserl (1859‒1938), Martin Heidegger (1889‒1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905‒80) and Jacques Derrida (1930‒2004).[4] The concept of presence is crucial in it ‒ that is the immediate presence of the artwork that is distinct from the parousia of the factual existence. Brandi underlines that the artwork does not signify: it ‘presentifies’.[5] Regardless of the date of creation of the artwork, it ‘is not given in the past […] [but] in the present’.[6] Brandi refers to this ‘pure reality’ (realtà pura) using his neologism astanza, or ‘adstance’ (a word derived from the Latin, adstare, ‘proximity’) and contrasts it with flagranza or the ‘flagrance’ of existential and empirical reality.[7] Brandi cites John Dewey’s book Art as Experience (1934): ‘A work of art […] is actually and not just potentially a work of art when it lives in some individualised experience. As a piece of parchment, of marble, or canvas, it remains (subject, however, to the ravages of time) self-identical throughout the ages. But as a work of art, it is recreated every time it is aesthetically experienced. This means that, until such a re-creation or recognition ‒ in Brandian terms, riconoscimento occurs, the work of art is only potentially a work of art […]. It is simply a piece of parchment, or marble or canvas.’[8]

Brandi did not address this distinction in his theory of conservation, but it is central to his concept of art. In Brandian terms, the conservation of an artwork means preserving its pure form. Paradoxically, the physical materials of the artwork, on which the conservation treatments must exclusively focus, are secondary to this ‒ physical matter is completely subordinate to image; its only function is to act as a medium for the manifestation of the image. This gives rise to the requirement that conservation must aim to preserve the material of the artwork for as long as possible.[9]

[1] Brandi published monographs on Giorgio Morandi (1941), Duccio (1951), and Giotto (1983). He wrote several art theoretical studies, on painting (Carmine o della pittura, 1962), on sculpture (Arcadio o della scultura, 1956), on architecture (Eliante o dell’architettura, 1956), and on poetry (Celso o della poesia, 1957). His theoretical work culminated in three works: Segno e immagine (1960), Le due vie (1966), and Teoria generale della critica (1974). Brandi served for a long time as director of Italy’s most important conservation institute Istituto Centrale del Restauro (ICR), in Rome (currently Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro (ISCR).

[2] I use the second edition of Teoria del restauro (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 1977) as my reference. The English edition of the book, translated by Cynthia Rockwell, was published in 2005, Theory of Restoration, edited by Giuseppe Basile (Firenze: Nardini Editore). A more correct translation for the title would be Theory of Conservation.

[3] Brandi states that the concept of conservation is not to be articulated ‘on the basis of the practical procedures in which it is carried out, but in relation to the work of art as such from which it receives its qualification’. Cesare Brandi. Restoration. Theory and Practice. Edited by Giuseppe Basile. Associazione Internazionale per la storia e l’attualità del restauro – per Cesare Brandi. Palermo: AISAR editore, 2015, 16, (accessed 6 January 2023).

[4] See, e.g. Paolo D’Angelo. Cesare Brandi. Critica d’arte e filosofia. Macerata: Quodlibet, 2006.

[5] Cesare Brandi. Les deux voies de la critique. Trans. Paul Philippot. Bruxelles: Vokar, 1989, 51.

[6] Cited by Massimo Carboni in his Cesare Brandi. Teoria e esperienza dell’arte. Milano: Jaca Book, 2004, 44‒45.

[7] Paul Philippot. ‘The Phenomenology of Artistic Creation according to Cesare Brandi’, in Cesare Brandi. Theory of Restoration. Edited by Giuseppe Basile. Firenze: Nardini Editore, 2005, 30; Giuseppe Basile. Teoria e pratica del restauro in Cesare Brandi. Saonara: Il Prato Editore, 2007, 56. On this distinction crucial to Brandi’s thinking, which he does not, however, discuss in his theory of conservation, see Brandi’s Teoria generale della critica. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1998. Stefano Gizzi has compared astanza to Walter Benjamin’s notion of aura, in his ‘The Relationship Between Brandi’s “Astanza” and Benjamin’s “Aura” and its Influence on the Restoration of Monuments’, in J. Delgado & J.M. Mimoso (eds.), Theory and Practice in Conservation. Proceedings of the International Seminar. Lisbon: Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil, 2006, 73‒86.

[8] Brandi, Theory of Restoration, 48. Brandi’s term riconoscimento has a thematic connection to what Étienne Souriau called ‘instauration’. That is ‘a process that elevates that which exists to an entirely different level of reality and splendour […]. “To instaure” does not so much refer to the act of creation as it does to the “spiritual” establishing of something, ensuring it a “reality” within its own genre.’ Peter Pál Pelbart. ‘Towards an Art of Instauring Modes of Existence that “do not exist”’, (accessed 31 December 2022).

[9] Brandi, Theory of Restoration, 49.

Featured image: Retouching a painting at the Conservation Unit of the Finnish National Gallery.
Photo: Finnish National Gallery /Jenni Nurminen

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Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

Peer-Reviewed Article: Res(is)tance of Remains

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery

On the reste that is not but which nonetheless remains

In this article, my aim is to approach the artwork’s being, taking as my starting point Jacques Derrida’s quasi-concept the reste (remains), and the neologism he derived from it, restance – especially as he discusses them in a number of his works. The essay consists of my reading of Derrida’s essay Athens, Still Remains (2010) (Demeure, Athènes, 2009)[1], which Derrida wrote to accompany the photographs Jean-François Bonhomme had taken in Athens. But, to start, let us take a look at a modest, unsigned painting lying in storage at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum: a tiny painting from a series of four, depicting a dancer. A great deal of its paint has fallen off, which gives it a certain charm. It is as if the dancer is dancing in the middle of the ruins – or is it, rather, that she remains motionless while the blanks around her dance? This is a strange pas de deux. One has the impression she is just about to disappear, any time now.[2] But the dancer seems to resist her total disappearance, just as the painting, even in its present, pitifully fragile and fragmentary state, as I claim, resists its complete downfall. I would like to suggest that both the dancer’s and the painting’s mode of being is not subsistence but rather restance – or, to use another word Derrida was fond of: demeurance/demourance (‘abidance’).[3] In its current condition, the painting could be described as a ruin – however, it must be emphasised that it is not a reste, as the reste is not, whereas the artwork as a physical artefact undeniably is.

[1] Jacques Derrida. Athens, Still Remains. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, originally published as Demeure, Athènes. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2009 [1996]. Perhaps the most notable early occurrence of remain(s) in Derrida’s oeuvre is Glas – according to Charles Ramond, the ‘quasi-totality of Glas, from the first line, can be considered as a meditation on the remain(s)’. Derrida begins this book with a quote from Jean Genet: ‘what remained of a Rembrandt torn into small, very regular squares and rammed down the shithole.’ Jacques Derrida. Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey & Richard Rand. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986 [1974], 1; Charles Ramond. Dictionnaire Derrida. Paris: Ellipses Édition, 2016, 200.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman has referred to somewhat similar phenomena using the term aperçue (a feminine past participle of aperçevoir, French for ‘to perceive’), see Georges Didi-Huberman. Aperçues. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2018.

[3] Generally, le reste has been translated into English as ‘remains’, ‘remainder’, ‘remnant’, or ‘residue’, sometimes also as ‘rest’. Restance, in turn, has been translated as ‘remainder’, ‘remaindering’, or ‘remaining’. Derrida once said that he ‘cannot say whether or not remainder, by itself, adequately translates restance, but it matters little since no single word, out of context, can by itself ever translate another word perfectly’. Jacques Derrida. ‘Limited Inc a b c’. Trans. Samuel Weber, in Limited Inc. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1988 [1977], 52; Jacques Derrida. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1991]. For Derrida on translation as a whole, see his ‘Des Tours de Babel’. Trans. Josef F. Graham, in Difference in Translation. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, 165–207.

Featured image: Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas, 19cm x 13cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

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Susanne Gottberg: Object, 2013–14, oil and colour pencil on wood, 122cm x 86cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

‘All the Leaves in the World’: the Subjectile as a Problem

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

This is an extended version of the paper presented at the Tahiti 8: National Conference of Art History in Finland, which this year took the theme ‘From Material to Immaterial: Art Historical Practices in the Contemporary World’. University of Turku, 28–29 November 2019

Rather than addressing the problem of the dematerialisation of the artwork (which is misplaced because there is only a difference in degree between material and immaterial), I would like to draw attention to a more fundamental problem, namely the ontological difference between matter and materiality. The claim that it is only the ephemeral processes of contemporary art that challenge the established practices in art-historical research gives the impression that questions of materiality in the more traditional art forms could already be adequately answered. It seems that one has had to wait for the (alleged) dematerialisation of the artwork in order to be able to see materiality as a problem – because the more the matter dematerialises, the more the being of materiality (which is neither material nor immaterial, but rather not- or im-material) comes into view. I take the ‘paper’ that Jacques Derrida saw throughout its long history as being made up of its gradual ‘de-paperisation’ as my starting point. In Paper machine (2001)[1], a text written in apocalyptic tone, at the time when the era of paper was in ongoing decline and withdrawal, Derrida discusses paper as a quasi-transcendental apparatus, expanding his perspective to include ‘all the leaves in the world’ (toutes les feuilles du monde), that is, subjectiles of all kinds, things that in one way or another ‘lie below’: hypokeimena.[2] Because, even in our present era of ‘dematerialisation’, we continue to live in the graphosphere, which implies dealing with all kinds of underlying surfaces, actual or virtual.[3]

Two years ago, Päivikki Kallio edited the anthology entitled Art of Transfer and Transmission (2017), which was dedicated to the study, in her words, of ‘printmaking as a conceptual practice, independent of the material means’. The authors of this publication shared a view that printmaking as an activity has the ability to generate ‘new and potentially conceptual thinking’, and that this ability is located in the ‘break or an abyss’ that lies at the core of the act of printing itself. This abyss is the machine, the indeterminate ‘zone’ between the printing plate (or ‘matrix’, as Kallio wants to call it[4] – a sort of maternal subjectile[5]) and the print (or ‘trace’). This ‘apparatus of the printed art’ is a Latourian ‘collective process’, which brings together a number of actants, human, as well as inhuman.[6] Susanne Gottberg, in turn, has for many years created paintings in which the wood grain patterns of the unprimed plywood, used as a painting support, reflects through a painted drapery. Isn’t the strange feeling these paintings creates in us also the result of an abyss – or conflict – between the intentional image object and the physical image carrier? I will come back to this later.

[1] Originally, Papier machine (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2001).

[2] Derrida poses a question: ‘When we say “paper” (…) are we naming the empirical body that bears this conventional name? Are we already resorting to a rhetorical figure? Or are we by the same token designating this “quasi-transcendental paper” (…).’ Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005 [2001]), 52; Jacques Derrida, ‘Maddening the Subjectile’. Trans. Mary Ann Caws. Yale French Studies, 84, 1994, (154–171), 157–58, 169. The subjectile, the untranslatable French notion presumably first used by Antonin Artaud, does not refer to any determinate substance, or object of knowing. In fact, as Derrida reminds us, even Artaud did ‘not speak about the subjectile as such, only of what “is called” by this name’. The subjectile is ‘the unique body of the work in its first event, at its moment of birth, which cannot be repeated’. Furthermore, the subjectile is not reliable, it can betray, ‘not come when it is called, or call before even being called, before even receiving its name’. The subjectile is always ‘to come’ (à-venir), and ‘oscillates between the intransitivity of jacere and the transitivity of jacere’. Anyway, we can list some features of subjectiles, they are ‘everything distinct from form, as well as from the sense and representation, which is not representable’. There are various materials which can be called by this notion (i.e. they are not subjectiles as such, but one can refer to them by using this name: wall and wood surfaces, paper and textiles. Derrida writes that among subjectiles there are two classes: the ones that ‘let them be traversed (we call them porous, like plasters, mortar, wood, cardboard, textiles, paper) and the others (metals or their alloys) which permit no passage’.

[3] Derrida claims that even today, ‘the page continues, in many ways (…) to govern a large number of surfaces of inscription, even where the body of paper is no longer there in person (…). Even when we write on the computer, it is still with a view to the final printing paper, whether or not this takes place.’ Derrida 2005 [2001], 46.

[4] Kallio specifies, that ‘(a) matrix can be considered the conceptual turning point, a moment when the transmission or translation takes place’. Päivikki Kallio, ‘New Strategies – Printmaking as a Spatial Process, as a Transmissional Process, and as a Spatial-Transmissional Process’. In Jan Pettersson (ed.), Printmaking in the Expanded Field (Oslo: Oslo National Academy of the Arts, 2017), (87–105), 88.

[5] Because, as Derrida reminds us, the subjectile ‘can take the place of the subject or of the object – being neither one nor the other’. Derrida 1994, (154–171), 154.

[6] Inhuman actants are, for instance ‘presses, corrosives, plates, printing inks, tarlatans, stones, [and] rolls’. Kallio 2017, (87–105), 87; Päivikki Kallio, ‘Välissä ja vyöhykkeellä’. In Päivikki Kallio (ed.), Siirtämisen ja välittymisen taide (Helsinki: Kuvataideakatemia, 2017), (17–63), 18, 28, 43; Milla Toukkari, ‘Kuilun filosofia’. In Päivikki Kallio (ed.), Siirtämisen ja välittymisen taide (Helsinki: Kuvataideakatemia, 2017), (103–157), 107. Kallio believes that ‘by using the concept of the matrix it is possible to study works that do not use any paper to make the trace visible’. However, even if there is no paper in the printmaking of the expanded field, there is still always some kind of subjectile, no matter what name one gives it.

Featured image: Susanne Gottberg: Object, 2013–14, oil and colour pencil on wood, 122cm x 86cm. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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Isak Wacklin: Miss Heckford, 1757, Oil on canvas (detail), Finnish National Gallery, A II 1439. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Conservation Department.

The Lifespan of Artworks Between the Earth and the World

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki

This article is based on the lecture given at the ‘Object Biographies, Second International Artefacta Conference’, organised by Artefacta, The Finnish Network for Artefact Studies, in collaboration with the Finnish Antiquarian Society and Nordic Association of Conservators in Finland, held at the House of Science and Letters, Helsinki 2–3 March 2018

When browsing through a book by a Belgian art historian Roger H. Marijnissen, entitled Dégradation, conservation et restauration de l´œuvre d´art (1967) a phrase caught my attention and began to haunt me:

Il est parfois difficile, voire impossible de faire une nette distinction entre l´usure et la patine. [1]

This translates in English as: ‘It is sometimes difficult, or even impossible, to make a sharp distinction between effacement and patina.’ This led me to ponder such questions as time, which, as Aristotle stated (Physics, 217b) ‘is that which is not’, or is only ‘barely and scarcely’[2], and the working of the artwork which transcends its materiality. The fundamental question of my paper is, however: can we really draw a strict demarcation line between life and death?[3]

[1] R.-H. Marijnissen. Dégradation, conservation et restauration de l´œuvre d´art (Bruxelles: Éditions Arcade, 1967), 168–69.

[2] Jacques Derrida. ‘Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time.’ In Margins of Philosophy. Translated, with Additional Notes, by Alan Bass (Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1982), 39.

[3] Derrida argued that ontical disciplines – such as biology and anthropology – ‘naively put into operation more or less clear conceptual presuppositions (Vorbegriffe) about life and death’. Jacques Derrida. Aporias. Transl. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993), 29.

Featured image: How much usure can an artwork endure? Isak Wacklin, Miss Heckford, 1757 (detail), oil on canvas , Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Conservation Department

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Featured image: Jorma Puranen, From the Series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, chromogenic colour print. Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Care for the Image – Meaning, Sense, Materiality

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD Candidate, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery, Sinebrychoff Art Museum

This is a summary of the doctoral dissertation in art history defended at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, on 10 June, 2017. Its theoretical starting point is a phenomenologically-based view of the being of the image, in which Georges Didi-Huberman´s work plays a central role. One of the central aims of this research is the critical assessment of prevailing premises in conservation-restoration and technical art history. This study attempts to show that physical art objects, instead of being puzzles to be solved, are paradoxical in nature. Edmund Husserl has shown that image consciousness requires a specific kind of intentionality, similarly, consciousness of the Materiality of the Image presupposes a consciousness of a materiality that is ontologically distinct to the Image.

The study begins with a discussion on the Heideggerian concept of ʿcareʾ (Sorge). For Martin Heidegger, care was the ontological mode of Dasein. It meant mindful lingering, Besinnung, on the beings which are ready-to-hand (zuhanden) and present-to-hand (vorhanden) and have a fundamental ontological significance. It meant care for the sense (Sinn) of Being. Georges Didi-Huberman also discusses the concept of ʿcareʾ. His concept (souci) denotes care for images and imagination, for meaningful, affective encounters with images, and involves solicitation that makes images oscillate. Images do not submit to being regarded as subsistent (vorhanden) intentional correlates of the constituting ego in the sense of Gegenstand. Instead, they become constellations comparable to cloud formations or gas eruptions, which are in a state of continuous, endless motion, pulling us towards their swaying motion. Such constellations can provide only negative certainty, certainty without an object, connaissance sans objet, in Jean-Luc Marion´s terms. The only certainty we are able to glean from an artwork belongs to the region of its beingness, to its physical artefactuality. However, that which makes an artwork has nothing ontic, nothing thinglike in it. With the term ʿImageʾ, I refer to a concept that does not fall within the sphere of traditional art-history discourse. It is my conviction that an image is never alone. Images are always contaminated by numerous other images from various eras. In the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, an image is singular plural. Yet it is all too often approached only in its impoverished form, in Marion´s terms as a poor (pauvre) phenomenon.

We can have knowledge only of objects, not of images. The sensuous manifoldness of images has been reduced to match our finite cognitive faculties. Here, I am not referring to images as signs or symbols as they are understood in iconography, iconology, visual culture studies, semiotics or Bildwissenschaft, and I will not try to give a definition of the concept of ʿimageʾ. Neither am I talking about popular imagery. The Image I am talking about is not a single entity – it is a relation, and it is for this reason that I have chosen to write it with a capital I. The capital initial also underlines the fact that the Image is ontologically distinct (le distinct). When the word ʿimageʾ is spoken, there is no way of knowing about the capital letter – any more than you can hear the distinction between différence or différance. Therefore, I must show this Image to you – just like Derrida had to write down his différance in order to make it known. Thus writing comes before speech – the material sign that is the original mimēsis before any representative function. The Image I am referring to does not represent anything – any thing – that precedes it. It does not represent anything exterior but performs its being of the Image by being an image, a relation.

Featured image: Jorma Puranen, chromogenic colour print from the series ‘Shadows, Reflections and All of That Kind’, 1997–2002, . Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

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