prof. Bohuslav Slánský /1900-1980/
in memoriam: Text from the exhibition catalogue
of restoration works in Prague, 1970

In the 1930s, the prevailing art historical investigations focussed on the dating of Czech panel paintings of the second half of the 14th century, which demanded definitive temporal categorization and evaluation in the context of European painting. Investigations of technical style of controversial art-works were part of the long-term process, especially of those whose relations in the context could be characterized as copy or original.

The first condition for analysis of a technical style requires a knowledge of the history of painting techniques, an exceptional and oft-neglected branch in the wide field of art history. Let me therefore first define the notion of technical style and the viewpoint from which the restoration investigation was carried out.

The technical style of a certain period comprises, within a clear-cut system, the established painting technique of a pictural composition, the materials in regular use, and the methods of their use. Its main feature is its material nature, which is recognizable and thus different from the artistic style, whose nature is ideological. The technical style brings traditions, established formulas and certainty into the painting, like a grammar of painting language, and similar to the way a poet uses expressions commonly used before.

The analysis of technical style draws from the analogies ofthe general conception of a picture. It investigates whether the composition of a picture corresponds with some known, reliably dated picture, or how it is different from it. The analysis concerns all materials and techniques used by the artist.

The material structure of pictures was a subject to change during the history of painting and has created numerous variations. The studies of the historical development of painting techniques helps to distinguish these changes and is the primary condition for any painting-technical research. The history of painting technique, as well as the analysis of technical style, uses various physical, optical and chemical methods of investigation which have been scientifically improved and thus offer new possibilities of learning about pictural composition and periods of painting so far unresearched.

The technique of pictural composition is closely connected with the creation of painting work and its investigation enables us to determine the period of its birth.

The restoration research of technical painting style in the thirties in several cases succeeded in dating our Gothic paintings more precisely. The technical features in the painting layers concerned are listed in the description of the restoration of exhibits of this exhibition, the Karlštejn pictures painted by Master Theodoric and the panel painting of the Madonna of Veveří.

(Beside the catalogue of the exhibition in 1970 we also refer to the summary bibliography of works by prof. Slánský, published in TECHNOLOGIA ARTIS 1/1990, p.133 and especially to the crucial articles from Technika malby /Praha 1956,volume II, pp.33-41/ – »The Composition of a Picture«, »Collective and Individual Technical Style«, »The Analysis of the Technical Style of the Czech Gothic Panel Painting«)

We introduce the study by Dr. Kesner with two extracts which he selected from the author´s texts. At the same time we should like to emphasise that we consider Vojtěch Volavka - alongside Professor Slánský – as the second founder of the Czech school of historical art technology, even if only because he was the first to use this specific term. How difficult is the process of separating historical art technology from conservation technology and the theory of restoration work emerges from Dr. Kesner´s very text, where he includes under the term »restoration« incorrectly – both chemistry and physics and even interprets some controversial moments of mutual overlapping of technology and classical art history.


Prof. Bohuslav Slánský (19001980)

Once and for all, then, let us repeat: Historical art technology as a field is made up of three professions: the art historian, understanding technological questions and literally capable of interpreting them, the scientist ascertaining through exact proofs detailed facts about materials and the restorer, studying the artistic and technical structure of the work through the entire process of restoration. Only the joint understanding of these three professions can lead to the »intellectually safer« historical interpretation of a work of art which Vojtěch Volavka hopes for in the passage quoted.


»Where the Baroque and Romantic brushwork of Delacroix and Rousseau still follows, or rather models the form, even though open and illusive, there Corot continues further in its decomposition so that there remains of it an inconsiderable fluidum, thickening in places into a solid shape. The colour is dispersed in tiny particles which, although they intermingle, are nevertheless superimposed on one another in the form of separate spots, but in such a way that several layers lie on one another corresponding to individual planes. These are so closely connected that the area of the picture is a vessel into which a solution of light and colour is poured.«

  V.Volavka: The Painter´s Handwriting in Modern French Painting

»The difficulties of our work and also its limits are, in the end, set by the possibilities of reasonably perceiving and explaining phenomena which do not have their origin in the sphere of reason. If we capitulated before them completely, then research into art history would in principle be impossible and the only possibility would be to be satisfied on the one side with archeology and on the other side with poetic paraphrase. The study of a painter's brushwork tests the viability of existing scientific methods in that it tries by all means to penetrate the most delicate folds of the work of art. Perhaps future attempts will gradually find an intellectually safer way to do this.«

  V.Volavka: Painting and the Painter's Handwriting