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Recipe books, treatises and manuals on artists' materials, tools and methods are of fundamental importance for an understanding of how art objects were made. Historically accurate reconstructions on the basis of these sources provide insight into the original appearance of an object, as well as workshop practices, and provide models for understanding material degradation. The interpretation of artists' intent rests on this kind of basic knowledge.
It could be said that the three pillars of the study of historical art techniques are scientific analysis, research into historic sources and reconstruction. Art of the Past contains papers that address the art of the past through reconstruction and studies of historic sources – either written (recipes, handbooks, workshop notes and letters) visual (designs, studio interiors, depictions of tools and working methods) or material by analysis of artefacts themselves, and by examination of surviving tools and unused materials in their making.
Objects examined include paintings (panel and canvas, icons and miniatures); polychrome sculpture; graphic documents and book illustration; glass and composite objects including early plastics and costume. The arena is Europe with the exception of forays into ancient Mesopotamia and colonial Latin America. The period ranges from c. 1700 BC to mediaeval, Renaissance, Baroque, through the 18th and 19th centuries to the early 20th century and forward to contemporary art. Topics covered include studies of ageing processes; difficulties in interpreting old texts; material as well as virtual reconstructions; the use of databases to increase the accesibility and use of source material; and the importance of selecting representative recipes from historical sources.
Proceedings of the first symposium of the Art Technological Source Research study group: Approaching the Art of the Past: Sources & Reconstructions.