History

International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics

Background

Despite the fact that individual mosaics formed the object of studies ever since interest in Antiquity began, their scientific study, as an art form with its own particular characteristics, is something relatively new. The AIEMA (Association Internationale pour l’Etude de la Mosaïque Antique) was founded in 1963, and its first Bulletin appeared as recently as 1967. Up until then, it was commonly held that geometric and generally non-figurative mosaics were of little importance and only the best of the figurative mosaics needed to be looked after. This was usually done by lifting them onto concrete slabs and taking them, in the best of cases, to a museum or a store. It was the AIEMA and its activities that first changed this attitude by pointing out the importance of studying all the different types of mosaics, something that put the hitherto neglected non-figural mosaics into relief. AIEMA’s concern, however, is the study and understanding of mosaics, not their conservation.

Thus, although the constant deterioration and loss of mosaics, through lack of conservation and protection, was something apparent to most archaeologists and art historians, little was done to change the situation. In fact, few were alarmed by this phenomenon since it was tacitly assumed that the number of ancient mosaics was practically inexhaustible – an attitude with disastrous effects in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are indeed numerous.

It is not surprising then that mosaic conservators were few and worked in isolation, finding solutions to their problems by trial and error, and having no official body from which to seek advice. The situation was aggravated by the fact that no cultural heritage organization included sectors concerned with the safeguard of mosaics, and little was published on the conservation problems regarding mosaics and their possible solutions.

The founding of the ICCM

The first ever meeting on mosaics conservation took place in Rome in 1977. It was organized by Gael de Guichen at ICCROM at the instigation of a number of scholars, Claude Bassier in particular. Nine specialists were appointed to examine a series of mosaic-related topics, ranging from ethics to techniques and from methods of lifting to methods of in situ conservation. They prepared a paper that was then put forward for discussion by the around 60 participants, after which it was agreed that the meeting would mark the beginning of a new chapter in mosaic conservation. Thus, a group of eleven individuals decided to form the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics and volunteered to act as its first Board. This aimed to be international and did not include just conservators, but also archaeologists and art historians. It consisted of Paolo Mora (Italy), who was nominated chairman, Irina Andreescu (Dumbarton Oaks, Washington), Claude Bassier (France), Mongi Ennaifer (Tunisia), Lawrence Majewski (New York University), William Novis (Great Britain), Maria Luisa Veloccia and Alberto Villa (Italy), and Rolf Wihr (Germany). Henri Lavagne was also appointed as representative of AIEMA, and the then Director of ICCROM, Bernard Fielden, was also appointed ex officio Member of the Board. Gael de Guichen, at ICCROM, agreed to serve as the Committee’s first Secretariat, and it was decided that ICOM, ICOMOS and IIC should act as observers. It was also agreed that the Committee would seek co-operation with various international organizations, in an attempt to share information and co-ordinate projects.

Initial Goals of the Committee

  1. The publication, in French and English, of the proceedings of the symposium.
  2. The collection of suggestions for a future course on the conservation of mosaics with a view to establishing a programme.
  3. The establishment of an annual directory of people working on the conservation of mosaics.
  4. The recommendation, when a mosaic is going to be detached, that a complete cross section of its bedding foundation is preserved.
  5. The encouragement of the documentation of specific cases of destruction, salvage, and restoration.
  6. The first of these goals was achieved the following year with the appearance of Mosaics No.1: Deterioration and conservation.

Achievements

The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics functions on a voluntary basis and without capital for more than three decades. In recent years it has received funding from The Getty Foundation intended for the organisation and encouragement of wider participation in the Committee’s international conferences. More recently, through the MOSAIKON project, it has received further funding to: provide administrative assistance to the president; improve and update the ICCM website; and ensure the regular publication of a newsletter.

Its Board continues to consist of conservators, archaeologists, art historians and architects, which, it is felt, makes for a better understanding of the problems that mosaic conservation faces. In 2005 the ICCM was registered in Cyprus and has thus become a legal entity with registration number 166864.

In its 38 years of life, the ICCM can look back at twelve International Conferences around Europe and the Mediterranean, and a number of Round Tables. The Proceedings of all the conferences have been published, save those of Meknes, the preparation of which is in progress, and the most recent one at Alghero; and there are also fourteen Newsletters. Most importantly, there is a steadily increasing number of paying members who, at present, number over 250 and represent 45 different countries.

The ICCM can also claim to have been instrumental in bringing mosaic conservation (a previously neglected field) to the forefront of conservation matters, as well as in contributing to the vast improvement of the quality of literature produced on the subject. Starting with ancient floor mosaics, the Committee has expanded both chronologically and geographically, and at the more recent conferences there have been papers dealing with medieval, modern, and even New World floor and wall mosaics. Also, one of the first Recommendations of the Committee, namely the in situ conservation of mosaics, has now become more or less the rule in mosaic conservation. The Committee has also played an important role in emphasizing, on the one hand, the essential role of preventive conservation, and on the other the importance of maintenance in assuring the well-being of mosaics.

Although members of the Board have been involved in a wide range of mosaic conservation and maintenance programmes, MOSAIKON, a programme organised by The Getty Foundation, The Getty Conservation Institute, ICCROM and the ICCM, launched during the Palermo Conference, marks the first official participation of the Committee in an international project. 


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