Alois Riegl on facsimile copies in 1903

In 1902 Alois Riegl, the most important art historian from Austria, was appointed General Conservator of the Central Commission for the Research and Preservation of Artistic and Historical Monuments (Zentralkommission für die Erforschung und Erhaltung der Kunst- und historischen Denkmale) in Vienna. He was asked to prepare draft legislation for the protection of monuments, and thus he published “Der moderne Denkmalkultus, sein Wesen, seine Entstehung” (The modern cult of monuments: its character and origin).

This work is fundamental for studying the development of European understanding of ancient monuments in the early twentieth century.

In the chapter concerning the historical value of monuments, Riegl says something very intriguing about facsimile copies. This is a very interesting statement to outline the cultural phenomenon studied by the LIT! project:

“We must note that the cult of historical value, although it only grants a total documentary value to the original state of a monument, also admits a limited value of the copy, in the case that the original (“the document”) has been totally lost.
[…]
In view of the increasing development of art-technical means of reproduction, one can be confident that in the foreseeable future (especially after the discovery of absolutely convincing colour photography and its combination with facsimile copies) it will be possible to find as perfect replacements as possible for the documentary originals.”

More on Alois Riegl: https://arthistorians.info/riegla

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