In May the Getty Conservation Institute and the Instituto Andaluz del Patrimonio Histórico (IAPH), Seville—an institution of the Junta de Andalucia, Spain—hosted a seminar in Seville, on the conservation of wooden polychrome retablos, entitled "Methodology and Its Application for Interventions on Polychromed Wooden Retablos."
The GCI's involvement in the Seville seminar grows out of a 1997-98 project on the conservation of the main retablo of the colonial Church of Santo Domingo in Yanhuitlán, a village in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The GCI, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia of Mexico, and the community of Yanhuitlán collaborated on this project, which produced extensive documentation and structural analysis of the retablo, expanding understanding of the materials and construction of colonial retablos in Mexico (see Conservation, vol. 14, no. 2).
In situ retablos are found extensively in Latin America and Europe. Because these monumental altarpieces—which can include extensive ornamentation, sculpture, and paintings—are located in churches, they constitute not only artistic and historic heritage but religious heritage as well, forming part of the fabric of places with continuing community use.
Unfortunately, there has been little focus on methodologies for retablo conservation or on issues involved in their application. The complexity of retablos is daunting, and there is a dearth of published information that can inform their preservation. To address this problem and to provide an international forum for sharing information related to the conservation of polychrome wooden altarpieces, particularly in situ, the IAPH and the GCI organized the meeting in Seville.
The seminar included presentation of 15 case studies of retablo conservation—nine from Latin America and six from Europe. Using these studies as a framework for discussion, seminar participants evaluated the considerations and constraints of conserving retablos in situ. As part of their evaluation, they traveled to Granada to view the conservation of the retablo of the Capilla Real—presented as a case study by the IAPH and illustrative of many of the complex issues of retablo conservation.
From their discussion and evaluation, participants drafted guiding principles for in situ conservation of retablos. Among these principles are the importance of developing a methodology that is sustainable, feasible, and informed by accepted theoretical and ethical codes of conservation. Participants also agreed on the importance of including stakeholders in the conservation process. The principles document, signed by all participants, will be included in the forthcoming seminar proceedings.
Scheduled for publication in 2003, the bilingual (English/Spanish) proceedings will include key seminar documents, as well as the 15 retablo case studies in their original languages, with corresponding summaries in English or Spanish.