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Michele D. Marincola

Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation and Chair of the Conservation Center; Conservation Consultant, Villa La Pietra

M.A. and Certificate in Conservation, 1990, The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

My twin research interests in the examination and conservation of polychrome wood sculpture and the history and theory of conservation are direct reflections of my professional experience, and form a basis for my teaching as well. I worked as a conservator at The Cloisters from 1990 until 2002, focusing on the conservation and preservation of sculpture. My research into the complex material histories of wooden sculpture by the German late medieval master, Tilman Riemenschneider, led to a number of articles and an exhibition catalog essay that combined technical analysis with archival and historical data to interpret former states of condition or appearance. Much of this work focused on sculpture in American collections that had not been thoroughly examined before. After my move to the Institute of Fine Arts in 2002 I became interested in larger issues of methodology and theory in conservation, and have expanded my research accordingly. For example, after recognizing that I had over-interpreted one set of technical data in an article I had published, I embarked on a research project into mistake making in art conservation, work that is still on-going. Although this subject is well developed as a research field in medicine and human-factors fields like aeronautics safety, nothing had been done in conservation, where the risk of operator error is also high. I have since published one article and given several lectures on my project findings, and plan on a book on the subject in the near future. Another rich area for research within art conservation is the history of this relatively modern field, and I have concentrated my efforts here in primary research into the examination and treatment of medieval European polychrome wood sculpture, co-authoring two substantial articles on the topic. In addition, I was editor of a new edition and English translation of a fundamental text in the field of European polychrome sculpture, Johannes Taubert’s Farbige Skulpturen (1978), published by the Getty Conservation Institute as Polychrome Sculpture in 2015. My new preface, notes and bibliography consider the place of Taubert’s significance as a historian of sculpture and a close collaborator with conservators, and added substantial new research that has been completed since the first publication of the book.

My most recent book concerns the conservation treatment of medieval polychrome wood sculpture, co-authored with Metropolitan Museum conservator Lucretia Kargère, which addresses a long-standing need in the field. The book traces the history of treatment of medieval painted wood sculpture, assesses the performance of these treatments over time, and explains methods in practice today; its emphasis is on the contextualization of contemporary practice within the historical continuum. There was no book in English on this subject, and indeed no book in any language that takes a similar comprehensive, trans-national viewpoint. It is available for purchase online [opens in new window].

As with my colleagues at the Institute, there is a mutually supportive relationship between my research and my teaching. My graduate lecture course, Issues in Conservation: Historical and Ethical Considerations in the Development of a Discipline, closely examines key elements of conservation, including preservation, technical study, and restoration, and traces their change over time. In my conservation treatment courses, I place emphasis on an awareness of the history of the object and on articulating the rationale for treatment. Other teaching initiatives include a set of summer courses I develop with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on technical art history that combine close examination of works of art with theoretical discourse.

Sample courses

Issues in Conservation: Historical and Ethical Considerations in the Development of a Discipline; Polychromy and Monochromy: Treatment of Medieval Wooden Sculpture; Conservation of Stone Sculpture; Conservation Controversies.

Recent public lectures

“Spanish medieval polychrome sculpture in American collections: history and conservation,” El Esplendor del Pórtico de la Gloria: Conservación, Policromía y la Transfiguración de la Materia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, July 7, 2016.

“What does the support tell us about a work of art? The construction method of a group of reliquary busts,” Making and Knowing Project 2016: Colormaking, Columbia University, New York, May 28, 2016.

“Reconstructing Medieval Polychromies,” 2015 Making and Knowing Reconstruction Workshop, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, October 10, 2015.

Claudia Kavenagh and Michele Marincola, “Complex Problems, Realistic Solutions: Devising a Treatment for the Sculpture of St. Paul on St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City,”
AIC Annual Meeting, Architecture and Wooden Artifacts Joint Session
, May 14, 2015.

“Do Books on Conservation Practice Still Have Value?  Information Dissemination in an Accelerating Context,” University of Oslo, “Archaeology of the Object Project “After the Black Death: Painting and Polychrome Sculpture in Norway 1350-1550,” October 16, 2014.

“Teaching Technical Art History at the Graduate Level: The Summer Institute in Technical Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts,” College Art Association, New York City, February 15, 2013.

“Modes of Replication and the Loss of the Original: Processes of Art Making in pre-Modern Europe,” Courtauld Institute of Art, London, October 30, 2012.

with Sarah Maisey: “To Err is Human: Understanding and Sharing Mistakes in Conservation Practice,” ICOM-CC, 16th Triennial Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 19-23 September 2011.

with Lucretia Kargère: , “The Conservation of Polychrome Wood Sculpture in the United States: An Historical Overview 1870-1970,” ICOM-CC, 16th Triennial Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 19-23 September 2011.

“Blink Twice: Making Mistakes in Conservation,” General Session, Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation, Milwaukee WI, May 13, 2010.

Recent symposia organized

Teaching Technical Art History, Session Co-Chair, February 15, 2013, College Art Association, New York City

Leonardo da Vinci, Recent Technical Findings and Discoveries, February 18, 2012, Wood Auditorium, Avery, Columbia University.

Preserving Destruction: ANAGPIC Professional Day Talks, April 19, 2008, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. 

Conservation Legacies of L'Alluvione: A Symposium Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Florence Flood, November 10-11, 2006, NYU-Florence, Villa la Pietra, Florence, Italy. 

Cesare Brandi, October 4, 2006, Italian Cultural Institute, NY.

Selected publications

The Conservation of Medieval Polychrome Wood Sculpture: History, Theory, Practice, Michele D. Marincola and Lucretia Kargère, Getty Publications 2020. [order online]

Lucretia Kargère and Michele D. Marincola, "Conservation in Context: The Examination and Treatment of Medieval Polychrome Wood Sculpture in the United States," Metropolitan Museum Studies in Art, Technology and Science 2 (2014), pp. 11-49. Download PDFOpen link in new window

Michele Marincola, ed. Johannes Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture: Meaning, Form, Conservation. (English translation with new notes and bibliography), Getty Publications, 2015.

Michele Marincola, “The Cloisters’ Romanesque Crucifix from Northern Spain: A Reconstruction and Interpretation,” in: eds. Lutz, G, Cambareri, M, and Fozi, S. Striking Images: Christ on the Cross and the Emergence of Medieval Monumental Sculpture, Brepols/Harvey Miller, 2014 (forthcoming).

Michele Marincola and Sarah Maisey, “To Err is Human: Understanding and Sharing Mistakes in Conservation Practice,” ICOM-CC 16th, Triennial Conference, Lisbon. Preprints, 2011, paper 1911.

Lucretia Kargère and Michele Marincola, “The Conservation of Polychrome Wood Sculpture in the United States: An Historical Overview 1870-1970,” ICOM-CC 16th Triennial Conference, Lisbon. Preprints, 2011, paper 1703.

Chapuis, Julien und Michele Marincola, "Bemerkungen zum Meister der Biberacher Sippe und zu einem hl. Rochus in The Cloisters," in Nicht die Bibliothek, sondern das Auge: Westeuropäische Skulptur und Malerei an der Wende zur Neuzeit, 66-75.Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2008.

Michele Marincola, "Brandi in America: Further Thoughts towards a History."In Cesare Brandi Oggi, Prime ricognizioni (Atti del Convegno, May-June 2007), 251-258.Rome: Istituto Centrale di Restauro, 2008.

"Riemenschneider's Use of the Decorative Punch."In Tilman Riemenschneider, c. 1460-1531. Studies in the History of Art, 65. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2004.

"Polychromy." In Encyclopedia of Sculpture.Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003.

"A Technical Investigation of the Dumbarton Oaks Virgin and Child by Tilman Riemenschneider."The Sculpture Journal IV (2000): 24-34.

"The Surfaces of Riemenschneider's Sculpture."In Tilman Riemenschneider: Master Sculptor of the Late Middle Ages, 100-116.Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1999.

"A Standing Virgin in The Cloisters: The Conservation and Restoration of a Medieval Alabaster." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Winter 1997/98): 38-45.

Stein, R., J. Kimmel, F. Klemm, M. Marincola. "Observations on Cyclododecane as a Temporary Consolidant for Stone." Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 39, no. 3 (Spring 2001): 355-369.

Ellen Pearlstein, Ellen and Michele Marincola, eds. Loss Compensation: Technical and Philosophical Issues, Proceedings of the Objects Specialty Group Session.Washington, D. C.: American Institute for Conservation , 1994.

Selected honors

Professional Associate, American Institute for Conservation Co-Chair, Objects Specialty Group, American Institute for Conservation, 1993-95 Professional Study Grant, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Use of Purple Fluorite as an Artists' Pigment in the Middle Ages, 1997 Panel Reviewer, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Conservation Project Support, 1997, 2002