1 project leader: the Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and the National Estate of Versailles
8 European institutions involved: Palace of Versailles Research Centre, France ; “La Venaria Reale” Centre of Conservation and Restoration, Italy ; Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów, Poland ; Network of European Royal Residences ; University of Paris I – Sorbonne, France ; Palace of Maintenon, France; Parques de Sintra - Monte da Lua, Portugal ; Prussian Palaces and Gardens of Berlin-Brandenburg, Germany.
Ten specialists from international institutions, in France, Italy, Canada, United Kingdom make up the Scientific Committee.
Europe’s historic houses number several thousand . Hundreds of these are open to the public and display their collections within the original interiors, ensuring the transmission of its history to the wider public. The conservation of these historic works is intrinsically linked to the monuments that house them, which presents several challenges regarding their preventive conservation. Climatic conditions, lighting, the effects of a regular stream of visitors, along with conservation measures that are often ill-adapted to the needs of historic houses create a very complex set of specific issues.
The European Protocol in Preventive Conservation (EPICO) was created in December 2014 by thePalace of Versailles, in partnership with its ResearchCentre, the “Venaria Reale” Conservation andRestoration Centre in Turin, the Museum of King Janlll’s Palace at Wilanów and the Network of EuropeanRoyal Residences. Within the framework of sound, sustainable management, EPICO has continued itspreventive approach by developing an assessmentmethod for collections, designed specifically for historichouses. Through the use of this new method, apreventive conservation strategy can be devised tomaintain works in the best possible condition, slowdown the rate of deterioration and limit the need forrestoration.
The international jury for the EUROPA NOSTRA European Awards acknowledges that “the EPICO programme has provided a methodology for rational decision-making based on conservation policy priorities. This approach has the potential to become a powerful tool for preserving European cultural heritage, serving as an example to follow for similar collections”.
THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTS OF THE EPICO METHOD
The aim of the EPICO programme was to devise an assessment method specially designed for collections and the specific risks related to historic houses. A sustainable management strategy based on preventive conservation requires precise knowledge of the state and conservation conditions of collections. An action plan can then be drawn up to establish preventive and maintenance priorities that aim to limit the amount of restoration required; this will have a significant beneficial impact on the economic management of resources. This method can be applied to any historic house, regardless of its size or the number of collections it conserves. Using simple tools (paper or Excel depending on the size of the building, or even a database), the EPICO method aims to provide a full overview of the condition of the building to establish priorities and draw up a long-term strategy. This is based on a systemic assessment strategy in which the conditions of conservation, the state of conservation of the collection and the presentation of the works are analyzed .
Cause and effect relationship of visible alteration
The collections in historic houses, together with the interiors and architecture form the building’s identity and, as such, cannot be separated. Contrary to an ordinary museum, the objects in historic houses cannot be placed into any sort of logical order and displayed in museum equipment designed for the conservation of collections. Nevertheless, this intrinsic relationship between collections and their buildings will help us to find a connection between the material deterioration of collections and the environmental conditions that could be the root of the cause.
Considering the large number of objects and rooms, a statistical approach is required to identify the representative sample of both the rooms (the conditions of conservation) and collections (the state of conservation). The distinctive criterion of the house and its collections were thus identified in order to select a statistically representative sample of the palace and museum’s different conservation zones. Zoning therefore consists of identifying the zones (one or several rooms) in the historic building that meet similar criterion and then selecting a statistically representative sample of the rooms to be assessed. The main criterion used are the following: orientation; human impact; museography (example: hall, apartment, etc.) ; activities (filming, receptions etc.)
Once the zoning phase is complete, the object sampling phase can take place. Condition reports are then written up with the help of two manuals:
– General alteration indicators (18 in total)
– Risks and alteration causes (14 in total)
Diagnostic and corrective action
INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM IN 2017
As part of the EPICO research programme, the Palace of Versailles, the Network of European Royal Residences and the Palace of Versailles Research Centre, in collaboration with the International Committee for historic house museums (DEMHIST), organized an international symposium on Preventive preservation in the historic houses and palace-museums: Assessment methodologies and applications. This took place in the Palace of Versailles’ auditorium from 29 November to 1 December 2017.
The first phase of the EPICO programme came to an end with a three-day symposium, with the participation of 51 speakers, 5 round tables, and 160 registered people representing 16 countries from Europe, North America, South America and Asia. The symposium was sponsored by 7 international organizations : ArdenPlast, Boston University, Polygon, Testo, Abiotec, CTS, ILTI Luce.
The acts of this international symposium are on-line on www.europeanroyalresidences.eu , on the EPICO page.
This event laid the foundations of a new method for the preservation of collections in historic houses.
WINNER OF THE EU PRIZE FOR CULTURAL HERITAGE / EUROPA NOSTRA AWARDS RESEARCH CATEGORY
In June 2018, EPICO was acknowledged by the jury as “a powerful tool for the conservation of European cultural heritage” with “tangible effects and a direct impact on the long term preservation of cultural property. The results highlight the importance and potential of preventive conservation”.
As a result of its initial international success, the EPICO programme has launched a new phase, from 2018 to 2020, with several aims:
2018: Enhancement and application of the EPICO assessment method for the Palace of Versailles and Trianon and for partner residences
2019: Publication of the acts of the international symposium on the Network of European Royal Residences website www.europeanroyalresidences.eu , on the EPICO page
Creation of a specialised web platform for the preventive conservation of historic houses on the Network of European Royal Residences website www.europeanroyalresidences.eu , on the EPICO page
2020: Digital publication of the EPICO method manual
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