Philosophical Society of Washington

Historic Artifact Preservation and Study: To What End?

Jacqueline Olin
Smithsonian Institution

– and –

Objectivity as a Means of Connoisseurship

Charles Olin
Smithsonian Institution

2015th Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 01, 1993 at 8:15 PM


Historic Artifact Preservation and Study: To What End? Archaeological artifacts provide a major means of investigating political, social, and economic history. This talk will present the example of European expansion into and within the New World. Each of the European powers involved in establishing settlements introduced ceramic production—the Spanish tradition continues to this day. Within a half century of their arrival, the Spanish had instituted tin-lead glazed ceramics into the Americas. Archaeometry—the application and interpretation of natural science data in archaeological and art historical studies—is contributing to the study of these and other artifacts.

Objectivity as a Means of Connoisseurship: The "eye", the ultimate finesse of subjectivity, is what distinguishes the connoisseur. The repertoire of morphological images in the connoisseur's "eye" can include styles, iconographic symbols, a sense of completeness, the use of color or space, and perhaps even the handling of brushstrokes or the manner of carving, shaping, or casting. The "eye" of the connoisseur can also have morphological images of the structure of materials such as those that differentiate bone from ivory or original paint from later additions. The specificity of these images can be expanded or quantified. Thus, the differentiation is neither dependent upon quality nor upon subjectivity. It is dependent upon a knowledge of how artists' materials have been used and how they age naturally. During thirty years of conservation treatment of oil paintings, there have been numerous occasions to document cases where failure to make the correct art historical assessment occurred because the connoisseur's "eye" was not familiar with images of the morphology of objectivity.

About the Authors:

Jacqueline Olin received a B.S. degree from Dickinson College and an M.A. degree from Harvard University. She joined the Conservation Analytical laboratory at the Smithsonian Institution in 1963 as a research chemist. She became the Assistant Director for Archaeometric Research in 1983. She has edited a number of books including Future Directions in Archaeometry and co-edited the recently published The Archaeology of the Frobisher Voyages.

Charles Olin received his B.S. degree in Physics from Dickinson College. He attended graduate school in Fine Arts at Cornell University and in Art Conservation at New York University, Institute of Fine Arts. He founded and directed the Conservation Analytical laboratory at the Smithsonian Institution and later the conservation laboratory of the National Portrait Gallery-National Collection of Fine Arts (now the National Museum of American Art). In 1971, he set up a private paintings conservation laboratory which became Olin Conservation, Inc. in 1983. Mr. Olin has conserved paintings from numerous major public and private collections.

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