Paul Philippot (1925 – 2016)

January 25, 2016

At his home in Brussels, on Friday morning, 15 January 2016, Paul Philippot passed away in sleep.

Philippot was one of the founders of ICCROM, serving as Deputy Director from 1959 to 1971, and as Director until 1977. He studied jurisprudence and art history, having doctorates in both subjects. When still a student, he also spent some months at the Italian Central Institute of Restoration (ICR) in Rome, where Cesare Brandi was Director, and wrote a dissertation on the institute’s organization and policies. After graduation he became professor of art history at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels. When UNESCO decided to establish in a new organization in Rome (then called the “Rome Centre” and later ICCROM), the renowned British scientist H.J. Plenderleith was appointed the founding Director. Having learnt to appreciate Philippot’s critical thought, it was Brandi who recommended that Philippot as humanist should be invited to act as Deputy Director. Plenderleith and Philippot then shared the responsibilities of direction for twelve years.

In the first years, a large part of ICCROM’s work consisted of missions and scientific consultations at the request of UNESCO. Plenderleith thus frequently travelled advising on conservation issues. This also gave him the possibility to encourage new memberships. Philippot instead, developed the programmes and policies of the new organization, writing all the official reports and documents. In addition to collaboration with UNESCO, close contacts were established with ICOM, IIC and ICOMOS. One of the early projects for ICCROM was the Venice Conference of 1964. It was Paul Philippot who wrote the first introductory page to the Venice Charter. Furthermore, for several years, Philippot acted as Secretary to the international conservation committee of ICOM.

In these early years, the number of conservation experts was relatively small, and one of the tasks of ICCROM was to identify professionals and specialized institutions in the different countries in order to establish an international network. It is in this context that Philippot with ICOM established an international working group on the conservation of mural paintings. This research resulted in the joint publication with Laura and Paolo Mora on: La conservation des peintures murales (1977), a ground-breaking work discussing conservation theory and practice in this specific field. This research had also been the basis for the development of an international training programme in collaboration with ICR and IRPA, officially inaugurated in 1968. Another international training programme on architectural conservation was initiated jointly with the University of Rome in the 1960s, and taken over by ICCROM in 1966. Other international courses followed. At the time of the confirmation of Philippot as Director in 1971, several new Member States started joining, including the United States, Canada and Australia, thus improving the budgetary situation and allowing new activities to be undertaken. ICCROM also moved to the new premises in the Hospice of San Michele in Trastevere. At the same time, ICCROM also became more independent, while maintaining a good working relationship with UNESCO.

After retirement from ICCROM, Philippot returned to Brussels to continue teaching. He also continued writing and publishing, adding new volumes to his already lengthy list of publications. These included the translation into French of one of Brandi’s fundamental philosophical books: Le deux voies de la critique (Le due vie in Italian, 1989). He also published two large volumes on art history: Jalons pour une méthode critique et une histoire de l’art en Belgique (2005, 382 pages), and La formation de l’art européen (2013, 782 pages).

Throughout his eighteen years at ICCROM, Paul Philippot was central to the development of the organization and its policies. His acute and critical mind and visual capacity made him an excellent professional and a brilliant teacher. He was able to open and illuminate new insights into conservation theory and its implementation. While Brandi had been working on his theory more specifically in the Italian context, Philippot had the opportunity and was able to expand and interpret conservation theory in the world’s multicultural context. It became the backbone of ICCROM’s training programmes, which had to address a multiplicity of realities and socio-cultural contexts. Consequently, it became clear, as Philippot often noted: “there can only be one conservation theory”. Such theory must necessarily focus on the methodology of approach. Taking each problem in reference to the object as a whole, one can have all the dimensions of restoration. Everything can thus be seen in the context. The process starts by defining the object, and then continues with deciding the necessary care for it. The recognition of the object in its specificity is already part of the restoration.

Philippot came to ICCROM soon after the Second World War when damaged works of art and historic buildings called for urgent action. It was one of the important challenges that had also contributed to ICCROM’s foundation by UNESCO. The period of the 1960s and 1970s, when he worked at ICCROM, were crucial for the development of the international conservation doctrine recognized by UNESCO, ICOM and ICOMOS. His contribution to this process was fundamental. His teachings and writings in the theory of conservation and restoration remain an international landmark. The passing of Paul Philippot has created a lacuna in the world of conservation. However, his work will remain and continue to inspire conservation professionals for the future.

ICCROM’s Director-General and all staff offer condolences to his family.

Jukka Jokilehto

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