By Jeanne Marie Teutonico

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The Mediterranean Basin is extraordinarily rich in archaeological heritage, including a vast number of mosaic pavements from classical antiquity. Representing one of the most important forms of artistic expression from the ancient world, mosaics today can be found in two distinctly different contexts: on archaeological sites or in museums. Although current conservation practice recommends that excavated mosaics remain in their archaeological context (in situ), where they can be understood as part of the site for which they were made, this was not always the case. During the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, many archaeological mosaics were lifted from their original sites and taken to museums. Some were placed on new supports and exhibited in galleries, but thousands remain in storage.

The conservation and maintenance of this rich mosaic heritage present enormous challenges. Mosaics in situ are at risk from both natural and human factors—from exposure to the elements to looting and uncontrolled tourism. Mosaics in museums were sometimes lifted in harmful ways or backed with materials that can ultimately be damaging. Many of those in storage are in extremely fragile condition because of unsatisfactory lifting and relaying techniques, lack of backing, poor storage conditions, and too few trained personnel to care for them.

In recent decades, there have been increased national and international efforts to create better conditions for the conservation of the Mediterranean mosaic heritage. However, in the absence of a coordinated strategic approach to the problem, needs still exceed resources, and important mosaics continue to deteriorate at a rapid rate.

MOSAIKON

To address this situation, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has joined forces with the Getty Foundation, ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), and the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) to create MOSAIKON, a strategic regional program for the conservation of mosaics in the Mediterranean, including both mosaics in situ and those in museum collections. Each partner organization has a long history of involvement with mosaics conservation, and each brings particular expertise and institutional capabilities to the program.

For its part, the GCI has been involved in mosaics conservation in the Mediterranean region since the 1980s, through research, training, and field activities. For the last ten years, the Institute has collaborated with the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP) in Tunisia in an ambitious training initiative to create teams of specialist technicians skilled in the conservation and maintenance of in situ mosaics. To complement this effort, the GCI has also developed training for INP site managers in the principles and methods of site conservation and management. The result is both a trained workforce in Tunisia and a sustainable training model that can be deployed in other locations.

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The Getty Foundation fulfills the philanthropic mission of the J. Paul Getty Trust by supporting individuals and institutions committed to advancing the understanding and preservation of the visual arts locally and throughout the world. The Foundation, which funds initiatives that target a particular issue or region, has chosen mosaics conservation in the Mediterranean as one of its current priorities. Over the past decade, the Foundation has supported several model mosaic conservation projects—for example, at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

ICCROM, an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Rome, is dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage worldwide and serves more than 125 member states. ICCROM has over fifty years of experience in training and institutional capacity building, as well as a long history of involvement with the conservation of mosaics dating to the creation of the ICCM, in 1977. It is currently involved in site management training in the Mediterranean through its ATHAR program, which aims to protect and promote the cultural heritage of the Arab region.

Since its inception in 1977, the ICCM has grown from a small group of interested individuals to an international organization with nearly three hundred members representing over thirty countries from six continents. Through its triennial conferences and their proceedings, the ICCM has become a significant information sharing forum for conservators, archaeologists, and art historians and the main source of literature in the mosaics conservation field.

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

To ensure that the MOSAIKON program would correspond to local realities, a needs assessment meeting was held at ICCROM in May 2008 with representatives from twelve Mediterranean countries. Participants identified the biggest challenges facing mosaics conservation in the region and discussed what would have to change in the next decade for this precious heritage to survive. Based on recommendations from the meeting, priorities were established for the first five years of the project, and a detailed action plan was developed.

It was agreed that the initiative's first phase (2008–12) would focus on countries of the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, where needs are perhaps the greatest. Emphasis in this phase will be placed on archaeological mosaics, both those in situ and those presently in museums and storage.

GOALS

The ultimate goal of the MOSAIKON initiative is improved conservation, presentation, and maintenance of Mediterranean mosaics, both those in situ and those in museums and storage. Specifically, the program seeks to: (1) strengthen the ICCM and the network of professionals concerned with the conservation, maintenance, and management of mosaics; (2) improve the knowledge and skills of technicians, conservators, and decision makers charged with caring for mosaics in situ and in museums; (3) develop locally available and affordable conservation practices for both in situ and museum conservation; and (4) promote the dissemination and exchange of information.

ACTIVITIES

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Various activities have been initiated to address these goals in ways that reflect local needs and complement other relevant regional programs.

To strengthen the professional network and information exchange, the Getty Foundation provided a grant to the ICCM to create a more robust organization that is effective in building regional networks, making available the latest information regarding best practices, and coordinating initiatives in mosaics conservation.

To improve the knowledge and skills of technicians, conservators, and decision makers charged with caring for mosaics in situ and in museums, several interrelated activities are being advanced.

  • Building on the success of the GCI-INP training program in Tunisia, MOSAIKON will develop and deliver a regional training course for technicians from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt. The first campaign of this course will be held in Tunisia in spring 2011, led by the GCI. Trainees will be mentored in their home countries between campaigns.
  • Based on models developed by the GCI and ICCROM, MOSAIKON will deliver three subregional courses for site managers, concentrating on the conservation and management of sites with mosaics. The pilot course took place in Tyre, Lebanon, in May 2010, led by the GCI and ICCROM in partnership with the Ministry of Culture of Lebanon. Future courses will focus on the non-Arabic-speaking countries of the eastern Mediterranean and on the Francophone countries of the Maghreb.
  • Regarding mosaics that have been removed from their original sites, MOSAIKON is developing a pilot training course for technicians responsible for the conservation and management of mosaics in museums and storage, to take place at the Archaeological Museum in Damascus. This two-year course will be led by the Centro di Conservazione Archeologica (CCA), based in Rome. Parallel to this course, the initiative will deliver a regional course for museum professionals responsible for mosaic collections. Led by ICCROM, this course will focus on larger issues of preventive conservation, condition and risk assessment, and conservation management. Both courses will begin in fall 2010 with the support of the Getty Foundation.
  • Finally, in order to address a more systemic need in the region for increased numbers of conservators, MOSAIKON is undertaking a survey of university-level conservation education programs in the region, in order to determine how one or more of these programs might be developed to provide the knowledge, skills, and experience required of entry-level conservators.

To sustain these training efforts, it is essential to develop locally available and affordable practices for both in situ and museum conservation. Perhaps the greatest challenge in this regard is the need for alternative approaches to backing lifted mosaics that make use of locally available and inexpensive materials, such as lime and hydraulic lime. In consultation with mosaics conservators, the GCI has launched a research project that will examine these alternative methods and materials for backing lifted mosaics. The Getty Foundation will fund research partners in the region who will ensure that the research corresponds to local circumstances and is sustainable in the long term.

CONCLUSION

The mosaic heritage of the Mediterranean is highly significant, yet it remains under threat. By combining their expertise, organizational abilities, and financial resources, the MOSAIKON partners have taken a leadership role in bringing about the kinds of changes that will dramatically improve the conservation, presentation, and maintenance of mosaics in the Mediterranean. Through a well-articulated, strategic approach to the problem that draws upon the experience of each partner—as well as that of national governments and other entities in the region—the initiative aims to build capacity and educational infrastructure, develop sustainable solutions, and strengthen the professional network. As the initiative gains momentum and replicable models are put in place, it is hoped that other institutions will support and build upon this work, resulting in the kind of integrated activity that will ensure a better future for the exceptional mosaic heritage of the Mediterranean.

Jeanne Marie Teutonico is associate director of programs for the GCI.