The Ageing Of Art

Paul Taylor

Date Published :
September 2015
Publisher :
Paul Holberton Publishing
Illustration :
140 color illustrations
No associated books available.


The paintings we see today in museums, galleries, churches and temples are often much altered by the centuries. Pictures can split, rot, be eaten by woodworm, warp, blister, crack, cup, flake, darken, blanch, discolor, become too translucent and disappear under a centuries-old varnish; and they can also suffer from the efforts of their owners to rectify these situations: they might be transferred, relined, ironed, abraded or repainted.

Anyone writing about a work of art needs to establish at the outset how much it has changed since it was first made. This act of understanding is far from easy. We need to develop a knowledge of the physical and chemical processes which have brought paintings to their current state, in the hope that we can imagine their reversal. And we have to look as much as we can, at a wide variety of paintings, so we can learn to distinguish those in a worse or better state of preservation; we have to try to understand what it is about a picture that differentiates good and bad condition. Theories of art history have been built on works which are little more than repaint and decay, and the beginner needs to be warned about the many pitfalls dug by time for the unwary.

A great deal has been written about conservation and restoration, but this is the first book to approach the issue from the viewer’s standpoint, and to discuss changes in appearance that affect our understanding and appreciation of works of art. This book is highly illustrated so as to make its points extremely clear. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in art.

About The Author

Paul Taylor is curator of the photographic collection at the Warburg Institute, University of London, and editor of the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. He has written numerous articles and contributed to many books; he is the author of Dutch Flower Painting 1600–1720 (1995) and the editor of Pictorial Composition from Medieval to Modern Art (2000), The Iconography of Cylinder Seals (2006); Iconography without Texts (2008); and, most recently, Meditations on a Heritage: Papers on the Work and Legacy of Sir Ernst Gombrich (2014), also published by Paul Holberton publishing.


“A hugely welcome publication, which sets out the knowns and unknowns of the subject in a series of lucid chapters on losses, cracking, pigments, darkening and cleaning …. Taylor’s even-handedness is exemplary.”

- Apollo

“In this eloquent study, the art historian Paul Taylor demonstrates that all artworks undergo countless metamorphoses.”

- The Guardian

“Beautifully written…an essential reference work for art historians and amateurs.”

- The Times Literary Supplement

“Thorough and readable”

- The Art Newspaper

“Best Art Book 2015”“This engrossing paperback will teach you never to look at an Old Master painting in the same way again.”

- Evening Standard

"This excellently clear publication … is accessibly written, well-illustrated and has a comprehensive bibliography. It does not talk down to its readers. For the conservation student it is an excellent introduction."

- Icon News: Journal of the Institution of Conservation

"The author introduces the study of the condition of art, and how paintings in particular change in appearance over time. He explains some basic technical concepts and the technologies used to study art works, then discusses art that has been destroyed, cracks and flaking, impermanent pigments, darkening, and cleaning. Most of the paintings discussed are from London collections,particularly the National Gallery"

- ProtoView

More from this publisher