The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics promotes the advancement of the philosophy and practice of mosaics conservation. It was founded in Rome in 1977, during an international meeting of mosaic specialists organized by ICCROM, in response to the need felt by the participants to have an official advisory body for those involved in the safeguarding of mosaic heritage. Since its foundation, the ICCM has aimed to be international and to include art historians, architects and archaeologists as well as conservators, as it is felt that a cross-disciplinary approach allows to better understand the complex issues related to mosaics preservation.
In 37 years of activity the ICCM has greatly contributed to promoting research in mosaics conservation and improving the range of literature in the field. It counts 11 international conferences, held triennially around Europe and North Africa, and a number of Round Tables. All the proceedings have been published, with the exception of those of the two most recent conferences, which are in preparation. The recommendations and evaluations that result from each conference are widely disseminated, thus contributing to setting standards in conservation practice.
While ICCM’s initial focus was on ancient floor mosaics, recent conferences have included papers dealing with medieval and contemporary mosaics. The geographical area of interest has also expanded well beyond the Mediterranean basin. ICCM’s objectives and activities have evolved over time in parallel with changing theories and practices of mosaic conservation. This is apparent from the conference themes, which reflect trends and concerns of their time.
The proceedings of the foundation conference and those of the second committee meeting show ICCM’s first efforts in taking an independent stand in the world of conservation by affirming a methodology. They tackle technical issues such as lifting techniques and the characteristics of backing materials that were available at the time.
The focus of the 2nd conference, in 1983, was considerably different. It was dedicated entirely to conservation in situ, a theme that was being increasingly discussed across the field in those years, and became the topic of numerous conservation conferences since the early 1980s. In fact, the following two ICCM conferences and their resulting publications expanded upon the same subject. The recommendations of the 1986 conference, held at Soria (Spain), stated principles that are maintained by the ICCM to this day: that mosaics should be provided with adequate protection in their original archaeological context, and that, if this is not possible, they should be reburied, while lifting should be left as a last resort.
In the mid ‘90s, the 5th and 6th conferences maintained a strong interest in issues related to preservation in situ, recognizing it as the approach that best respects the original context of the mosaic, and that should be adopted whenever possible. Following a decade of heated debates within the ICCM, the 1996 recommendations stated the need for conservation techniques to be compatible with the original, lime-based materials, thus rejecting the use of cement.
By the late ‘90s conservation in situ of mosaics had become widely practiced, and the damage resulting from lifting represented less of a concern. The ICCM was more involved in emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to planning, which includes strategies for presentation and display. Documentation also became a key topic, and was indicated in the 1999 recommendations as an essential step in any intervention. Wall mosaics were for the first time brought well into the picture during the 8th conference, thus further expanding ICCM’s subject of interest.
A concern for long-term sustainability emerges from the conferences of the last decade, which gave center stage to topics related to costs, maintenance and training. Although the need to encourage training had been expressed by the ICCM since its first conference, the focus has recently shifted to coordinating different training programs and improving their quality. The 10th conference, in Palermo, saw the launch of MOSAIKON, a wide-ranging program of which this blog is part. Organized by The Getty Foundation, The Getty Conservation Institute, ICCROM and the ICCM, MOSAIKON marks the first official participation of the Committee in an international program.
Widening the geographical representation of the board has also been central to the ICCM’s efforts. Since the 9th conference, held in Hammamet in 2005, the participation of professionals from North Africa and the Middle East has been steadily growing, and is supported by yearly Getty Foundation grants.
Today, the ICCM continues to promote the broader development of research and practice in mosaics conservation. The ICCM’s 12th conference, which will take place in Sardinia on October 27th-31st 2014, will examine the many different costs of conservation and presentation, in the attempt to investigate how human, aesthetic and socio-political costs can be factored into decision-making.