Imitative material culture: towards a philosophy for the authentic conservation of historical artificial materials and imitative techniques

Hadas Rix, Stephen Emmitt

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This article extends the concept of the term ‘material culture’ and addresses the production and use of artificial materials and imitative techniques as a phenomenon, defined here as ‘Imitative Material Culture’. It includes consideration of social, economic, technological, historical, and artistic aspects of this culture. While extensive literature exists on specific imitative crafts, perceiving these crafts as a part of one’s culture has not been studied. Its rejection by William Morris, Augustus Pugin and John Ruskin, who promoted conservation in England, left a gap without a clear methodological and philosophical approach towards conservation of this cultural heritage. Its origins have been traced to the age of antiquity; however, imitative material culture reached its zenith between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. The utilisation of marble imitations such as scagliola, marmorino and marezzo increased significantly during this period, most notably in Bavaria, and was later warmly embraced by the Georgians in the UK. Conservation of imitative material culture challenges our perceptions regarding authenticity, as there is an evident philosophical paradox between authentic imitations and authentic conservation within this heritage. Thus, the study provides a platform for choosing an appropriate conservation approach for historic artificial materials and imitative techniques.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Architectural Conservation
Early online date14 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jul 2021


  • authenticity
  • Conservation theory
  • imitative crafts
  • imitative material culture
  • representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Building and Construction

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