Materia: Journal of Technical Art History

Reviewed by:
Julia L. Bourbois
Pomona Public Library

Launched in the spring of 2021, Materia: Journal of Technical Art History is a biannual, born-digital, open-access, peer-reviewed journal for the technical study of art objects.. Materia is situated at the convergence of conservation science, art history, and related fields, and is co-edited by an international group of conservators and art historians. The journal aims to cater to a broad and international audience, including conservation specialists, museum professionals, art historians, students, and researchers engaged in the interdisciplinary field of material culture. Additionally, the resource is intended to act as a scholarly forum that bridges diverse fields often siloed by paywall barriers. Readers can access issues of Materia directly from their website ( or by signing up to the mailing list to receive the latest information on calls for abstracts, issues releases, and news.

Materia foregrounds access both in terms of content and authorship. For example, conservation articles examine the treatment and analysis of material culture objects without being overladen with technical jargon. Additionally, Materia operates within a broad notion of  conservation, soliciting articles on objects in addition to traditional easel paintings. Art history articles offer fresh perspectives of both historically marginalized artists and well-known figures. The articles currently available is Issue 2 reflect this diversity with articles including “Technical Analysis and Treatment of a Siberian Reindeer-Fur Overcoat,” “Manet Across Media: Looking at Lola de Valence” and “The Problem with Bitumen.” Materia also provides a platform for publishing scholarly research undertaken by students and early-career professionals in conservation and technical art history.  

Materia’s approach to article access and journal production models is also innovative. The journal differs in comparison to similar journals such as the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, a membership or institution subscription-based publication, and the Technical Bulletin published by the National Gallery, a leading resource in the study of the materials and techniques of painting conservation since 1977. Instead, as an open access digital resource, the editors of Materia are dedicated to free readership and no submission fees to increase access to research material for both readers and writers. As such, the editors of Materia effectively sidestep the myriad difficulties that currently plague print scholarly journals including costs of print publication, working with publishers, and the bundling of online journals. 

Materia is well-produced and executed effectively. The website is clearly arranged and on the whole, easily navigable. However, it should be noted that once in the web version of an issue, there is no home button to return to the landing page of the site.  Issues are available as a navigable web version with zoomable images and linked citations. The interactive images available in the web version are beneficial and enable the reader to examine the images in greater detail than possible in other formats. Full issues and individual articles are also available as PDFs, and no additional software is required to access the content of this resource. 

Images showing the front and back of a heavily-worn child’s Siberian fur coat with colorful bead work at the wrists and waist, pre-treatment.
Detailed image of the sleeve of a child’s Siberian fur coat with colorful beadwork.

Materia is a valuable resource for anyone interested in technical art history, particularly those engaged in the technical investigation and analysis of works of art, as well as art historians, curators, and graduate students in these and related fields. However, it is worth exploring by anyone interested in material culture.