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 Raymond Marie Lemaire (1921-1997) 

Lemaire- Archives of Am. Art cropped.jpg

Architectural historian, professor, and conservator, Baron Raymond Marie Lemaire was an influential champion of cultural heritage protection and education. He was born into a family of skilled architects in Ukkel, Belgium on May 28, 1921. His father, Herman Lemaire, was the Chief Architect of the Belgian Ministry of Public Works and his uncle, Raymond A. G. Lemaire, was a professor of architecture and conservation at the Catholic University of Louvain. Lemaire followed in the footsteps of both, studying history and art history at St. Peter’s College in Ukkel and the Catholic University of Louvain.


During World War II, Lemaire served with the Royal Belgian Army. Following the end of hostilities, he was appointed by the Belgian government as a liaison between the MFAA and the Belgian Office de Récupération Economique (ORE, Office of Economic Recovery). Attached to the MFAA Branch of the Office of Military Government, U.S. Zone (OMGUS) as a Belgian Art Representative, he led the effort to locate, identify, and recover works of art and other cultural objects looted from Belgium by the Nazis. In addition to visiting the various collecting points in Germany and Austria, he made several research trips to Brussels to secure adequate documentation for the return of looted objects. After signing restitution receipts on behalf of the Belgian government, he coordinated the transportation of tens of thousands of works of art, books, archives, libraries, church bells, and other items of Belgian cultural heritage to Brussels.


Returning to the Catholic University of Louvain as assistant lecturer in 1947, Lemaire completed his doctoral degree in 1949. He was named Professor of Architecture in 1953. An expert on Gothic architecture, he gave lectures on religious architecture, restoration, and the history of architecture. Much of his career was devoted to advocacy for the conservation and restoration of historic monuments. He co-authored the 1964 Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, which set forth a code of conduct for restorers in the field. The following year, he co-founded the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), serving as the organization’s first Secretary General, and later its President, from 1975 to 1981. He was an advisor to the European Union, the Council of Europe, and UNESCO’s Director General, as well as Professor at the International Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments (ICCROM).


Lemaire also worked in the field as a restorer at some of the world’s most treasured sites. He was a consultant during conservation work at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy, and the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia. In Belgium, he supervised the restoration of numerous medieval churches, metro stations, public buildings, and historic sites, including The Grand Béguinage of Leuven. In 1976 he established the Centre for Conservation of Historic Towns and Buildings, a postgraduate program in historic preservation under the patronage of ICOMOS at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. This innovative research center was later moved to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and renamed The Raymond Lemaire International Centre for Conservation. Today, the program continues to train the next generation of conservators, many of whom continue Lemaire’s legacy in prominent positions with national and international organizations devoted to the conservation of historic monuments.


Raymond Lemaire died in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Belgium on August 13, 1997. ICOMOS recently founded The Raymond Lemaire International Fund, which awards scholarships to young scholars committed to “furthering the conservation, protection, use and enhancement of the world’s cultural heritage.”

Photo courtesy of the Archives of American Art.

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