The first conservator

France Stelè (b. 21 February 1886 in Tunjice, d. 10 August 1972 in Ljubljana) was a Slovenian art historian, conservator, university professor and academic. He studied in Vienna, where he graduated in archive, library, museum and cultural heritage sciences and earned his doctorate for research on medieval mural art in Carniola. His mentor was Max Dvořák, one of the first organisers of the cultural heritage service in the Habsburg Monarchy.

In summer 1913, Stelè was appointed the first conservator of Carniola. He took a strategic approach to his work by drafting basic starting points, legislation, topographical descriptions and popularisation. The basic principles of his conservation work included fieldwork and consultation, cooperation with experts from related sciences (architects and painters), caring for monuments in their actual locations, and keeping pace with developments in his field. He also believed that the education of students was indispensable. Even in his early publications he promoted comprehensive care of churches, homesteads (in this term he included preservation of landscape, ethnological and historical monuments), castles and urban centres. He also underlined the necessity to preserve moveable heritage. After 1919, following a hiatus caused by the First World War, he continued his work on the same foundations.

In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Stelè strived to provide better legislative protection for cultural monuments. Regarding castles, in particular, he drew the attention of the authorities to the fact that their owners needed tax relief and support. From castles and manors falling into ruins he often saved precious furnishings which enriched the collections of the National Museum, the National Gallery and other institutions; he was among the founders or promoters of the National Gallery, the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the PEN Club and the Arts and History Association.

He wrote a basic topography of the Kamnik region, the first outline of the development of fine arts, basic outlines of fine arts monuments and numerous monographs and articles. He wrote articles for various cultural magazines and was an editor of many publications. He was among the leading promoters of Slovenian art abroad. And he played an irreplaceable role in providing advice for urban planners and architects. Plečnik and his students’ extensive work would have been completely different without Stelè’s advice.