Start of the intervention in room 41: inspection on scaffolding

On 12 December 2012, after completing the erection of scaffolding in Room 41, we were able to make an inspection during which, through close-up observation, we evaluated the state of conservation of structures and decorations.

We decided to make this a case study for the blog, taking readers through the phases of analysis, decision-making and consolidation work.

Room 41 – SSBAR Archive, photo E. Monti

Room 41 – SSBAR Archive, photo E. Monti

This room is representative of the Domus Aurea, difficult and complicated to resolve since many of the problems found in the whole complex are present within this single space. The cement core of the vault, consisting of pozzolana mortar and pieces of tufa, showed severe decohesion.

Overall plan showing the relevant areas – SSBAR Archive

Overall plan showing the relevant areas – SSBAR Archive

The decoration of the vault is missing a vast portion of the central area, cut diagonally by two sewers belonging to the Baths of Trajan above which run through the whole structure. This cut allows us to read the stratigraphy of the wall structure and the decorative system, as well as its state of conservation. The preparatory layers on which the painted plaster is laid is evidently detached from the structure of the vault.

Room 41. The vault seen from the scaffolding at a height of 12 metres

Room 41. The vault seen from the scaffolding at a height of 12 metres

Detail with the tree roots in between the underside of the vault and the decorated surface

Detail with the tree roots in between the underside of the vault and the decorated surface

On close-up observation we noted the presence of fibrous filaments, probably little roots and root hairs that have penetrated into the underside of the vault, lifting the paint layer and, in some cases, the preparatory layers as well. Blackening is not an absolute indicator of marcescence but may have a variety of causes: the root functions may have allowed fungal hyphae to grow on the innermost roots leading to blackening.

Excerpt of the plan with projection of the foliage of the Pinus Roxburgii – SSBAR Archive

Excerpt of the plan with projection of the foliage of the Pinus Roxburgii – SSBAR Archive

The presence of roots in the vault is caused by the primary nutritional structures of the Pinus Roxburgii which grows in the park on the Oppian Hill above and which may extend up to 35/40 metres from its position on the surface. The removal and laboratory analysis of a sample of the excrescences will provide a precise identification and evaluation of the vegetative state of the material.

A small group of technicians is at work to find the best solution for consolidating the decorated surface and the brick structure of the vault.

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Gli autori

Maria Bartoli

Maria Bartoli

Conservator trained at ISCR in Rome, she has many years of work-experience on the conservation of painted surfaces, plasterwork, stucco and stone materials. Working at SSBAR, since 1994 she has been responsible for the Mosaics section within the Conservation Sector I MNR. In 2010, she became a member of the Domus Aurea’s technical staff.
Gabriella Strano

Gabriella Strano

Landscape architect. She has worked for the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma since 1978 on the maintenance and enhancement of green areas on behalf of the Parks Authority. She was director of the works in the green areas in the Natural and Archaeological Park at Portus and participated in the planning of landscape projects. In 2011, she became a member of the Domus Aurea’s technical staff.

One thought on “Start of the intervention in room 41: inspection on scaffolding

  1. It is so nice to see an update on the Domus Aurea. I know it was opened and then closed to the public and next time I go to Rome it is what I would like to see. Thanks for doing this blog that we can all share. I have not seen it since 1986.

    Joe Geranio
    Julio Claudian Iconographic Association

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