West wing: room of the red vault

Work to secure Room 33, the Room of the Red Vault, has recently been completed.

Location of the Room of the Red Vault, no. 33 – SSBAR Archive

Location of the Room of the Red Vault, no. 33 – SSBAR Archive

An extremely rich decoration is preserved in this room, principally on the vault; in addition to the paint layers, part of the preparatory layers for the lost sectilia that originally covered the room up to a height of about 4 metres have also come to light on the walls.

Recording of Room 33- SSBAR Archive, graphic rendering M.R. Acetoso

Recording of Room 33- SSBAR Archive, graphic rendering M.R. Acetoso

Vast areas of the painted decorations are obscured by blackening due both to the deposition of carbon black and the alteration of the pigments.

Additionally, the paintings are covered to varying degrees by thick layers of calcareous concretions that have formed over time due to the constant percolation and dripping of water. As in many other rooms of the Domus, water does not just enter the Room of the Red Vault when it rains, coming in directly through the apertures – in this case a modern hole about a metre wide at the top of the vault. Even after the rain has stopped, the water that has impregnated the layer of earth above the Domus continues to filter through cracks in the wall structures and between these and the decorative layers.

Circular aperture – SSBAR Archive

Circular aperture – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Calcareous deposits showing the percolation of waters – SSBAR Archive

Oscillations in temperature and humidity, alongside airflows that can be fairly strong, encourage the evaporation of the water present in the structure leading to the formation of salt efflorescences, carbonate layers and incrustations; these accretions, over 2 cm thick in places, show the paths of percolation.

Salt efflorescences on paint layer – SSBAR Archive

Salt efflorescences on paint layer – SSBAR Archive

Salt efflorescences and lifting of the paint layer – SSBAR Archive

Salt efflorescences and lifting of the paint layer – SSBAR Archive

Additionally, where the light enters, the presence of water and soil residues has encouraged the development of phenomena of bio-deterioration affecting both the decorations and the wall structures.

Detail of the soil deposits near the aperture at the top of the vault – SSBAR Archive

Detail of the soil deposits near the aperture at the top of the vault – SSBAR Archive

Interventions

The survey of situations of structural risk mainly involved analysing the state of conservation of the vault to determine the presence of any obvious signs of distress. The inspection of the whole surface showed that two situations required more detailed study:

  • The presence of the aforementioned hole, about one metre in diameter, in the vicinity of the apsidal wall. This hole is not only a preferential entry point for water from the garden above, but also represents a point of structural discontinuity in the vault with the risk of localized loosening and therefore of detachments.
  • the presence of a vast gap in the painted decoration of the vault, indicating an extensive collapse in the past.

The first problem was tackled by postponing closure of the hole to when we decide on the system to be applied to the outside of the vaults to ensure adequate water drainage. It should be stressed that, whilst from a purely structural point of view an intervention to restore structural continuity with localized reconstruction would be ideal, the specific conditions of the monument led us to prefer closing the skylight to stabilize the microclimate without running the risk of water accumulating in the earth above after the aperture had been filled in.

The second problem was tackled by undertaking some endoscopic studies in the area of the gap in the painted decoration. This allowed us to ascertain that, despite the partial collapse in the past, the vault is still extremely thick and ensures sufficient resistance in the remaining section. Our work, as illustrated below, was thus aimed essentially at surface consolidation to avoid any future losses of the residual material still in situ.

In accordance with our usual practice, adopted for all the interventions in the Domus, we first recorded the decorations and structures and photographed them.

After erecting the scaffolding, we proceeded to record the state of conservation of the structures and the decorations, tapping the surfaces to identify any detachments.

On the basis of these preliminary diagnostic tests, we then disinfected the surfaces to eliminate the forms of bio-deterioration present; this was completed by mechanically removing the residual biological patina using cotton buds and nylon brushes.

Work then continued with the removal of an extensive cement layer applied in the modern period to close a large hole present in the decoration of the vault in the vicinity of the counter-façade wall. This layer of cement altered the permeability of the original wall structure, leading to considerable pooling and accumulation of water, compromising the conservation of the adjacent decorations.

Removal of cement layer – SSBAR Archive

Removal of cement layer – SSBAR Archive

Wall structure after the removal of the cement – SSBAR Archive

Wall structure after the removal of the cement – SSBAR Archive

After eliminating this harmful cement layer, we extracted the soluble salts, cleaned the surface and repaired the cohesion defects of the original wall support.

All the cohesion defects were repaired by repeatedly impregnating them with nanolime dispersed in isopropyl alcohol.

We then proceeded to repair the adhesion defects recorded in the decoration of the vault and walls, between the preparatory layers and between these and the wall structure. We used all the cracks already present to inject the consolidants, keeping the opening of new holes to the bare minimum.

Infiltrations of consolidants through the lesions between the preparatory layers and the wall structure – SSBAR Archive

Infiltrations of consolidants through the lesions between the preparatory layers and the wall structure – SSBAR Archive

Considering the number and size of the detachments found, we chose to use a product consisting of a mixture of hydraulic binders and inert powders, which have the specific property of a lower diffusion capability within the walls. This allowed us to obtain a series of points of adhesion to the wall support, sufficient to secure the decorations without overly burdening the structure with the excessive addition of consolidant.

Work was completed by plastering the lesions and cracks present using a lime-based mortar resembling the original mortars in terms of components, colour and aggregate size (granulometry).

Plastering the lesions – SSBAR Archive

Plastering the lesions – SSBAR Archive

After operations to secure the decorations, we applied a further biocide treatment to prevent bio-deterioration phenomena developing.

Detail of painted decoration – SSBAR Archive

Detail of painted decoration – SSBAR Archive

Detail of painted decoration – SSBAR Archive

Detail of painted decoration – SSBAR Archive

Work carried out by the company IMAR and the conservator Fabio Fernetti.

Collaboration on the graphic and photographic documentation Arch. Maria Rita Acetoso.

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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.
Maurizio Pesce

Maurizio Pesce

A member of the technical staff of MiBAC (the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities) from 1978. Since 1989, he has been a member of the Domus Aurea staff, holding management support posts and managing facilities and maintenance work. He worked with special commitment on reopening the monument in 1999. Since 2010, he has been technical director, coordinating the companies working in the monument, workers and staff in collaboration with the director of the Domus Aurea. He is also works manager in several of the worksites to secure the monument.
Giuseppe Carluccio

Giuseppe Carluccio

Born in 1955, he was awarded a first class degree in Civil Engineering in 1978 by Rome’s La Sapienza University. A member from 2005 of the Scientific Committee of “ARCo – Associazione per il Recupero del Costruito” (Association for the Recovery of the Built Environment), he has collaborated with the Universities of Ancona and Rome. He has lectured for various courses on the conservation of the historic built environment. He is the author of numerous international publications on works on historic buildings, structural consolidation and the restoration of monuments. Since 1979, he has worked professionally on research, planning and works management in the field of historic buildings. His most important projects include: the Domus Tiberiana, Palazzetto dello Sport, Basilica di San Carlo al Corso, Trajan’s Markets in Rome, scaffolding for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the former Monastery of San Francesco in Velletri, Basilica and Monastery of San Francesco at Assisi.

One thought on “West wing: room of the red vault

  1. Sono molto felice di aver trovato questo sito. Voglio ringraziarvi per il tempo che spendete,

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