Skip to Content

Conservation Problems and Carried Out Interventions

Conditions prior to the 2005-08 intervention

The chapel is situated in a part of the monument which is in direct contact with the tuffaceous cliff of the Palatine Hill. Just after the excavations of 1900-02, the wall paintings, especially the ones on the southern and eastern walls, revealed an immediate and strong degradation, due to water infiltrations and the crystallization of soluble salts. The excellent readability of the paintings at the time of discovery is illustrated by a rich photographic documentation, which is kept in the archives of the Special Archaeological Superintendency of Rome. The rapid and continuous degradation of these paintings was, since the beginning, one of the main preoccupations for the safeguard of Santa Maria Antiqua. A first intervention at the time of the excavations was the placement of cement rims and metallic anchoring pegs in order to ensure the stability of the wall plaster, let alone the application of a protective layer of wax over the painted surfaces in order to avoid their contact with the air. Already in 1906, due to the unstoppable degradation, a new intervention was deemed necessary: the application of another layer of protective and “reviving” wax. Finally, the detachment of the paintings from the southern wall in 1947 and 1954 was judged the only possible solution in order to guarantee their preservation. During the 70’s, new whitenings that appeared on the paintings still in situ, led to a new cleaning and revision intervention. The conditions of the paintings and of the other architectural surfaces, before the present restoration, presented the signs of these troubled conservation events.

Restoration Operations Carried Out During 2005-08

(The consolidation of the paintings and of the unpainted wall plasters, was carried out, throughout the whole monument, between 2002 and 2003, during the second phase of the project)

Decorated surfaces belonging to the pagan period:

  • Removal of the rough cement rims and substitution with lime based mortar (photos 1,2)
  • Removal of about 200 rusted iron braces (photos 2,3).
  • Cleaning, carried out locally with compress (photos 4,5).
  • Chromatic balancing and final aesthetical presentation.

Photo 1. Work for the removal of the cement rims Photo 2. Work for the removal of the cement rims Photo 3. A few removed oxidated iron clamps Photo 4. Cleaning carrid out through compress application Photo 5. Sample square which shows the difference after cleaning

Painting cycle (surfaces preserved in situ):

  • Fixing of painting elements carried out with very thick lime based colours.
  • Removal of plaster fillings and cement rims and substitution with lime mortar; the new plaster fillings have a rough texture and are kept slightly lower than the painted surface (photo 1).
  • Removal of the wax protective layers using cotton flocks soaked in a mixture of organic solvents (photo 2-3).
  • Painting reintegration through neutral colour veilings and without the reconstruction of missing parts (photo 4-5).

Photo 1. Removal of the fillings and the cement rims Photo 2. Removal of the altered wax protective layer Photo 3. Sample square which shows the difference after the removal of the protecting wax Photo 4. Painting reintegration with neutral colour veilings Photo 5. The result after the painting reintegration with neutral colour veilings

The Frame With the Virgin with Child between the apostoles Peter and Paul, saints Quiricus and Julietta, Pope Zaccarias and Theodotus, detached from the southern wall in 1947

(The operation was performed by detaching the painting from the wall in three sections and by reducing the plaster’s thickness, by attaching a hemp cloth on its back and by mounting it on an expanding frame; the painting was then exhibited on one of the walls of the Freize Hall in the offices of the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome in Santa Maria Nova)

  • Transfer back to Santa Maria Antiqua of the detached panel (photo 1).
  • Cleaning of the painting surface.
  • Veiling of the painting surface.
  • Removal of the expanding frame and of the backing hemp cloth.
  • Attachment to a new carbon fibre support (photo 2).
  • Trimming of the support along the outer margin of the painting (photo 3).
  • Repositioning and fixing of the panel (photo 4).
  • Removal of the protecting veil.
  • Filling of the voids with lime mortar at a slightly lower level than the painted surfaces.
  • Painting reintegration using the same method as the existing one on the paintings in situ (photo 5).

Photo 1. Transfer back to Santa Maria Antiqua of the detached panel Photo 2. Pasting onto the new carbon fibre panel Photo 3. Trimming of the support along the outer margin of the painting Photo 4. Repositioning and fixing onto the panel Photo 5. Painting reintegration using the same method as the existing one on the paintings in situ

Crucifixion detached in 1954 from the southern wall niche and relocated in situ:

(the conditions of the metallic support have been judged to be in a sufficiently good state as to not be in need of substitution)

  • Removal of the perimetral rim corresponding to the cut carried out at the time of its detachment.
  • Anti-rust treatment of the iron frame’s exposed surfaces.
  • Application of a new invisible fixing system and removal of the old anchoring clamps (photo 1).
  • Fixing of liftings of the painting surface (photo 2).
  • In depth consolidation of the original wall plaster (photo 3).
  • Cleaning of the painted surface.
  • Removal and substitution of the old fillings.
  • Filling of the crack caused by a microfracture during the detachment process (photo 4).
  • Painting reintegration using the same method as the existing one on the paintings in situ (photo 5).
  • Level filling and recostruction through “hatching” of the perimetral cut.

Photo 1. Application of a new invisible fixing system Photo 2  Fixing of liftings of the painting surface Photo 3. In depth consolidation of the original wall plaster Photo 4. Filling of a crack caused by a microfracture during the detachment process Photo 5. Painting reintegration using the same method as the existing one on the paintings in situ