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Santa Marta al Collegio Romano. Restoration Open

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Data: 31/10/2017

Guided tours at the new conservation workshop open to the public. How to book and timetable on this page

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For the year 2017-2018, the restoration workshop set up by the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration (ISCR) inside the former church of Saint Martha at Collegio Romano and in the area of the former Coro delle Monache (Nuns’Choir) will host works in the field of wall paintings and in particular some frescoes.

This initiative has been designed to contribute to broadening the number of people who are aware and informed on issues of protecting and enhancing cultural heritage. Agreements will be set up with schools to enable students to take part in projects involving conservation and valorisation of cultural heritage.

Opening times with booking:
Tuesdays to Fridays
from 11.00 hrs to 12.00 hrs, and from 14.00 hrs to 16.00 hrs.
First Sunday of each month, opening time from 10.00 hrs to 13.00 hrs, and from 14.00 hrs to 17.00

Visits last one hour. Max 25 people allowed for each visit.

Booking on Eventbrite


Info: is-cr.santamarta@beniculturali.it

Booking should be done at least a day before the visit.

This new use for the deconsecrated church coincides with its re-opening to the public after being closed for several years. The church was consecrated in 1570, restructured and decorated from 1668 onwards by architects Giovanni Antonio De Rossi followed by Carlo Fontana, author of the church’s definitive baroque style, as well as painter Giovan Battista Gaulli and stucco artist Leonardo Retti. In recent years, the decorative scheme has been restored to its former state.

Inside the church there were nine paintings, one for each of the nine altars; the subjects and authors are known but unfortunately most of them were dispersed when the State took over the convent – an event that marked the beginning of drastic changes to the whole complex.

In 1877, the church was closed as a place of worship, and in 1881 all the buildings and the appurtenances of the convent including the church and the annexed Nuns’Choir were handed over to the local authorities.

In 1907 the church of Santa Marta was converted into the archive for the police headquarters; during the restructuring work the altars in the side chapels were demolished to make space for shelving, while the cornice and the stuccowork between the windows were also eliminated to make way for a metal balcony.

In 1908 a project was approved to remove the 16th century portal which was replaced by a window; then the four niches on the facade were also turned into windows. The portal was moved to the entrance of the nearby barracks.

Between 1961 and 1995 the church was restored, and in 1996 the Rome Artistic and Historical Superintendence handed it over to the General Administration and Personnel Department to be used for training courses and other cultural activities.

An important aspect of the church’s re-opening is the return in situ of a painting by Francesco Cozza (1606-1682) a Calabrian artist who spent most of his life in Rome, depicting The Preaching of St John the Baptist signed and dated 1675. Discovered on the antiquarian market, it was purchased by the Italian State in 1966 for the church of Santa Marta at Collegio Romano; since the church was under restoration at the time, the painting was deposited in the storerooms of the National Galleries of Barberini and Corsini, and  has now been rehung in the third chapel on the right where it was originally located.

Two other works tracked down in the 20th century (one in 1937 by Salvagnini, and the other in 1987 by Falaschi) are still stored in the convent of the Augustinian nuns at the church of Santi Quattro Coronati in Rome. These two paintings have been reproduced full size and hung where they were originally located; one in the middle of the presbytery area, depicting Christ in the house of Martha and Mary by Guillame Courtois known as the Borgognone (1638-1679); and the other, a The Virgin with Child with St Augustine and St Monica  by Giacomo del Po (1652-1742) in the second chapel on the left.


Artworks being restored in the church of Saint Martha

The artworks in question are mainly frescoes which, for various reasons, have suffered damage or transformation causing significant changes in their state.

A wall painting (fresco, tempera, oil)  created as a static work anchored to masonry, whether vertical or horizontal, can become detached and fall to the ground in random pieces of varying thickness, or it can end up as fragments after the collapse of the structures on which it was mounted; it can also become a sort of moveable picture when it is detached or torn from a wall. The latter is an extreme solution in the event of serious threats to instability or even collapse of the architecture to which it belongs – a typical operation, for example, in the aftermath of an earthquake.

These are the three cases which ISCR has chosen to demonstrate in the new restoration space:

  1. the 16th century wall paintings still existing on the rear wall of the former Nuns’Choir: these frescoes form part of a unified cycle, perhaps created after the acquisition in 1561, which was restored in the mid-1990s leaving the problem of the lacunae unresolved. The intention is to carry out a revision according to the criteria for reintegrating painted surfaces which are still based on the principles put forward by Cesare Brandi in his Teoria del restauro (1963);
  2. the precious fragments, circa 7.000, coming from the thermal baths of a large Roman villa which was restored and expanded several times from the late-republican era (2nd century BC) until its definitive abandonment at the end of the Julian-Claudian era (1st century AD); the site of the villa has recently been excavated by a team from the University of Tor Vergata. The subject of reassembling fragments has been on ISCR’s agenda from the early years of its foundation and saw a particular moment of involvement with the restoration of the paintings on the collapsed vaulting of the Basilica of St Francis at Assisi in the aftermath of the 1997 earthquake;
  3. the separated painting coming from the Casino della morte in Palazzo Farnese depicting Narcissus at the pool, created by Domenico Zampieri known as Domenichino (1581-1641) dating from between 1503-1505, detached from a wall in 1826.  Domenichino’s painting mainly involves problems of cleaning and reintegration.

The restoration of each of these works constitutes a complex operation that will require, in line with normal practice, preliminary studies and investigation of the original materials, execution techniques, transformations due to natural aging and subsequent interventions, in order to evaluate their compatibility ahead of the assessment to be made whether to maintain and/or remove them. Studies, verifications and surveys are part of the entire restoration process and are often accompanied by pauses for further study and/or reflection and observation during which work seems to have stopped. There are also rarer cases such as some consolidation work which, once executed, require waiting time before continuing with the project.

Bearing this in mind, a number of different situations have been set up in the laboratory so that visitors always have the chance to see work in progress on at least one of the projects.

Importantly, visitors will be able to see the "reality" of extended restoration work carried out with attention to detail. This will help people to understand the various phases and to appreciate the delicate problems being faced by the committed team of professionals involved in a conservation project.

For each project, the accompanying person will provide an account of the current situation locating it along the path leading to the recovery of the artwork.

The restorers will be joined by the other professional figures involved in the various phases of the project, enabling visitors to encounter art historians, archaeologists, architects, chemists, physicists and others, as well as all the techniques of field diagnostics.

The layout of pathways for visitors takes into account not only security aspects but also the need to ensure suitable conditions for the restorers to concentrate on delicate operating steps while visits are taking place. At the same time, all possible solutions have been used to give visitors a close-up view of the work by choosing angles and visuals of maximum effect.

All the restoration work is conducted by the ISCR using collaborators trained at the Institute's school.

The purpose of the initiative is not to provide training in the specific field of restoration but to help visitors understand the importance of safeguarding artistic heritage and how much care needs to be taken to slow down its degradation. By intervening on the material of the artwork, restoration provides the chance to examine the work through the constituent elements and the techniques of execution, also enabling visitors to become more involved irrespective of their knowledge of art history.

This initiative also contributes to broadening the number of people who are aware and informed on issues of protecting and enhancing cultural heritage. Agreements will be set up with schools to enable students to take part in projects involving conservation and valorisation of cultural heritage.

All the new structures in the church and the Nuns’Choir are designed to be fully reversible and have been created by the Società ArticolArte.

The ISCR working group for the new layout of Santa Marta consists of

Cristina Udina
Angelandreina Rorro
Rocco D’Urso
Ottavio Ono
Edoardo Loliva
Fabio Aramini

Promotion and communication
Anna Milaneschi
Claudio Santangelo

Graphic editing of panels Jacopo Russo