Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello


Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello, Mosaics, 1977-85 and 2002 A specially formed International Torcello Committee chaired by Sir Ashley Clarke coordinated the restoration of this 7th-century basilica with 12th-century mosaics. Rising damp has resulted in loosening and deterioration of individual tesserae, some of which had fallen off, and large areas of plasterwork were gradually becoming detached from the walls. Funded from 12 different sources, including Venice in Peril, work began with a detailed study of the problems prior to recommending methods of restoring both the mosaic and the building. Before conserving the mosaics it was necessary to repair the roof. Then the underlying water table was reduced, followed by waterproofing of the east and west walls. A tuning fork and stethoscope were used to identify voids behind the mosaics, which were then consolidated by fixing steel pins and removeable supports and injecting a mixture of lime, crushed marble and brick with a little acrylic resin behind the layer of plaster. All subsequent repairs could thus be achieved without removing a single tessera. With the Virgin and Child in the central apse, however, the mosaic was in such a precarious state that the slightest pressure exerted at the point of injection might have caused large areas of tesserae to break away. Thus, before the usual consolidation method could proceed without risk, acrylic resin was applied directly between each tessera and a wooden lath support frame screwed into the brockwork beneath. The mosaic of the Last Judgement on the west wall was left with a temporary system of numerous small plugs, fixed by clear plastic discs, holding firm areas where there had been a vacuum. After 17 years, in 2002, Venice in Peril and some of the original partners financed the re-erection of scaffolding to enable the mosaicist to carry out a comprehensive check on a sample section of the west wall.

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