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Interview to Emma Colle

At present, the San Salvador sacristy is being restored. In this interview we talk to Mrs. Emma Colle, who is responsible for   the restoration work. She is to carry out the work itself and has been asked  to bring back   to their original beauty a large number of frescoes. The frescoes date back  to the 16th century and were traditionally considered  to be by  Francesco Vecellio; however,  they have now been attributed  to Camillo Cappelli, called  il Mantovano.

We would like to know a little more about  this restoration: whose  initiative was it and who is funded by?
Mrs Anna Bristot, officer of the Venetian Superintendence, took the initiative, while the financial sponsor is 'Save Venice Inc.', a private committee of UNESCO.

Was it you who conducted  the preliminary tests that we can see?
No,it  wasn’t. Investigative  research and tests on the structure and composition of the frescoes had  already been  carried out   by Arcadia Ricerche. On the  basis of their results  we are now  able to start planning and begin working  on our  restoration project.

When did you start and what  was the initial  condition of the  frescoes?
We started at the end of last January. The frescoes had already been restored around 1900-1910 using outdated techniques and in an improper way. We found many layers  and patches, remains  of a kind of retouching material made of white plaster and other components . During that restoration the original plaster base  was  scraped  and now  parts are missing. Some of the decorations, in a attempt to  reconstruct them, were restored  improperly and hastily. The frescoes were then covered with a yellow patina to give them  an older look. Only once we’ve cleaned them, will we be able to see all the alterations and what remains of the original frescoes.

So, if I’ve understood, the problem is to see what remains of the original frescoes once  you’ve cleaned them?...
Exactly, here and there the original painting is coming off in layers  and is badly damaged by infiltrations from the salty lagoon water. The other big problem remains  the first restoration which was of a much lower 'quality' if compared with the original frescoes. Furthermore the frescoes underwent a further retouching that coated  them with an acrilic resin, making them look more like paintings than frescoes. This resin doesn’t allow the plaster to transpire, causing  it to come off in layers. We have to remove it.   The Chemical Dept. of Florence invented a new way of  removing resins. It is very innovative and effective, and  it is also non-toxic.

So your major difficulty is the restoration work done at the start of the last Century.
Exactly: we are restoring a previous restoration and attempting to repair the damage done. This often happens in our job.

What will the final result  be like?
Well, I think that if we use light coatings of the same colours,  we can make those parts which were scrapped off very similar to the original ones. We'll try to make the original colours remerge even if I think we won’t  obtain a perfect result.

When do you think you will  finish this restoration?
We have a dead-line: in September  or October.

A personal question: do you like your job?
Our life is quite hard: we’re often away from our homes, we breath dust and chemical substances and work in uncomfortable places; although I must admit that the very toxic materials we once used have been replaced . All in all, yes, I love my job and find it very rewarding.

June 4th, 2003


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