Extreme Makeover! Restoration of Deteriorating St Aloysius Chapel Paintings

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Extreme Makeover! Restoration of Deteriorating St Aloysius Chapel Paintings

Extreme Makeover! Restoration of St Aloysius College Chapel Paintings which are Deteriorating due to Humidity and Dust, at a budget of Rs. 1,18,40,000 (Rupees One Crore Eighteen Lakhs Forty Thousand only). Calling All SAC Alumni and Well-Wishers to Contribute towards Paintings Restoration Project. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage-New Delhi) and Pietro Statuary Works will undertake the renovation work. Fr Dionysius Vaz Sj- the Rector of St Aloysius Institutions has made a humble request to all the Alumni of St Aloysius Institutions, and also other well-wishers to make a generous contribution towards this Renovation Project of St Aloysius Chapel Paintings, and to call him directly on his mobile number at 9741544347 for more details.

Mangaluru: St. Aloysius College Chapel-Mangaluru, an architectural gem is a ‘must see’ for anybody visiting Mangaluru, which is also known as “The Rome of the East”. The Chapel was built in the year 1899-1900, and the Chapel walls are covered with the paintings of the artist Bro.Anthony Moscheni of Italy. It is comparable with the Sistine chapel in Rome. The special beauty of the chapel is the wonderful series of paintings that virtually cover every inch of the interior roof and walls executed by Bro. Moscheni trained in Italy. : The Italian Jesuits have played an important role in education, health, and social welfare of the Catholic community and built many other institutions and churches.

The central row of paintings on the ceiling depicts the life of Aloysius Gonzaga to whom this College and Chapel is dedicated. This young man who gave his life in the service of others is given as a model to the thousands of youth studying on this campus. Aloysius had everything that a young man of his age desires-he had wealth, power and influence. But he gave them up in order to serve others, especially the most needy. So the students of St Aloysius Institutions are asked to imbibe his spirit of service.

Aloysius Gonzaga’s earlier life is shown in the first three panels from the rear, some of the paintings are: Aloysius as a child promising at the Altar of Mary in Florence to dedicate his life to God; Aloysius preaching about God to his townsfolk; The first communion of Aloysius; and The fifth panel shows Aloysius seeking admission to the Jesuit Order. The rest of his life is depicted on the wall above the altar. The central picture depicts him serving the plague stricken in Rome. Aloysius volunteered to help the plague stricken. He contracted the disease and died, at the young age of 23 years. On the panels of the sloping portion of the ceiling are portrayed the Apostles. Note the garlands weaving through the different panels. No two garlands have the same flowers. The angels who hold the garland are life size. The Series of the Upper Arches, depict saints of the Church. The lower arches depict Jesuit saints.

Some of other paintings are : St Thomas, Apostle of India, with a spear in his hand is on the third left panel; St Francis of Assisi- Patron of environmentalists is on 3rd right arch; St Peter Claver, the Apostle of the Negroes, who served the slaves when they arrived in Cartagena, making them feel through his care and love that they were his equals is on fourth left arch; Bl Rudolf Aquaviva-he had gone to the Court of Akbar, and was there held in high esteem; St John De Britto, the first missionary to wear the dress of a sanyasi as a sign of inculturation. He was a scholar who studied Sanskrit, Tamil and Indian customs.

The painting on the rear wall shows Jesus as the friend of children. It is considered to be the masterpiece of Moscheni. Due to seepage of rain water the painting was covered with fungus and calcium carbonate crystals. It has now been restored but a patch of the unrestored painting has been left untouched below the woman seated at the right.

There are many paintings which take up the life of. Jesus-like the Birth of Jesus on Christmas night. Observe the play of light and shade: the illumination originates from the baby Jesus; Jesus, is baptised by St John the Baptist, in the River Jordan. Notice how the play of light and shadow bring out the depth of the river: it seems to be flowing. The Wedding of Cana, where Jesus changed the water in the six pitchers into wine; The Crucifixion of Jesus between two thieves on Calvary; Mary- the Mother of Jesus and Magdalene are at the foot of the Cross. A soldier, Longinus, pierces with a lance the side of Jesus. Observe the artist’s controlled use of light effects to show that there was darkness and lightening.

THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE: How the Chapel was painted: There are two types of paintings in the Chapel: fresco and canvas. A fresco is painted on fresh wet lime plaster walls. The colours get embedded in the lime plaster as it dries up. Frescos cover about 600 square metres of the walls of the Chapel. For an oil painting, the colours are made by mixing pigments with linseed oil. The canvas is made of pure linen of strong close weave. The paintings on the ceilings in the Chapel (about 400 Square Metres) are in oil on canvas.

The Restoration of the Paintings: In recent times the paintings have suffered damage due to the humidity and dust. The stitches of the canvases had given way. The canvases were taken down with the help of a special cradle, the dust was removed, the pieces were restitched, the joints were reinforced with tapes. After restretching the canvas on the frame the paintings were put back in place. The work of restoration was done by specialists of INTACH – ICI Lucknow from 1991 to 1994 under the guidance of Dr O.P.Agrawal.

About the painter: Antonio Moscheni was born in a village called Stezzano near Bergamo in Italy on January 17, 1854. Fortunately for him, his artistics were discovered early and he was sent to the famed Accademia Carrara in Berganeo. He studied under able masters and acquired considerable proficiency in the art of painting. He then went to Rome to study the masterpieces of the Vatican. Fresco painting now became his passion. In 1889, Antonio renounced the pro of a brilliant career and took up religious work. But his religious superiors did not wish his talents to be buried, ordered him to paint several churches in his native place. They then sent him to Mangaluru to the Chapel of St. Aloysius College. It took him a little over two years to cover the walls and ceilings of the Chapel with paintings.

But according to the Conservation Assessment report of Paintings at St. Aloysius Chapel as prepared by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage-New Delhi) recently, the Chapel paintings are due for restoration again soon, since they are showing signs of deterioration due to humidity and dust. St. Aloysius College Chapel is an architectural marvel that could stand comparison with the chapels of Rome. What makes this chapel unique compared to the other chapels in the country, is the beautiful paintings that cover virtually every inch of the walls.

Previous Restoration of the Paintings:

With the passage of time the paintings suffered damage due to ageing; the paintings being hanging horizontally had started to expand due to gravitational pull resulting in opening of joints and canvas ripping from several areas. This coupled with atmospheric agents like humidity, temperature etc. led to paint layers peeling off at various places. The paintings were conserved scientifically by specialists of INTACH from 1991 to 1994. After the passage of more than 20 years of previous restoration, the authorities of Chapel once again contacted INTACH to review the status of preservation of paintings and suggest conservation measures that may be required. A visit was therefore conducted by Nilabh Sinha, Principal Director, INTACH Conservation Institutes (ICI), Art & Material Heritage Division to the St. Aloysius Chapel, Mangaluru on 29th March 2016 to assess the condition of paintings displayed in the gallery.

There are two types of paintings in the Chapel: Wall Paintings and Canvas Paintings. Wall paintings are executed on lime whereas canvas paintings have oil as a binding media. Total area of paintings: Wall Painting – approx 600 square meters; and Oil Paintings: approx 400 Square meters. During the recent inspection it was found though the paintings are generally in good condition, however they are showing signs of losses and damages in canvas and paint layer manifesting themselves in the form of lose and wavy canvas, cracks on the paintings, with canvases losing mechanical strength that is visible in the form of tears and holes. Dust and dirt along with faded paint are seen. Excessive contact with moisture due to seepage has resulted in serious damages to the paintings. The seam is opening, fungus is present and also the paint layer is lost. The canvas is ripping, wooden moulding is also disintegrating. Loss of paint due to pulverisation; dissolution of binding media due to prolonged contact with moisture

The problems of conservation require in-depth analysis to lay down the extent of damage and therefore to design a safe conservation treatment for protection of these valuable art forms. Apart from on-site evaluation, detailed analyses will be conducted at Intach Lab in New Delhi. The conservation treatments would involve setting up of a temporary conservation lab within the premises of the Chapel and by deputing expert conservators from Delhi for undertaking the work. Local people will also be inducted with the team and trained on job so that the process of conservation could be explained and minor conservation works could be looked after by them once the Intach team has left the site.

Previous restorations, additions and over-painting which are unscientific and do not form part of the original may be removed. The aim of restoration is to improve the legibility of form. Aesthetic reintegration contributes to minimising the visibility of damage and should only be carried out on non-original material. In-paintings and retouching should be carried out in a way that is discernable from the original. Reconstruction of forms should be avoided as much as possible and, where proposed, should be done only when there is evidence and after consent and discussion with the authorities. Most importantly all such additions should be easily reversible. At all stages of intervention it is absolutely essential to maintain internationally accepted norms of conservation treatments, which INTACH adheres to very strictly.

The duration of the Restoration project will last for about 18 months. Application of protective facing to paint layer with Japanese / Lens tissue will be done on very fragile areas to prevent loss of paint while other processes of conservation are being undertaken. Scientific examination of the pigments and varnish/adhesive used will also be done simultaneously that will help formulate the course of conservation treatment. Retouching on the lost areas of paint incompatible mediums with an aim that they would be easily reversible without any harm to the original. Re-varnishing or giving a protective film on top, as the case may be, that would give the required colour saturation and will not yellow with time.

INTACH Conservation Institute being an institution devotes much time in R & D and keeps constantly abreast with the latest technical advances in the field of conservation. Much exercise has been done towards employing latest materials used in paintings conservation the world over. The materials used are aging tested, are reversible without causing any harm to the original work and are compatible with the original medium.

Budget for the Project is Rs. 1,18,40,000 (Rupees One Crore Eighteen Lakhs Forty Thousand only).The budget has been prepared on calculations made on the basis of the total time available (18 months), the required workforce for speed and the output of a person per day. There are other paintings on the 1st floor of the Chapel that require immediate conservation treatment; these were however not studied. A separate proposal could be given for these paintings once the team is present on site.

Fr Dionysius Vaz Sj- the Rector of St Aloysius Institutions has made a humble request to all the Alumni of St Aloysius Institutions, and also other well-wishers to make generous contribution towards this Renovation Project of St Aloysius Chapel Paintings, and to call him directly on his mobile number at 9741544347 for more details.

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