Behind and Below

The Restoration of trampled works of art

Every day, when we visit a historic building, our eye dwells on the exhibited works, paintings and sculptures of incredible beauty ... what we often do not consider and that, in many cases, the environment is crucial to enhance the artworks power.
I refer of course to frames, woodwork other artistic supports almost “invisible” compared with nobler decorations. Very often, these kind of artifacts have been designed to hide the irregularities of architectural spaces, giving more prominence to artworks and helping to create illusory spaces.
As part of the restoration work1, carried out by Nicola Restauri team, on nine rooms on the Nobile floor and restoration of the top floor display made in 1934 by Vittorio Viale, under the direction of the Arch. Emanuela Lavezzo, for the City of Turin and control Anna Maria Bava and Arch. Paola Salerno of the two Superintendents Piedmont2, has had the opportunity to work - as well as on frescoes stucco, murals, plaster, paintings, ceiling, woodwork, furniture and display elements – even on the wooden floors, which will be the subject of this short article.
Although these floors were made with refined technique and very quality wood, they were not designed to withstand the use intensive by tourists. Sometimes, the restoration of artistic floor were performed by carpenters and not by professional restorers. Also in Palazzo Madama this work was conducted, in the past, by carpenters and this has caused irreparable damages.
The sanding of the surfaces to smooth the irregularities, which involves the thinning of the wood, created an inevitable weakening of the joints and sometimes this revealed tunnels dug internally by wood-boring insects. In the restoration of the wooden floors of the Palazzo Madama, Nicola Restauri team treated each wooden element with the greatest respect of the object in order to preserve the original element instead of replace the object.
In addition to some trauma of an accidental nature, the majority of the damages were due to the action of the worm and by not appropriate interventions performed in the past. In some rooms the floors and woodwork had already been partially dismantled many years before, without mapping the interventions and this has led to some difficulties in the process of relocation, not only because of the lack of documentation but also because of the wooden deformations which happened due to incorrect positioning of the various tiles and sometimes loss of certain elements. In other cases, the floors were still in place, covered with a very consistent dirt deposits of powder and smog, some times embedded in old wax-ups and other protective products. In particular, the floor of the Sala Quattro Stagioni, had extensive alterations due not only to the drastic sanding surface but also for inserting of grafts performed with wrong shapes to fill the lost or damaged portions.
Nails and screws of various types caused twists and breaks of the wooden parts by blocking the various sectors. On the back off the tiles many reinforcements were made with plywood or various recycled wood. The restoration, which took place partly in the laboratory and in part on the site, was structured in many phases that contemplated the mapping and numbering and cataloging of each wooden part, the disassembly of the woodwork, the transport, the cleaning, restoration of the wood and the repositioning of the woodwork The cleaning of the wood was made first with wax remover and organic solvents and subsequently finished with steam. With a long and meticulous work, the tunnels dug by wood-boring were manually emptied from the blackish wax, using a dentist probe.
The wood was treated carefully with a brush on both sides or by imbibition in more severe cases, with a product that kill and prevent worms to infest again the wood and consolidating the parts with lack of resistance.
The open joints were repositioned properly and stopped where necessary with graft reinforcement, respecting the original assemblages. The grafts positioned in the past that did not care about the design or the correct wooden essences have been eliminated and replaced.
The galleries of worms and small gaps were grouted with wood dust and polyester resin and then rebalanced in tone with the original by retouching punctual. As impregnating protective, considered even the decision not to preserve the floors with guides from trampling, was chosen a product specially designed for wooden surfaces composed by dammar resin, linseed oil, carnauba wax and propolis dissolved in limonene.
In order to avoid the blocking the natural movement of the wood due to changes in temperature and humidity, the floors have been assembled together without any nails, screws or locking elements, but with wooden elements inserted in grooves in the thickness of the tile, balancing plans custom created thicknesses and interposing, between the floorboards and floor, a non-woven fabric sheet.
Some elements have been lost in the past, but we were able to faithfully copying the original, using the same wood species and the same type of joints.

[by Alessandro Nicola]


1. Our intervention in the Palazzo Madama involved in an integral way: Sala Quattro Stagioni, Torre dei Tesori, Veranda Sud, Veranda Nord, Sala della Galleria, Gabinetto Rotondo, Gabinetto dei fiori, Sala Guidobono e Salotto Cinese. We have also restored the precious shelf of the book shop and the second floor, under the Works Management Arch. Carlo Viano and the 93 historical exhibition boxes.
2. Soprintendenza per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico del Piemonte and Soprintendenza per i Beni Ambientali e il Paesaggio del Piemonte.