Disassembling, Restoration and Reassembling of a Stone Altar

Authors: Dominik Rajčević and Mateja Novaković
Mentor: Assistant Professor Siniša Bizjak

Arts Academy, Split (Croatia)
Study programme: Integrated undergraduate and graduate course of study in conservation-restoration
Specialization: Stone (4th year of study)

Extended abstract [ORAL PRESENTATION IN CROATIAN]

Rajcevic NovakovicThe altar of Our Lady of Good Health is one of the nine restored altars in the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rogoznica, and the only one that was disassembled, restored and reassembled. The works were carried out between October and December 2014.
The altar stands against the west wall, in the right church aisle. The exact time of its making is impossible to determine. Namely, judging by its stylistic features the year 1893 incised in the mensa could not be the year in which it was constructed. It is much more likely that it was carved earlier and moved to its present location in 1893.
The altar is made of Carrara Bianco marble and limestone, and embellished with marble inlays. The altarpiece contains the image of Our Lady Good Health, with a silver repousse cover. The altar was soiled, stained, and with deteriorated and displaced elements, missing inlays and holes drilled into the cornice of the mensa. Although the missing parts of inlays and the soiled upper part of the altar, caused by the burning of candles in the church, made a particularly unpleasant visual impression, the corroded iron dowels and clamps that stained the altar and were used as bonds between its stone elements, were causing much greater harm, since the breaking and bursting of stone due to volume expansion linked to their corrosion, threatened the static stability of the whole structure.
The only way to solve this serious problem was to disassemble the altar, replace the corroded iron elements, and reassemble it. When the altar was disassembled, it was found out that in its assembling lime and, in some places, even Portland cement were used. The iron dowels were used to connect different stone elements, while the majority of clamps were used to fix the altar element to the wall. The iron elements were kept in position using cast lead.
The logical first step was to remove the corroded dowels and clamps. The work began at the bottom of the altar, proceeding upwards to the top. The stone elements that were displaced from their original position, were the most easy to remove. The corroded iron elements were removed using traditional stonemasonry tools and electric drills, and replaced with new stainless steel dowels and clamps, over which new lead was poured. The broken stone fragments were glued together using epoxy glue, and the elements that were put back in their place were glued with white cement-based flexible adhesive. Now that the altar was completely stable, and back in one piece, the cleaning of the marble surface could begin.
The altar’s marble surface was cleaned with water vapour using a hand steamer. In the places in which this method did not give satisfactory results, cellulose pulp and Japan paper were applied. The pulp and paper were soaked with a 25% solution of ammonium carbonate in distilled water. The results were very satisfactory. In the end, smaller reconstructions, retouches, and the final conservation operations were carried out.

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Short biographies

MATEJA NOVAKOVIĆ was born in 1993, in Split, where she finished her high school education. It was during her high school years that she developed a bias towards conservation and restoration of works of art. So, the Arts Academy in Split was the sole natural choice for her. After careful consideration, she chose stone conservation

DOMINIK RAJČEVIĆ was born in 1993, in Pučišća, on the island of Brač. He attended the stonemasons school, where his love of stone grew and developed. So, the conservation of stone university course was the next logical step in his life. In the future he hopes to use his stonemasonry skills in order to become a more accomplished better conservator – restorer of stone.