the restoration of the Roman Aquarium
At the time the building was cleaned out, the decorative scheme was hidden by a number of layers of paint resulting from the different maintenance operations performed when the use of the structure had been changed. Preliminary research made it possible to identify the appearance of the decorations and to evaluate, in general terms, the possibilities for restoration, taking into account the fact that the state of abandonment of the Aquarium had totally compromised the paintings in a number of settings, such as those of the hallway on the second ring, and significantly damaged other portions of the decorations, as in the case of the ceiling of the balcony of the hall, which had collapsed in a number of points. There were numerous infiltrations of water on the ceilings and the walls, due both to the decrepit state of the roofing and the broken-down plumbing system. The transformations made in the architectonic structure as the building was put to different uses, with the construction of partitions and the filling in of spaces, did not cause noteworthy damage, except in the central hall, where the equipment for the theatre and the circus had a ruinous effect on the mosaic floor, large portions of which are missing, having been patched up with cement. The research performed made it possible to trace at least four different layers placed over the original painting, tied to successive phases of maintenance: the first involved a mere restoration of the existing ornamentation, with the colours and the gilding being revived, probably a short time after the construction of the building, on account of the deteriorated state of a portion of the painting as early as the 1890's, due largely to moisture. The second phase involved application of a new, extremely simple decorative scheme consisting of a base coat in a greyish-blue hue with extremely schematic bands and designs, possibly dating from 1917, the year inscribed on a hidden portion of the cornice, alongside the signature of the decorator. The third phase, probably dating from the late 1930's, consisted of uniform painting in a greyish shade, coinciding with the use of the building as a warehouse. Later layers were applied in the same colour, with minimum variations in the hue.
The restoration project was designed to recover the entire decorative scheme, with the ultimate objective being to return the building, to the extent possible, to its original appearance. Clearly, the method followed in carrying out the work involved not only an evaluation of the individual decorative elements, but also the formulation of more general criteria of coherence between the decorative scheme and the architectonic structure. In effect, it was necessary to find a point of mediation, correct methodologically and satisfactory in terms of the results, between an archaeological type of restoration carried out with rigorous respect for the existing elements and a full-fledged restoration involving extensive renewal. In light of the repetitive nature of the ornaments, and given the consistency between the architectonic space and the decorative elements referred to earlier, the lost portions were naturally proposed anew, using techniques that rendered them relatively recognisable, in this way restoring the continuity of the decorative layout. In attempting to remain as faithful as possible to the original appearance of the building, consideration had to be given to the fact that, in addition to the natural ageing of the materials and the alterations to which the decorative scheme was subject over time on account of the divergent uses to which it was put, with the resulting deterioration of the structure, there was always, right from the start, a certain discontinuity of construction, with extremely refined portions, in terms of materials and design, present alongside others on which less time and care had been taken. In addition, it was necessary to take into consideration more recent elements (the elevator shaft and the body of the secondary stairway), which had to be connected in some way to the existing decorations.
contents and images are taken from the web site of Comune di Roma