Architecture in Restoration as a sum of geometrical beauties. A novel temporary design for the old main altar of the church of Saint Cajetan in Munich
“The problem of the treatment of lacunae in a damaged work of art has so far had contrasting solutions. Basically, the approach has been empirical, whereas the solution is primarily theoretical. [..] if a solution depends on the specific nature of the work of art as an object, it highlights the empiricism with which the attempt is being made – case by case – to resolve the problem which is linked to the very essence of the work of art. The adjustment, as if it were, that the theoretical premise must undergo in meeting each individual case, does not imply that one can do it without a theoretical premise.” (Brandi)
As stated by Brandi, the restoration and conservation of a damaged asset is always a difficult task. This challenge is especially arduous when it concerns an architectural work. Here, missing parts are extensive lacunae puzzled between fragments - providing us with a "potential whole", which is lost in the postmodern image of this, and positioned somewhere in the chain of its historical development. This image, which is here considered temporary, is half way between its original idea of aesthetic beauty and a sum of its parts (*) - a sum of geometrical beauties - in a constant evolution.
The old main altar of the church of Saint Cajetan in Munich had been uncompleted for about 70 years after the WWII. Only the three big central sculptures were returned to their original positions, recreating the altar as an object of unique historical significance.
The re-integration of these remains was addressed by us conceiving a character of dependence between the original design of the altar and the strategies involved in its recreation. These were analysed in accordance with their historic frames and implemented as a mix adding a novel phase, which now provides the church of Saint Cajetan with a novel idea of architecture for the old main altar.
The centrality of the tabernacle as a massive element was a constant in the different historical designs of the altar, along with the idea of a partition between the choir and the presbytery. In particular, during WWII, this partition was proposed again, retracing the original Baroque design by installing a wall. The altar was decorated with four sculptures, which were set in movement spacing between two monumental gates. Opposite to this, the post-WWII organization of the main altar shows a neutral background obtained by using a grey textile.
This idea of neutrality of "Nuovo sul Vecchio" is here partially opposed as Architecture in restoration is considered by us a creative action that has to characterize the potential whole without interfering with it. However, in agreement with Brandi's theories, we re-established integrity using different materials and surface finishing.
The church of Saint Cajetan in Munich was conceived as a marble sculpture where stucco work and stones merged to provide faithful with an illusion of a bright white setting. Neither stones nor stucco were used to design elements. A selection of timber and textile was used avoiding the idea of a plastic movement aimed at preventing historic forgery. In particular, the use of textile was proposed to recall the recent use of a curtain. A rigid grid made out of light coloured timber was designed (year 2017) and hidden into a pattern of a golden textile functioning as a background and showing a double faced aesthetic appearance. The front exhibits a geometrical design, which similar to a retable, is divided into seven vertical panels; while the back gives room to a golden surface made out of a glittered textile running from the top to the bottom creating a sole golden face.
Additionally, this golden surface was provided with a reversible assemblage method aimed at exchanging liturgical colours in connection to the ordinary time of the liturgical year. Reinforcing metallic L profiles were applied at crosses outlining Latin crosses while strengthening timber corners.
This sort of retable will serve as a predella for the altarpiece, and was realized into a sequence of elements - deprived by any decoration - interrupted yet connected by two monumental gates. This lack of ornaments is broken by a careful design of the architectonical decorative elements of the gates (year 2018) which proposes again the idea of a baroque style that otherwise would be lost. However, the gates were not provided with a plastic movement. Forms were adjusted to a novel simplified design, which uses again timber combined with textile functioning as a curtain.
A curved background spacing between the two gates was also designed. This aimed at providing the tabernacle with its lost centrality as well as evoking again the idea of a spherical tabernacle.
Concluding, a novel design for the base of the tabernacle was also provided. This remarks the original idea of a three-block sequence of volumes with different heights set side by side and centred on the tabernacle. This composition was here conceived as a sequence of white and natural coloured architectonic elements, which goes with an alternation between vertical (white) and horizontal (natural) surfaces.
A simply decorated novel base was also provided to the four sculptures. Contrary to original design, bases were here planned in a standardized size, which fits the four different dimensions of the sculptures. The inner core of the base is made out of timber in a shape of plates. Plates are piled up and mechanically connected by using timber connectors. The same system was used to build the gate’s pillars.
The altar as a whole was provided with a fully reversible design. Members were installed upon the floor in a balanced composition of volumes simply ballasted at their bottom by using timber and concrete plates hidden into their bases.
(*) "if a work of art is not seen as a whole [..] this leads to a concept of work of art based on geometry, similar to the geometrical concept of beauty. Here [..] the criticism of Plotinus would apply" (Brandi)
The theatines monks of Munich (theatinerkirche München)
Roberta Fonti and Erwin Emmerling
The simply decorated elements namely (i.) the base of the tabernacle and its three steps. (ii.) the curved background, along with the (iii.) timber/textile framed construction were built at the Chair for Conservation-Restoration of the TUM by turning those activities into an educational format for students. Students were asked to learn how to choose elements amongst a selection of different timber. How to treat rough materials before assemblage, and assembly those, as well as provide architectonical elements with finishing. A revival of the use of traditional building techniques was also proposed - especially timber-timber connections - aimed at teaching students this legacy and transmitting it to posterity. By the following a list of the students involved into the actual building, setting and finishing of the simply decorated elements: - Cristian Kaiser - Charlotte Höpter - Ronja Emmerich. While, the two monumental gates and the bases for sculptures were handcrafted by the Italian sculptor Gregor Progger following my design.
Independent Researcher at the Chair of Restoration at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), before, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the Chair for Structural Design of the TUM.
Graduated with honors in Architecture curricula of Conservation-Restoration from the University Mediterranea of Reggio Calabria (2009), she was trained in structural mechanics at the University of Naples Federico II (2013). From 2007-14 she was an independent co-worker and partner (2011) at Candela & partners Office in Avellino focusing on the refurbishment, and seismic upgrade of public historical heritage buildings. Fonti is the scientific responsible for the Project Restoring Modern Architecture in Europe by the work of Marcello Piacentini: The case of the Italian Simplified Neoclassicism -thus, researching on theory of restoration. She has been awarded a special mention within the Edoardo Benvenuto Prize (2015), a prize by the German BMBF (2017) and a fellowship (2014) within the excellent initiative.