The Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus was erected after AD 81 by Emperor Domitian in memory of his deified elder brother, Titus, whose capture of Jerusalem was commemorated in the bas-reliefs of the Arch. The monument was originally built of white marble and had probably had a travertine core. During the Middle Ages, it had lost much of its material; the bronze cramps holding the marbles had been removed and a brick structure had been added. Even if the Arch had only partially survived, the artistic

Architecte Valadier Titus
Figure 4.6 Drawing by G. Valadier for the restoration of the Arch of Titus. (Archivio di Stato, Rome)

quality of its bas-reliefs attracted much attention, and many, including Palladio, had proposed theoretical reconstruction schemes.

During the French administration, the convent buildings that had provided some support to the Arch on its east side were demolished and, consequently, the condition of the monument became even worse. On the other hand, it had been chosen by Berthault as one of the key monuments in his plan for the Garden of the Capitol. In 1813 and 1816, committees had recommended its consolidation, but nothing was done until 1817, when Stern was put in charge of the restoration with a committee consisting of himself, Valadier and Camporesi. He prepared the project with the help of a young Venetian architectural student, and in 1818 he was ready to commission a mason named Giuseppe Ravaglini for the execution of the stonework. The first idea

Figure 4.7 Arch of Titus restored by R. Stern and G. Valadier 1817—23 has become a classic reference for the restoration of ancient monuments. (Engraving by L. Rossini, 1832)

was to push the marbles back into position with the help of screws (Valadier, 1822). On closer examination, this idea was abandoned, because it did not seem possible to keep the marbles in position. Consequently, it was decided to dismantle the vault, re-erecting it afterwards with the required support. Instead of just consolidating the monument, it was now decided to follow Gisors' recommendation, and also to complete the lost parts in a simplified form as he had suggested: 'the result would be that, without spending much more than those shapeless supports would cost, this interesting monument would be re-established. Even if this were only in mass, it would still give an exact idea of the dimensions and proportions'.27

Stern built a scaffolding and shored the endangered parts of the structure. Excavations were made to reveal the foundations and to verify the exact architectural form of the monument. By October 1818, the stonework was well advanced; it was then interrupted until June 1820, and completed by Valadier after Stern's death in 1823. The original

Figure 4.8 Detail of the Arch of Titus, showing new parts built in travertine without carved details, thus distinguishing them from the original in marble

elements were carefully counter-marked and dismantled one by one, using the support of a strong centring. The Arch was rebuilt, reassembling the original elements on a new brick core, and facing with travertine, which harmonized well with the original marble elements. The new parts were left plain without repeating the decoration, the basreliefs or the fluting of the columns, so as not to mislead the visitor. Later Valadier justified the use of travertine instead of marble by referring to the economic limitations at the time.

This restoration, like others preceding it, received mixed criticism. It was admired by some. Filippo Aurelio Visconti, secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts, considered it elegant. Others were more critical of the result; Stendhal, for example, complained that the whole original monument had been lost, and that there was now just a copy of it. Cardinal Consalvi and Cardinal Pacca had already questioned the methodological basis for the work in November 1822, when to their horror they discovered that 'instead of doing what was necessary for the conservation of the monument, a work of dismantling had started with the intention of reassembling it afterwards; that this tripled the cost, and that now the monument could be called the Arch of Pius - instead of the Arch of Titus, and that work had also caused damage to the basreliefs, breaking various parts'.28

Fea, too, said that he had not agreed with Valadier's decisions; yet, although he had visited the site daily, he had never informed his superiors. Valadier was asked to present an official justification for his work, which he read at the Roman Academy of Archaeology in December 1821 (Valadier, 1822). He maintained that Stern had taken the project so far that he could only continue in the same line. Cardinal Pacca accepted the justification, but there remained a feeling that the new work dominated too heavily over the original arch, and that the proportions might have been different in the original. In spite of all doubts and criticism, the restoration of the Arch of Titus laid some foundations for modern principles in the treatment of historic buildings, and has later often been referred to as a model.

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  • JARI
    How did Giuseppe Valadier restore the arch of titus?
    3 years ago

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