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The city art museum in Todi conserves a jewel of the Renaissance architecture: the wooden model of the Tempio della Consolazione.

In the Sixteenth century the production of wooden models and architectural mockups is consistent, for they held a dual purpose: to allow the customers to visualize the project they commissioned and to serve as a guide for the artisans and stone masons, especially when encountering any problems during construction. In 1629, after the monument is completed, the model is carried to Rome by the architect of the Factory of St. Peter Carlo Maderno seeking council for some unfinished work; in 1660 Maderno travels to Rome again seeking advice from Francesco Borromini on how to protect the Temple from moisture.

The travels of the model never ended and in the last few years have increased: among many of the wooden models of Renaissance architecture, Todi’s model is among the few to have been perfectly conserved, and is often requested for important art exhibitions in Italy and abroad. A few examples include The Renaissance, from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo at Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 1994, the exhibits in Paris and Berlin, the Milan Triennale, the recent shows in Urbania and Perugia.

 

The restoration of the Temple of the Consolazione, photo by Sandro Bellu

 

In 2007, with the contribution of the Lions Club in Todi, the model underwent a careful and accurate restoration process by the hands of Roberto Saccuman Snc with close surveillance of the Umbrian Cultural Patrimony Superintendence. The restoration was also a moment of study for the University of Tuscia’s Agrarian Faculty, tasked with recognizing the different species of wood, and for its Art History Faculty, assigned with the analysis of pigments. The studies with ultraviolet florescence and infrared reflectography were conducted by Davide Bussolari’s Diagnostics Studio for the Arts Fabbri. The results were surprising and unexpected and Roberto Saccuman, who coordinated and conducted the work with his team, revealed to us the most interesting details and secrets.

The model was made out of poplar tree wood, it measures 120x120x150 centimeters and is composed by a heptagonal base sustaining the central body of the building, the tambour, the dome and the lantern roof.

Through the centuries, the model underwent restorations and retouches, visible especially in the architectural elements rebuilt by using stone pine wood and of a different thickness.

The Southern apse shows a slight difference in craft probably connected to a variation of the project during the construction; there is an indent inside it which was probably made to fit the main door, never completed. The void was filled by using an inferior quality of wood, even if of the same type as the original. All of the model’s mobile components are oriented correctly thanks to a cross-shaped runner etched on the sides; the final lantern roof on the contrary does not have a matching inset.

On the heptagonal base of the monument there are five holes: the central one, square shaped, was probably used to mount the model on a stand for better viewing; the others are placed according to the pillars and are used to correctly insert the base. The orientation of the holes, with their slightly rectangular shape, forbid mistakes during mounting, especially because one of them is oriented differently from the others.

 

The heptagonal base of the monument, photo by Sandro Bellu

 

During restoration, the base was blocked and stiffened by a twin set of large crossbeams and by a peripheral frame, slightly moved towards the back. These superstructures, probably dating back to the nineteenth-century restoration, would prevent it from closing. The recent restoration work removed all the added parts and returned the model to its original function.

By detaching the body of the model, fixed with nails to the base, a drawing of the plant of the building was revealed, invisible to viewers in its entirety since the 1800s. The infrared investigations allowed further understanding by revealing what remained of the old guidelines drawn with graphite pencil, invisible to the eye because covered with a layer of light blue pigment, over the chalk and glue preparation outlining the exact blueprint of the temple.

On the contrary, the ink lines accurately defining the drawing and the metric scale are still quite readable. Interestingly, the date, 3 8bre 1963 L P, was deciphered by applying UV lighting.

The surface of the model had been completely painted: after analyzing it carefully, the body resulted covered in one coat of white color made of calcium carbonate and oil, probably spread in one solution without any preparatory phase. On the domes, a preparatory layer of chalk and animal glue was laid, followed by a layer of pigment composed of indigo and calcium carbonate.

A number of plaster fillings made with Bologna chalk and animal glue, closing the number of crevices and tiny indents on the surface, were consequently retouched with tempera colors. During restoration these materials were greatly altered, giving the artwork into an unfair dark-greyish tint. A careful cleaning of the surfaces, the retrieval of the base’s function, the reconstruction of the missing elements and the chromatic reconstruction have finally returned the model to its ancient beauty.