Villa Giulia’s nymphaeum restored by mysterious benefactors

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A group of mysterious benefactors from the Far East have restored to its previous splendor a part of the 16th-century Villa Giulia that formerly attracted the likes of Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo and other intellectuals of the period.

Villa Giulia's nymphaeum restored by mysterious benefactors

The “small miracle” was carried out at the Renaissance villa ordered built by Pope Julius III that now houses the Museo Nazionale Etrusco. The most important artists of the time took part in its design and construction between 1550 and 1555.

For the past few weeks, visitors have been surprised by the restored nymphaeum, the heart of the splendid gardens with a fountain designed and sculpted by Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati, caryatids holding up the Travertine marble balcony and a mosaic dedicated to Triton.

“Everything began in 2014,” ANSA was told by Alfonsina Russo, superintendent for archaeology, architecture and landscape of the metropolitan area of Rome, Viterbo and southern Etruria, which until a ministry reform a few months ago was headquartered in Villa Giulia.

“I had long been seeking help for the nymphaeum,” she said. “Not only had it turned grey and was plagued by moss and mold, but initial structural problems had also arisen, especially with the mosaic.”

Then, following an evening, a concert with a Japanese delegation and a visit to Villa Giulia, a surprise offer arose to fund the restoration.

Some 25,000 euros were given on the condition that the group of Japanese entrepreneurs remain anonymous.

Work commenced in September 2015 under the Kavalik consortium.

“The most difficult battle,” said restorer Antonio Giglio, who worked alongside Alessandro Ferradini and Kristian Schneider, “was against the vegetation. On one hand, we had to eliminate the algae with powerful biocides so that they would not grow back, while on the other hand, we wanted to save the plants in the niches.”

The Triton mosaic was later focused on, a small masterpiece from the Roman era that had ” probably been part of a larger floor of – possibly a thermal building”, which due to the yielding of its structural support had begun to lose its millennia-old black and white tiles.

“We had been used to seeing the nymphaeum entirely of one color, since the floor had become black,” Russo said. “But one elderly employee spoke about it having had colors and some of the ancient drawings rose doubts.”

After several cleanings, a wide range of colors emerged that brought out the white of the eight caryatids, which Giglio noted “are not all the same. We used to see them as very serious but the four in the second row are clearly laughing”.

Russo said that art historians may know the reason, but perhaps “they symbolize the dualism between tragedy and comedy in classical art.”

The nymphaeum was originally created as a sort of “theater of water” for actors and musicians.

Russo added that the funders had not even wanted to be thanked in an official inauguration.

Spurce: ANSA [June 13, 2016]

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