Observations on the state of deterioration of the cloister

edited by Elisabetta Giorgi


The Cloister of the Monastery of Santi Quattro Coronati at Rome gives evidence of various kinds of deterioration. In addition to damage occurring as a result of the natural ageing and the intrinsic deficiencies of the materials used in its construction, and of the lack of a consistent and correct program of maintenance over the centuries, on-site analyses conducted on the individual parts of the Cloister offer indications of damage of the most serious kind as well as of other conservation problems owing essentially to two factors:

1) the presence of large-scale humidity which affects the entire Cloister, but especially the southern side which reaches to the arches on the ground floor,

2) chemical damage caused by outdoor atmospheric elements, especially air pollution, connected with the structure's location in the center of Rome.

The humidity problem is caused both by underground, natural water and by an ancient, underground hydraulic network and sewerage system which no longer function correctly. Acting together, these two factors are producing serious problems affecting the entire Cloister: detachment of the plaster, formation of mold, alteration of stonework, subsidence of the ground underneath the pavement. Other areas of damage include the principal structural walls (brick, tufa, mortar), where a lack of in-depth cohesion and of surface cohesion results in a lack of resistance by the interior structure. The second, atmospheric problem leads to surface deposits which damage, in particular, the marble surfaces of the pillars and of the portico columns of the ground floor, and lead to the formation of black crust and to disaggregation and pulverization (fig. 1). The archaeological artifacts (inscriptions and fragments of plutueses) collected in the ground floor corridors are also damaged in the same way.

The condition of the plaster is also serious, especially where it has been decorated. A consistent fading of color, disaggregation and pulverization (fig.3). A particular problem consists in earlier repairs which were undertaken with materials not suited to the original structure, such as with cement. This is the case in a number of restorations both to the walls themselves and to the plaster surfaces, as well as to the pavement, and has resulted in spotting, formation of salt deposits, peeling and chipping away of the stonework, in addition to introducing elements which are not consonant with the general appearance of the Cloister.

As far as material damage is concerned, the Cosmatesque cornice (fig. 3) which divides the two levels of the Cloister does not offer serious conservation difficulties other than the removal of surface deposits. However, a number of missing pieces from the cornice contributes to a problem 'reading' it.

Throughout the Cloister, the loss of the original layers of finishing continues in rapid progression, and in the most serious cases, is affecting even the structure itself. All of these factors contribute seriously to compromising the structural and decorative features of the Cloister and, thus, its historical value as an architectural and artistic monument. This loss may constitute the most serious, current, on-going damage of all.

The structural condition of the edifice, while it does not represent a condition of immediate danger, is also affected by these same factors. Specific problems result from: an overburdening of the structure caused by the weight of the second-floor galleries which were added later to the original structure and which are cutting into the marble supports (columns and pillars), and from pressure from the arches which support the first floor ceiling. This pressure has led to a lack of alignment and in some cases to cracks in the supporting marble structures, in particular, on the east side. All the arches of the first floor show cracks, the seriousness of which should be ascertained by specific surveys. The foundation beneath the northwest corner is giving way.






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Base del pilastro del chiostro, degrado

Fig. 1 - Serious destruction caused by the formation of black crust and pulverization at the base of a pillar on the west side of the Cloister.


Base colonne binate

Fig. 2 - Alteration of double columns due to oxidation of the metal used in a previous intervention.


Fig. 3 - Multicolor decoration of a arch with apparent degrading of the colored surface.


Particolare della cornice cosmatesca

Fig. 4 - Detail of the Cosmatesque cornice.