Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter

The Reconstruction of The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Iconographic Treasures

Artist: Various

Date: 1850 ca.

Dimensions: Various

Materials: Paper, Watercolor, Pencil on Paper

Total Cost: €125.000,00

On the night of July 15, 1823, a fire ravaged the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and in one night, destroyed the Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque architectural and decorative treasures it housed. A significant appeal was launched by Pope Leo XII to all the faithful for the Basilica to be rebuilt in an identical way, re-using the elements preserved from the fire in such a manner that the Christian tradition could be maintained as it had been since its origins.

Parts were moved, restored, demolished, and reconstructed. Not only did a multitude of Catholics respond to the appeal, but gifts arrived from all over the world, including blocks of malachite and lapis lazuli—gifts from Tsar Nicholas I later used for the construction of the two sumptuous lateral transept altars. King Fouad I of Egypt gave columns and windows of very fine alabaster, and the vice-king of Egypt, Mohamed Ali, contributed by offering alabaster columns. Thus, St. Paul’s Basilica became the Church of Rome’s most important construction site of the 19th century.

The architectural core of the commission delegated to rebuild the basilica on Via Ostiense (preserved in the Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls) consisted of over a thousand drawings (1,136, to be exact) including the construction, photographs and designs, and documents, dating from 1823 to 1938, prepared for the restoration and reconstruction of the basilica after the fire.

Such documents represent a historical identification of or witness to the papal basilica and are the only known instruments available to the Vatican Museums that detail the protection of the structure as well as the execution of the of interventions, maintenance, and restorations carried out.

The vast quantity and high quality of the documents, known in the international academic circle, are of extraordinary interest in the study of history archeology, architecture, and art.

Designs of particular interest include: graphite blueprints, colored pencils and inks in large formats made in a 1:1 scale depicting carvings, bases of columns, moldings, and entablatures. Another valuable group consists of architectural designs on tracing paper—wax or canvas—which describe the transept, naves, aisles, altars and the bell tower. They are very fragile and difficult to handle largely due to the nature of their supports. Finally, of significant artistic merit are the patterns of the decorative details such as the representation of mosaics, marble flooring, friezes, and ceilings rendered on paper in colored pencils or tempera.

The total cost for the intervention is estimated to cost €125.000,00 for internal and external restorers, materials and drawers to house the designs. Due to the magnitude of this work, the intervention could be carried out in phases.


There are approximately 1136 documents and are in a poor state of conservation. Such rich iconographic patrimony presents various damage in cause and nature, such as the acidity of the inks, damage caused by contact with moisture and humidity, spots and sagging, marks of various nature on the supports, creases, lacerations and significant tears, all issues that render important documents unable to be studied/consulted.


The proposed intervention utilizes proper materials ensuring successful preservation.

  • Dust suction and micro-dust suction of front and back of works
  • Pest control
  • Scientific research
  • Overall cleaning
  • Mechanical cleaning of the parchment back and front and supports
  • Detaching and substitution of the papers on the backs of works
  • Treatment for the areas affected by humidity and moisture
  • Smoothing of papers
  • Reintegration of tearing and gaps
  • Chromatic reintegration
  • Reinforcement
  • Execution of new supports
  • Photographic documentation
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