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Text: Arletta Fonio Grubiša

August 19, 2021

Ars et Labor – art and work – are at home in Fort Bourguignon. The Austro-Hungarian structure is not just the mega-warehouse where the Istrian Archaeological Museum in Pula (MAI) has stocked up on historical artifacts: tons of stone artefacts to be carefully preserved, in view of a selection to be made before the museum is set up permanently in the renovated building. Here, inside the walls of the fortress, they carried out the stupendous mission that the school of conservation took on: the organization of a major summer restoration workshop, which attracted 16 students to Pula. The initiative was devised and promoted by the Ars et Labor Foundation, Vodnjan, and the Salesian Institute of San Zeno in Verona, a collaboration including exchange programs between students sanctioned by a contract-agreement and implemented in cooperation with the Istrian Archaeological Museum.

Reestuaro togati

The task assigned in the workshop was technically demanding: the restoration of the Togati statues that part of Pula’s illustrious Roman past. The participants worked hard in this former military building, a not exactly comfortable and rather humid environment, enthused by the richness and beauty of the local archaeological heritage in stone and by the opportunity to contribute to its valorisation. Continuing its long series of projects already carried out in Vodnjan, the Foundation has implemented this campus project in Fort Bourguignon, led by Đeni Bravar Gobić, restorer in charge of the MAI, with the collaboration of teachers from the Salesian Institute of San Zeno in Verona, including prof. Sabrina Piantavigna and, Giovanni Rossetto, an expert in stone restoration and conservation, who were entrusted with materials stored in the fortress. Scholarships were awarded by Bruno Girardello, the Venetian director of the foundation, who hosted everyone in his guesthouse, Locanda San Martin. This building was restored and refurbished by the foundation as a space for the promotion of its activities that focus on the valorisation of the historical and artistic-cultural heritage of the Istrian, but also Croatian territory.

Gianna Fioranti, secretary general of the Foundation, recounts that the Togati project should have begun last year but was thwarted by the Covid-19. As noted by Đeni Gobić Bravar, Pula has about twenty figures of almost full-length and very representative Togati, but also busts with beautiful draperies that were a sign of belonging to the Roman noble class of the people portrayed in sculpture. She explains, “At the restoration workshop, a conservation work was carried out on a number of Togati sculptures from which the risky restoration interventions carried out with the technique of the 70s using cement mortar and wedges of iron were removed and other impurities eliminated.

“Many of these archaeological finds were selected based on the diversity of the state of decay and of the traces of pollution present on the surface. This provides students with excellent learning opportunities on different examples of historical materials to be recovered with different mechanical and chemical methodologies. Some of these statues will be chosen to be part of the future ancient lapidary that will be placed in the surrounding area of ​​the museum building sheltered by roofing systems; others will also be housed within the permanent setting.”

In addition to opening the conservation workshop and providing a large contribution to the work of the Istrian Archaeological Museum, the Ars et Labor Foundation of Vodnjan has also shown great inventiveness in devising the treasure hunt proposed to Veronese students for the purpose of disseminating and enhancing the cultural heritage of Vodnjan, providing another unique experience. Both organizers and guests hope that this exchange of experiences and professional training will continue in the future.

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