L'arredo liturgico della basilica di S. Sabina al tempo di papa Eugenio II: dalla scoperta ai restauri storici (1894, 1918, 1936)

Author: Fabio Betti

The liturgical furnishings of the Basilica of St. Sabina at the time of Pope Eugene II: from discovery to historic restorations (1894, 1918, 1936)

It is attributed to Pope Eugene II (824-827) a renewal of liturgical furnishings of the basilica of St. Sabina in Rome. The presbytery enclosure, described by Pompeo Ugonio in 1587, consisted of a pergula supported by six columns which was accessed through a metal gate, on which was engraved the name of the pope. This disposition was deleted by the intervention of Domenico Fontana at the time of Sixtus V (1585-1590); he changed the entire presbytery with a new arrangement of furniture, which remained unaltered until the end of the 19th century.
In 1894, the architect Ferdinando Mazzanti (1850-1890), in the course of his research on early medieval sculpture in the churches of Rome and Lazio, planned a series of investigations in the basilica which led to the discovery of some fragments of marble chancel screens of the Carolingian enclosure, reused upside-down in the late 16th century. The fragments of the sculptures, after being reassembled and restored, were set up in a lapidary in the left aisle of the basilica. The prints and drawings collection of the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Roma (La Galleria Nazionale) conserves all the material collected by Mazzanti during his research, consisting of notes, drawings, sketches, pounces and watercolor plates, still largely unpublished, in which have been found numerous documents – photographs, drawings, notes – relating to the discoveries in St. Sabina and restoration work on marble chancel screens, previously completely ignored.
In 1918 the fragments of the Carolingian reliefs were used by Antonio Muñoz for the reassembling of the basilica medieval presbytery enclosure. The materials were subjected to a restoration, until now never studied, whose features have been reconstructed and analysed with the help of some historic photographs found in the Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale in Rome. The chancel screens were recomposed by fragments and the missing part of decorative reliefs was integrated by a simple drawing, engraved on the plates. In 1936, Muñoz intervened again in the presbytery enclosure, which is still the one that currently is kept inside the basilica, enlarged in length and width. On this occasion, the chancel screen were subjected to further restoration of decoration reliefs, but this time with stucco, thus making it impossible to distinguish the original from the restored part.