City of Antwerp (AG Vespa)
In 1620, Peter Paul Rubens expanded his Antwerp home with a monumental portico based on a Roman triumphal arch and a garden pavilion of his own design. Four hundred years later, these are the only parts that remain of the original buildings: during a major restoration campaign between 1937 and 1946, Rubens' home and studio were demolished and reconstructed in their entirety under the direction of city architect Emiel Van Averbeke. The porch and pavilion only underwent restoration, albeit in the restoration spirit of the time.
Van Averbeke opted to remove all plaster and layers of paint so that the building materials could be seen in their 'pure and natural form'. The portico consists of two colours: Belgian blue stone and white Obernkirchensteen, Avesnessteen and Ledesteen. Since various restoration interventions, a variety of other types of stone have also been used.
It is not clear whether a bichrome finish was originally applied. Technical material research on the remnants of paint layers still present and archive research could not rule this out. Rubens certainly chose blue stone not only for its dark hue, but also for its mechanical and physical properties.
In the decades following Averbeke's restoration campaign, the condition of the portico deteriorated rapidly. In the seventies, a stone hardener and a hydrophobic treatment were supposed to counteract the rapid weathering of the white porous stone types, but they caused them to deteriorate faster, resulting in a loss of sculptural shape.
Due to the poor state of preservation of the garden pavilion and the porch the Rubens House initiated this conservation-restoration project in 1990, in which the KIK's Monuments lab was also involved. In 1996, an improvised roof construction was installed as an emergency measure to prevent further loss of material.
2010 - 2012: concept and design
In 2010, a consortium consisting of KIK, TNO (Applied Scientific Research), TU Delft and Lode De Clercq investigated the conservation options by means of various material-technical and building archaeological studies. Simultaneously, the various possible conservation concepts were elaborated by an expert committee of Belgian and Dutch scientists, art historians and conservators-restorers.
2013: test restoration
The Monuments lab investigated how to treat the materials of the portico. The white, porous stones suffered from loss of material and shape due to water infiltration, salt contamination and past treatments. The blue stone showed cracks and fractures. In 2013, they undertook a material technical study and carried out a test restoration to find out which treatments were suitable.
2014: final concept
In 2014, a final conservation concept for the porch and the pavilion was established. The goal? To limit the interventions to what was necessary so that both monuments could be preserved as Van Averbeke had restored them. The provision of a protective roof structure for the porch was the basic condition. Aesthetic interventions to make the monuments more beautiful or more legible were out of the question.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Monuments lab followed up the restoration campaign.
The temporary roof structure, the bronze vases and the statues Mercury and Minerva were removed and a team of qualified conservator-restorers specialised in stone, mural art and metal started the restoration works.
A team of four specialised stone restorers meticulously worked on the sculpted parts. For a year, they treated each stone chip so that the garden pavilion once again became a harmonious whole of light plaster, white natural stone and darker hard stone. The portico was given back its grandeur.
To protect the portico from further material loss, a protective roof structure was required and a unique glass butterfly canopy was designed. The 30-tonne structure was assembled in the museum courtyard and consists of triple-layered glass plates and stainless steel profiles. The bronze sculptures and vases stand on this canopy.
European Heritage Award
Since 2019, a museum visit to the Rubens House begins with a spectacular view of the portico and garden pavilion. For the restoration of the portico and the garden pavilion, the museum won the 2020 Europa Nostra Award in the category Conservation (preservation), one of the most renowned heritage awards in the world.
The jury, made up of heritage experts from all over Europe, not only praised the restoration of the only remaining architectural elements by Rubens based on scientific research, they also praised the glass butterfly canopy.