Zagreb, October 2018
Text by: Višnja Bralić, PhD, Tijana-Annar Trputec Strčić, Ivan Braut
Parish Church of St. Nicholas was first mentioned in 1266. In 1441, it was given a Gothic polygonal sanctuary with a lierne vault. The side chapels were first built in 1659, and underwent an extensive Baroque reconstruction in the 1760s, when they were transformed into side-aisles and equipped with new altars.
The scope, condition and quality of the series of wall paintings from the shrine of the Parish Church of St. Nicholas occupies an important place within the corpus of Gothic wall paintings in Istria and the sub-Alpine area. The Battle of Angels and Genesis are painted on the vault, and the scenes from the Paupers’ Bible (Biblia pauperum) are on the lateral walls. The paintings were first attributed by F. Stelè to a master who was part of the Jacob Sunter’s circle, whom he recognized as Leonard of Brixen. He also assumed the influence of the Pazin circle on the development of the local painting style, especially the workshop of Vincentus and Johannes de Castua. The theory on the origin of the painting from south Tirol was later also accepted by B. Fučić, but recent studies have reviewed these theories and indicate another Central European origin of the Pazin painter.
The wall paintings were discovered around 1930 under layers of paint and plaster, when they were restored under the supervision of the Soprintendenza alle opere d'antichita e d'arte from Trieste. Recent conservation and restoration research, carried out by the Croatian Conservation Institute in 2011, sought to establish the state of their preservation, determine the methodology of the work, and evaluate the historical integration of wall paintings for the purpose of their final presentation. So far, the wall paintings have been cleaned and consolidated, and the integration of the painted layer is in its final phase.
Conservation and restoration of easel paintings from the Church of St. Nicholas was carried out at the Croatian Conservation Institute from 1998 to 2015. Thirteen paintings of various sizes, functions, and provenances have been restored. Among the altarpieces purchased for the side altars in the 1750s and 1760s, the most prominent ones are by the Pauline painter Leopold Kecheisen for the altar of St. Joseph and St. Margaret of Cortona, as well as the painting of Our Lady of the Rosary with Venetian and Central European stylistic features. The greatest damage to the altar paintings was caused by excessive moisture, so after the restoration was completed, special attention was paid to providing better conditions and protection for the back of the paintings when they were mounted on the altars.
The second large group consisted of paintings from the church depository, which, due to neglect and unfavorable conditions, were in a very bad state. Most of them are altarpieces, also the work of the Pauline master Leopold Kecheisen, and they originally belonged to the inventory of the Pauline church of St. Mary of the Lake. Their renovation has significantly expanded the work of a painter who did not work in Istria only for Pauline monasteries, but also for other church and private benefactors. He also worked as a clerk at the Monastery in Sveti Petar u Šumi.
The last group of restored paintings from St. Nicholas are portraits of Trieste bishops from the Pazin family of Rapici, and the portrait of Pazin provost Antun Vid Franjul, by unknown 18th century masters.
The systematic conservation and restoration of the paintings also inspired additional conservation and restoration in the interior of the church, which seeks to preserve and present its layers throughout history.
The work on the representative example of Baroque church furniture – the sacristy cabinet from 1737, an exceptional work by a local workshop – was completed at the Croatian Conservation Institute in 2018. It is decorated with minute inlays made using various types of wood (walnut, maple, plum, olive), enriched with hot sand shading, and, judging by the remains of green and red pigment, parts of it were painted. In the upper part of the cabinet, the central door, with a detailed rendering of the Annunciation on each side, is surrounded with four doors with figures of saints, and the fronts of the small, inner drawers are decorated with vedute of settlements and pastoral scenes. In the lower part of the cabinet, doors and drawers are decorated with alternating birds and flower vases.
Moisture from the floor and the wall of the church caused the development of fungi and mold, and consequently the attack of moths from the Cossidae family and the degradation of wood, mostly at the bottom and in the back.
The conservation and restoration of the sacristy cabinet had two aims: to remove thick layers of tarnished lacquer hiding the delicate details of inlays and carvings, and to reestablish its function, since liturgical vestments and vessels would still be kept in it. Prior to the work, detailed analyzes of the layers of paint and lacquers, and types of wood, were carried out in order to precisely define the methodology of work. A lot of attention was paid to the consolidation and strengthening of the supporting structure due to the considerable damage caused by moisture, fungi and insects.
During the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the Croatian Conservation Institute will present the work on the Church of St. Nicholas in Pazin that included conservation and restoration of wall paintings in the shrine, of altarpieces, and the sacristy cabinet.