Roman mosaics damaged during botched restoration, Turkish officials say
The Guardian, 5 May 2015.
At least 10 priceless mosaics held in the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Turkey have been badly damaged during restoration, officials and craftsmen have said.
The Roman mosaics, some of which date back to the second century, include world-famous panels depicting the sacrifice of Isaac and another of Narcissus. The museum in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay houses one of the world’s largest collections of mosaics.
Authorities have launched an investigation following reports that restoration has distorted the mosaics’ features and left them looking markedly different from the valuable originals.
The issue was first raised by a local craftsman, Mehmet Daşkapan, who told a newspaper: “Valuable pieces from the Roman period have been ruined. They have become caricatures of their former selves. Some are in an especially poor condition and have lost their originality and value.
“The panel that I saw could not have been the original mosaic from the second century. Some of its stones are missing, while others have been misplaced, creating a discordant look.”
His concerns were echoed by Şefik Çirkin, a lawmaker from the opposition Nationalist Movement party (MHP), who called the restored work “a massacre of history” and blamed the Islamic-rooted ruling AKP for “a bureaucratic scandal”.
An official from the ministry of culture confirmed that there had been “erroneous practices” during the restoration, which he attributed to the “adding of [mosaic] pieces” into the originals. He confirmed that all restorations were on hold while the issue was being investigated.
However, the official also confirmed that the restorers had years of experience, including the restoration of the renowned mosaics at Zeugma Mosaic Museum in south-eastern Turkey.
This was also confirmed by Kenan Yurttagül, a former head of Turkey’s monuments and museums general directorate, who told Hürriyet newspaper that the issue was “in the phase of investigation and debate”. Yurttagül said: “After reports are prepared, errors, if there are any, will be reported and then fixed.”
The restorers have denied all claims of wrongdoing and argued that the before and after images were manipulated in the Turkish press. A member of the restoration team also argued that the erroneous stones and modern varnished surface had in fact been added into the mosaic in the 1930s by a team of French restorers, using practices that have since been outlawed.
The allegedly shoddy restoration of the mosaics has been compared to an incident in Spain in 2012, when a local woman took it upon herself to freshen up and repaint a valuable 19th-century fresco by Elías García Martínez at the church of Santuario de Misericordia. It caused national uproar after her attempted restoration rendered the image of Christ unrecognisable and became a global laughing stock.