The Meduna/Salviati Restorations 1860-1880
Over the years maintenance on the structure and decor was necessary. Officials of the Basilica determined the building needed some reconstruction due to a fire in 1837. In 1857, the administrators selected Giambattista Meduna to replace Giovanni Moro as chief restorer. At this time, they also created a fifteen year contract with the new Salviati Company as their smalti supplier to provide replenishments throughout the reconstruction as well as upkeep and repairs.
Meduna replaced several damaged sections with updated copies and newer more ostentasious color. He chose to employ a method called prefabrication, in which smalti was color selected, cut, and assembled in his studio then carried on heavy paper to the site. The paper was then pressed onto a layer of mortar and the smalti were attached as a single flat sheet. This process, later titled the Reverse Method, was attributed to Salviati during his time at San Marco.
Though the Reverse Method was faster and less expensive, it was not precise. It also did not match the surface of the surviving mosaics, creating a irregular disjointed apprearance. The technique generally preferred was smalti being choosen and cut on location before pressing them into wet mortar one piece at a time. This method was more expensive and time consuming, for several more artists and technicians were required. But in the end the overall result was more consistent and detailed from hands on work.
This system of restoration over preservation, upset many people who believed that the so called "restorers" were doing more harm than good. Not only was Meduna cutting corners in the protecting the existing mosaics, but replacing them with his updated versions. This "over-restoration" was considered vandalism not only by Venetians, but lovers of history. Writer John Ruskin was outraged at the lack of preservation at San Marco, and in 1880 signed a petition to have Meduna removed from the project.
Meduna's predecessor Moro, and several of his workers had sold off numerous portions of original mosaics they intended to replace. After enough public out-cry regarding Meduna, the chief restorer was replaced by Pietro Saccardo, whose sole goal was the preservation of the existing mosaics, and reversal of of both Meduna and Moro's "inappropriate interventions". By this point, many of the mosaics had been permanently altered, and the original message lost. Images created at the time of Saint Mark’s arrival, which center on him and Venice as his host, can no longer be seen as they were meant to.