Within my PhD research project entitled ‘Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The Iron-Glass Cover: Innovation, Conservation, Continuity’, I study the Milan Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II (1865-1877). This gallery is an emblematic representative of the 19th century arcade typology and its monumental phase. One of its essential elements is the iron-glass cover which was once celebrated especially for the dimensions of its cupola. Although the Gallery has been the object of rigorous research, its roof covering often remains generalised and lacks detailed study. The research focuses on the historical prerequisites, innovative project concepts and building technology, the construction history of the metal roof structure and its glass cladding, as well as the conservation history and future.
My research stay in Brussels is initiated to develop a comparative perspective between the Milan gallery and the Brussels’ ones, and in particular the Royal Galleries Saint-Hubert (1837-1847). The latter was designed by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer in the period 1837-1847 and is by various scholars indicated as a source of inspiration for the Milan gallery. The goal is not only to put light on the 19th century creative ideas and technology of both study cases but also to promote them as crucial aspects that merit special attention and sophisticated approach in future conservation and restoration campaigns.
During my research stay, the genesis of the Royal Galleries Saint-Hubert was researched. Then, the focus was specifically put on the 19th century roof technology as well as its maintenance until the most recent restoration
(1993-1997) which altered its authentic structure. This comparative research clearly shows that the two cases of glass roofs not only possess different spatial layouts and dimensions, but they also represent different design concepts articulated through diverse 19th century techniques. Since the two study cases also had different conservation destinies, their authentic structures arrived to the present day altered to a different extent. In the case of Vittorio Emanuele II, the gallery underwent an extremely wide number of maintenance interventions and one crucial reconstruction after World War II. However, the Brussels royal galleries survived until 1993 without any major restoration and even today, the original metal structure can still be observed in the Princess’ gallery. Last but not least, in both study cases the sources on the 19th century roof technologies differ essentially. If the Milan iron-glass roof was documented vastly with technical drawings from its construction period, then the major source for the Brussels’ galleries were the onsite investigation previous to the restoration in 1993-1997.