The Baptistry, Ravenna

By William Morris

The Committee of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has noted with much interest and satisfaction the letter of your correspondent in your impression of the 19th May, & has directed me to write to you, begging you, since the Society was mentioned in the letter, to insert a few words explanatory of its views on this point.

The Committee are aware that the building needs repair badly enough; but it cannot help feeling that the plan of raising it bodily is fraught with danger to the fabric, however skilful may be the engineer who conducts the operation: the risk to the precious mosaics at any rate is undeniable, whatever may happen to the main structure of the walls, and these mosaics are in fact the very thing about the building thatit is worth spending money and pains to preserve: it need scarcely be said that if they be shattered to pieces by the proposed engineering operation no restoration of them will be possible on any terms.

But furthermore the Committee thinks it has reason to fear that a so-called restoration of the interior decoration will be attempted whether the jacking-up of the Baptistery be successful or not: such restoration the Committee deprecates most earnestly, feeling that it is expressing the universal opinion of Archaeologists in asserting, that whatever may be said for or against the restoration of other buildings, even any suspicion of genuineness cast on the decorations of this most historical monument would sorely damage its interest; and that if, as is too common in such cases, the restoration turned out to be the discarding of the old work, & the submission of a modern imitation, all interest would be taken from the Baptistery.

Your correspondent suggests that if the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has any practical suggestions to make on the subject, it would be well for it to send out some of its members to confer with those who are dealing with the matter; the Committee has only to say that if it were honoured with any such invitation, it would accept it with great pleasure, & with every wish to treat the question in the most practical manner, & with all possible moderation; since it has no other desire than that the Baptistery of Ravenna should be preserved from ruin by any feasible means.

Letter to the Times, 12 June 1880.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology