After the fire at the Church of La Compañía de Jesús, Quito, Ecuador

Constance Stromberg


La Compañía de Jesús is a high style Baroque church built between 1605 and 1767. Its interior is covered with ornately carved polychrome or gilded decoration and mural paintings. Located in Quito’s historic city center, it has been under restoration since 1992. In January 1996, just as the conservation of the altarpiece of San Francisco Xavier was near completion, solvent fumes caught fire when an overloaded electrical outlet exploded. The fire affected an estimated 10% of the church, including more than 50% of the altarpiece, a portion of which was irretrievably lost. The main cupola was damaged, as were the four life-size relief figures of the evangelists just below. Numerous ethical and practical questions arose concerning what could be preserved and what was lost. Areas of the altarpiece considered totally lost, without form, or unstable were replaced and other pieces were conserved and remounted. As of September 1999, decisions have not been made concerning whether to repaint and regild burned areas.

The Quito school of art and conservation in the historic city are reviewed, as well as factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of the fire in the church. Several conservation problems and treatments undertaken in the church before and after the fire, along with the investigation and use of alternative resin/solvent combinations for consolidation of the burned wood are discussed. Conclusions are drawn from the resin investigation and treatment of some of the burned sculptures.

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1999 | St. Louis | Volume 6