TEXT Louise do Rosário
In November 2017, Macao began restoration of the seven bronze statues that grace the facade of its most famous landmark: the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the last vestiges of a 17th‐ ‐century church.
On either side of three arched windows stand St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Francis Borgia. The Virgin Mary stands above the central window, with the Christ Child above her, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, above him. The statues, each tucked into the decorative facade, have withstood fires, typhoons, human curiosity, and the city’s humid climate since they were placed at the front of the church in 1640.
The identity of the statues’ sculptor is unknown, although Asian artists trained by the Jesuits are believed to have worked on the decoration of the church. A famous cannon foundry existed in Macao, started by Manuel Tavares Bocarro in 1625, may have cast the statues.
“The sculptor did a very good job, enabling the seven to remain intact for nearly 400 years,” said Ian Miles, senior metals conservator at Artlab Australia, who restored St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Francis Xavier last year. “We hope our conservation work will help to preserve them for another 400 years at least.”
“This is one of the finest projects I have ever worked on. I thought of the Portuguese and the Age of Discovery and all those who have walked up the steps of St. Paul’s,” Miles enthused. “I am very passionate about cultural heritage and want to care for cultural material.”
Finding the right match
The Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) began looking for specialists to restore the statues back in 2015. They contacted Dr Donald Ellsmore, an eminent heritage architect and convenor for the Association for Preservation Technology International (APT) Australasia Chapter, who recommended several companies that specialise in this type of conservation.
As part of Macao’s World Heritage Site, the Ruins of St. Paul’s fall under the purview of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a Paris‐ ‐based professional association on the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places around the world. Under their rules, restoration work of this nature requires a global tender.
After considering the bids, the IC chose Adelaide‐based Artlab Australia, one of a small number of
firms with the necessary experience in this particular field of restoration. It employs 26 experienced conservators with specialty skills in different types of cultural heritage objects.
Established in 1985, Artlab Australia is an organisation under Arts SA, which manages the South Australian government’s funding for the arts and cultural heritage. As the largest conservation centre in the Southern hemisphere, Artlab handles everything from conservation programmes of the state’s extensive collections to corporate clientele to private individuals all over the world.
Born in Britain, Miles studied building conservation before immigrating to Australia, where he completed further studies in conservation of cultural material. He specialises in sculptures, monuments, buildings, and large technology objects like vehicles or aircraft.
Miles has applied his wide range of expertise to various institutional collections, including those of Museum Victoria, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum, and the Science Museum in London. He has worked on objects including a replica of the Apollo spaceship that landed on the moon, one of the first planes to make a longdistance flight, automotive items, and many outdoor sculptures.
Planning and execution
Miles and a collea