Designing mosaic for massive dome was challenging, say father and son who led effort
Dec. 15, 2017
The father and son team of Viggo and Martin Rambusch were the artistic designers of the Trinity Dome Mosaic that was dedicated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl on Dec. 8 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Trinity Dome Mosaic is not the first work the Rambusch family’s Jersey City-based company has completed for the National Shrine. The family has a long association with the National Shrine, dating to the 1930s. They have designed other domes, light fixtures, mosaics, stained glass windows and other artwork for the basilica.
Martin Rambusch said designing the Trinity Dome’s artwork was a particular challenge because of the depth of the dome.
Noting that the dome is not as flat as the other domes on the basilica, Martin said “we had to work with a different geometry because of the half-sphere” nature of the dome. “Since the figures would not be flat, we had to figure in how the artwork as designed would be seen.”
He said that because of the curvature of the dome, “all of the figures had to be 50 percent larger in scale” than the original flat designs.
“There were many technical and visual considerations that were a serious challenge,” Martin said. “We had to build a model (of the dome) and then applied our designs to see that it fit to scale.”
Martin’s father, Viggo, praised the work “as a team effort. We needed a team to do this.”
The Mass booklet for the Dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic noted that the Rambusch Decorating Company did the cupola design, crediting artist Leandro Miguel Velasco Pardo and also David Gavasheli, who produced the cartoons (full-sized preliminary sketches) of the figures represented in the dome.
Designing the saints, Martin said, was a bit complicated because “for some of them, like St. John Paul and St. Teresa (of Calcutta), we had photographic references. For others, we only had loose, historical references.”
The Trinity Dome Mosaic has a north and south orientation, with the massive Holy Trinity icon at the north and the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception at the south.
The placement of the saints on either side of the dome, Martin said, was decided on based upon what the saints were wearing. The darker-clad saints were positioned in the center with the lighter-clad saints in the outside of each row.
“By putting the darker robes in the center of the procession, this created a soft east-west orientation to complement the north-south orientation,” Martin said. “It also gave us a visual color balance.”
In the 1950s, an iconography committee established an “icon scheme” for the shrine. It was patterned after the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, with the ceiling area of the shrine to be a succession of decorated domes. Each of the shrine’s seven domes is an independent artwork, leading to the north apse mosaic of “Christ in Majesty.”
The design of the Trinity Dome Mosaic conforms to the original “icon scheme,” Martin said, which included the Holy Trinity, Mary, the angels and a procession of saints.
“We went through various designs in order to reach a final design,” Martin said. “And, while the design evolved during the planning stages, the subject remained the same.”
He added that the new dome “has a strength of its own, but is harmonious with everything else here” in the National Shrine.
Viggo added that the dome was designed “to look like the whole thing has been here forever.”
Because the mosaics were created in Italy, the Rambusches said they made about 10 trips to Italy to work and consult with the mosaicists at the Travisanutto mosaic company.
Viggo said he was “filled with joy that this project is a success,” and he no longer has to worry about the project.
“There was a lot of anxiety – were the scale of the saint figures too large or too small compared to the majesty of the Holy Trinity, would it get lost in shipping here, would anybody get hurt during the installation, that sort of thing,” Viggo said.
Despite the hard work and the worry, Viggo said he was proud that his family worked on the Trinity Dome Mosaic.
“Devotion is an internal thing. People come here out of devotion,” Viggo said. “We are proud that we can help create the environment that supports that devotion of the faithful.”
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