DAVOOD ROOSTAEI –
Frescoes paintings in the
Villa Höltigbaum, Hamburg-Rahlstedt
The arduous task of restoring damaged frescoes and creating new ones in the Villa Höltigbaum in Rahlstedt, Hamburg was undertaken and completed by Davood Roostaei in the years 1991 and 1992. The villa, which was built between 1871 and 1873, was gutted by fire during the second world war, and the ceilings damaged. In many rooms the original frescoes were so badly damaged that scarcely anything remained of them. In other rooms fragments were still to be found.
The Hamburg department responsible for the conservation of the cultural heritage asked a number of renovators to make a survey of the extent of the damage to the frescoes and to give an assessment of the chances for restoration.
Restoration was, however, considered to be impossible as the rooms had been without heating for many years and damp had penetrated the walls, so that the damage was regarded as being too great. But Davood Roostaei declared his willingness to undertake the mamoth task, which meant restoring the still remaining fragments and creating completely new frescoes where the originals were no longer in existence. In addition to this, new frescoes were to be painted in rooms in which previously none had been.
To begin with Davood Roostaei visited many places in Germany and studied the wall and ceiling paintings in buildings of the same period as the Villa Höltigbaum. Back in Hamburg, he met a lady living in the direct neighbourhood of the Villa who had been familiar with its interior decoration directly before its destruction. She told Davood Roostaei that the house had belonged to a Jewish man who had fled Germany during the National Socialist regime. She said that before he left he had hidden some frescoes under a layer of paint, hoping to be able to uncover them again upon his return.
Davood Roostaei indeed found such paintings covered over on one ceiling. He made drawings of them and draughts, bought pigment paints from Italy for around 30,000 German Marks and began his work on the restoration. In places where the frescoes were too badly damaged and could not be restored, he painted new ones in the style of the originals. He restored the stucco rosettes and applied gold leaf to them and the wall friezes. He threw himself into the work with undaunting enthu- siasm and worked 18 or 19 hours a day, deeply concentrated up and with the skill of the old masters. He invested all his physical and mental powers in the project for it was his heart’s desire to create, for art’s sake, works for posterity; to write a chapter in the history of art.
The present owner of the Villa Höltigbaum told Davood Roostaei he intended to open a cultural centre there after the completion of the work. Davood Roostaei then s tarted on the last stage of his work which was the creation of works of art on the walls and ceilings of the rooms where previously none had been. He also chose the furniture and curtaining for the interior decoration. After having completed this spectacular work of art, Davood Roostaei received no payment at all for his tremendous efforts and was reimbursed only part of the costs of his materials, as the owner of the Villa claimed to be in financial difficulties.
That Davood Roostaei was turned out of the Villa after the completion of his work brings to mind the fate of Michelangelo and his work in the Cistine Chapel. All the disputes about money meant nothing to Davood Roostaei; what counted for him was the art work itself and that he had had the opportunity to produce something enduring in the spheres of art and culture, thus leaving future generations something of himself.