Battle of the martyrs against the natural elements in St Paul's Cathedral

Marzorati Ronchetti developed the artefacts for the support of the work "Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)"

London, United Kingdom


img.0St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)

Since May 2014, St Paul's Cathedral in London has hosted one of the most recent works by Bill Viola, among the best-known video artists in the world.“Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)” is a polyptych that, on four plasma screens, shows the same number of individuals being martyred by the natural elements.Around seven minutes long, the high definition films are shot in colour, without sound.

“At the start of the work,” says Bill Viola, “the four individuals are shown in stasis, a rest from their suffering.Gradually, each scene acquires movement.Each element of nature begins to disturb their calm.Flames descend, the winds begin to be unleashed, water pelts down and the land is raised.While the elements rage, the determination of every martyr remains undimmed.In their most violent aggression, the elements represent the darkest hour of the passage of the martyrs through death to the light. ”

img.1St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)

img.2St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)

The work is on long-term loan to the leading museum group, Tate, as part of the "St Paul's Cathedral Arts Project", a programme aimed at bringing together art and faith, which will soon be enriched with another work by Viola, dedicated to Mary.

The staging of the prestigious video installation in the splendid setting of the Cathedral was designed by the renowned architectural practice, Foster + Partners, which, for the permanent exhibition structure, assigned Marzorati Ronchetti.

The definition of all the delicate aesthetic and technical aspects and the creation of the artefacts were carried out in Italy, in the workshops of the world leader in the artistic processing of metal.

img.3St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)

The first step was approval, by the artist and the ecclesiastical authorities, of the design concept.For the solemn liturgical space, in fact, a lean design was created, with dark and opaque colour tones capable of conveying the sensation of an antique object.

The setting is formed by three parts:the lower support, composed of two legs joined to a horizontal support level and two upper panels that each house two screens, all made in carbon steel, chosen for its properties of solidity and hardness.

img.4St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)

The thin shapes are obtained by grinding monolithic metal blocks, using a computer numerical control machine, then hand-polished and, finally, assembled with the minimum number of welds. The legs are hollow to allow the passage of power and transmission cables carrying the signals direct to the screens.

The quality of the surface finish was assessed very carefully so that the structure could be placed in the liturgical space without altering it and, at the same time, without dominating the enjoyment of the video polyptych.Notwithstanding the contemporary design, those visiting the cathedral come away with the impression that the structure has always been there.

Once again, Marzorati Ronchetti has stood out for its ability to work alongside leading artists and designers, offering them the sensitivity, skill and expertise that is indispensable in order to operate within one of the main monuments of the Anglo-Saxon world.

img.5St Paul's Cathedral, London - Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water)


Perfect setting

“We worked closely for a long time with the architects,” explains the Sales Technical Manager of Marzorati Ronchetti, “in order to establish the technical and aesthetic specifications of the support.

“After numerous tests and sampling, for example, we opted to sand the surfaces, then cover them with a varnish containing Teflon pigments that, as well as giving the artefact a “rough” look, ensure the long-term protection of the material.

“Once all the details had been arranged, including the system for replacing the screens in case of breakdowns, we did not encounter any particular problems in the production stage.In fact, this was a relatively small object but, nevertheless, very heavy (around 700 kg), which led to the adoption of precautions in the installation stage.

“The support was loaded onto a trolley and taken inside the cathedral along an appropriately protected route. The legs were then fixed to the ground, inserting a support element under the stone floor, while existing holes on the walls were re-used in order not to alter the material substance of the building.

“The greatest satisfaction of this order, without doubt, came from the great visibility of the work, for which Marzorati Ronchetti has provided the most appropriate setting.”



Bill Viola

Martyrs, 2014 "Earth, Air, Fire, Water"

Color High-Definition video polyptych on four plasma displays.

Executive producer, Kira Perov

Performers: Norman Scott, Sarah Steben, Darrow Igus, John Hay