Save Venice and Friends of Florence shake hands and look into the future of preservation

The first collaboration between two decisive philanthropic institutions for the Italian artistic heritage such as Save Venice and Friends of Florence occurs today, nearly 50 years after the devastating flood that hit both cities on 4 November 1966. Save Venice was officially born five years later (1971) out of the desire to bring to the world’s attention the awful consequences of that disaster, and since then it has raised more than 25 million dollars to help the restoration of 400 works of art and architecture. Friends of Florence came on the scene only 18 years ago, but it has already raised nearly 9 million dollars in support of pivotal restorations such as that of the marble statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines, or the recently completed one of the “Last supper” by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Badia di San Michele Arcangelo in Passignano. Today, while the Italian Ministry of Culture is carrying out reforms which are unprecedented in the country’s recent history of cultural heritage’s governance, these two non profit US-based institutions have joined together in order to support two minor but vital projects: the needed conservation treatment for the group of 48 drawings by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, currently belonging to the Horn Museum in Florence, and the restoration of the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels in the Galleria Palazzo Cini in Venice, a main work by the Tuscan artist from the XIV century known as the Master from Badia in Isola.


“Namely, a Venetian work of art in Florence, and a Florentine one in Venice” says to CFA Melissa Conn, who has been running the Venetian office of Save Venice since 1995 and kindly accepted to tell us a bit more about this strategic collaboration. “We want to remind not only to Italians but to the world that the artistic heritage of Venice, as that of Florence, is fragile”. And, drawing the attention of the global public to this problem would perhaps be the best way for the Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBAC) to substantially improve its action on the artistic heritage.


In the case of the Palazzo Cini’s Madonna and Child, for instance, the restorers have discovered that the work was repainted in the 1920s: is it better to keep the late overpainting or to remove it? Issues of this kind might difficult to solve if you don’t have very good relationships with all the players on the scene, included the Church and local communities. “After a conference we had with local experts – Ms. Conn explains – about how much of the original we would be able to discover underneath the overpaint, it has been decided to take it off and come down back to the original colours of the painting. The Madonna’s appearance will slightly change. It will be more similar to the other Tuscan original paintings of the XIV Century”.


Furthermore, some of the new reforms are not only affecting public museums, but also fundamental Ministry of Culture’s structures such as the Superintendencies, which are the local offices devoted to the preservation of the artistic heritage. “So far everything has been working out fine, and we haven’t found any difficulties as far as the changes in the museums are concerned. With regards to the Superintendences we shall see indeed. In Venice it will probably be less dramatic, because there are not archaeological issues such as, for example, in Rome, where it may become a very difficult situation. We are just used to adapting to the local authorities and to the desires of the Ministry of Culture. We collaborate the best we can. More in general, I believe it’s good to think about changes in any way, and this sort of attention the Italian Government has lately been paying to the cultural section is actually important for Italy’s economy of tourism. So we just have to learn to change and collaborate.”


According to Ms Conn the main problem for institutions such as Save Venice is still about timing: “Sometimes we get the required authorizations very quickly, sometimes it takes much longer. This, I would say, is our main difficulty at the moment. But we are aware that there are not enough people working in the Superintendencies, and there is a backlog of work”. Unfortunately the Italian Minister of Culture is not planning to help the Superintendents with more personnel, but he promised that the process to get authorizations would become easier if the new set of reforms were approved by the Chambers.


After 27 years spent in Venice, Ms Conn is also conscious about a long-standing problem which does affect almost all Italian main historical cities, Florence included. Visitors tend to concentrate around few places, killing their charm and generating serious problems of preservation, while many other pearls are left aside. “We are working on updating our website, to make it easier and faster for people to find what they are looking for. We have to keep up with social media, people depend on it so much. And we have to encourage people who come to Venice to visit also places that are out of the way and indeed to discover the real Venice. People still live here, their children are here, there are dogs and schools. They should understand that it is not just a museum city, but an active one, with its own citizens.” Most of the international tourists who every day visit San Marco or the Accademia can’t imagine, for instance, what a wonderful place for children Venice is. “At a fairly young age they can be independent and move around without any difficulties, and without being worried about cars and the other problems the big cities have”. And generally kids don’t fall into the canals. “No, exactly! – she replies. I’ve explained it often to Americans… “


Ms. Conn is also aware of the unique kind of relationship the city has developed with contemporary art, and confirms that Save Venice has an eye on it. “I think the Biennale has brought incredible resources to Venice, and the best kind of tourism. And it makes sense if one considers that even in the XVI century Venice was the centre for contemporary art, with Titian and Veronese, and all the other artists of that period. After all this city has always promoted the art of today, having contemporary art and the art from the past centuries living together very well, and positively influencing each other”.


Save Venice established its first collaboration with contemporary art last year. It sponsored a lateral exhibition of the last Venice Biennale by Doug Argue. And, according to Ms. Conn, it was very interesting for Save Venice to prove that the institution is not only dealing with restoration projects, but can also commit to contemporary art. It still has to be decided whether next year it will support any new project, but a fundraiser is already at work and good news may come soon. “Moreover – Conn points out, perhaps addressing to the recent restoration of “Alchemy” by Jackson Pollock at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice – also restoration of contemporary art is becoming a really interesting issue. I think the point is to keep everything alive”.

November 25, 2020