A new restoration for Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, and once again it’s not Italy paying the bill

Stefano Pirovano  -  May 8, 2018

Save Venice Inc. will fund the restoration of Titian’s juvenile masterpiece which after 500 years of life is now threatened by an active tarli infestation. To what extent should the State accept private funds to preserve certain artworks?

The prominent Assumption of the Virgin painted by Titian between 1516 and 1518 and installed in the main apse of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice on 19th May 1518 will undergo a new major restoration. A maintenance treatment executed in 2012 by the team led by Giulio Bono – a respected restorer who has also recently taken care of the Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro – couldn’t avoid a tarli infestation now threatening the 22 poplar planks where the precious altarpiece was painted on. Then, there are also several traces of discolored varnishes from XIX century, particularly concerning  the figure of Saint Peter Apostle, which were applied by the painter-restorer Lattanzio Querena at the time when the Assunta was moved to the Academia in Venice (1817). The new treatment will clean the surface and thin the various non-original residues, thus unveiling the original colours of the work. Lastly, the panel will be provided with an apparatus in order to facilitate future maintenance interventions as well as permitting to move the painting safely in case of an emergency.

The treatment should begin just after the Feast of the Assumption which occurs on the 15th August. On that day the Cappella Marciana Soloists will perform the Vespers by Claudio Monteverdi, which were executed for the first time on 15th August 1640. Titian’s early career masterpiece will be restored on site and the Friars assure that the painting will still be accessible to the gaze of believers and visitors to the largest possible extent. While at the moment it’s hard to say how long the restoration will last, it is known that it will cost over 400.000 Euro. And it’s not that much, considering that we are talking about Titian and that the work has also an important social value. Indeed, while similar masterpieces have ended up for various reasons in museums’ rooms, the Assumption still plays the role it was commissioned for, in the same place it was conceived for – therefore it dialogues with the environment, starting from the Istrian stone frame, which will also be cleaned in this instance.

At this point however there is a problem arising. Like many of the restoration campaings undertaken in La Serenissima in recent times – from the above-mentioned Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro, through the Paolo Veronese’s fresco cycle in the Church of San Sebastiano, the Saint Ursula’s cycle by Vittore Carpaccio at the Gallera dell’Accademia, or the ceiling coming from Ca’ Nani preserved in the Museum Ca’ Rezzonico, just to mention a few – also the Assumption of the Friars’ will be entirely paid by Save Venice Inc., thanks to major funding from Beatrice de Santo Domingo and the Jasmine Charity Trust in honor of Regina Jaglom Wachter.

An american nonprofit philantropic organization founded in 1971 following the devastating flood that hit Venice in 1966, Save Venice has been closely working with the Church and the Italian institutions which protect the public patrimony, that is mainly with the Soprintendenze, the local branch of the Italian Ministry of Culture. In Italy this is an extraordinary achievement which proves without any doubt as much the best intentions of Save Venice, as its capability to put them into practice – something far from being easy when dealing with the public administrations, which most of the time are more interested in take electoral advantages rather than pursuing the public good. We thus wonder how it could be that the Italian Government is still accepting foreign private funds to restore works so strategically important for itself and its citizens? What is the message these same citizens receive by the fact that such important masterpieces are preserved mainly thanks to the benevolence of someone who is not their State? Then you hear local politicians complaining that there are no money for culture because those money are needed to fix the potholes on the roads. Could it be, on the contrary, that roads in Italy aren’t properly built just because little is invested in culture?

As previously stated, we are neither questioning the remarkable job Save Venice has been doing, nor the idea around which the organization revolves, that is that Venice and its treasures represent an important root not only for the European culture, but for the whole world. However, Save Venice was born in response to help Venice during an emergency time, and not to stand in for what public institutions don’t want to do. Moreover, looking for funds to restore a masterpiece by Titian is certainly easier than doing it for many other outstanding works of art which however don’t appear in the travel guides. If something as monstrous as the MOSE could happen, it means that the point isn’t the lack of funding, yet how these funds are allocated and for what proposes. How can politicians possibly focus so much on their image on the campaign posters – a real visual pollution in Venice – and don’t see the opportunities hidden behind the restoration of such masterpieces? Isn’t this the best way to arouse that very same psychological dependence Venice is so proudly fighting against when it comes to welcome some contemporary art tycoons, as in the case of the ‘Boy with Frog’ at Punta della Dogana? At the end of the day, as it is said also in Venice, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth…