A weekend in Italy’s most art-rich city with Save Venice

Conservationist Giovanni Cucco repaints 1,000-year-old mosaics at the church of Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello.

Matteo De Fina

These reconstructions are accompanied by unexpected discoveries. Ilchman singled out the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, where the coffered wooden ceiling, freed from centuries of dust and grime, revealed extraordinary detail in previously inexplicable depictions of saints and prophets. His extensive work on the marble exterior also yielded elaborately carved cornices and several reliefs. “It was a very hidden gem and it was easy to overlook until then,” he said.

These breakthroughs are often greater than the sum of their parts.

On Sunday morning, a small group of us walked up the canal to the Jewish ghetto. Founded in 1516, the Venetian Ghetto was one of the first places where Jews were forcibly segregated, with trade allowed during the day but limited access at night, with access by Christian soldiers.

We begin our visit in Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, the quiet square that connects this part of the city. All around us are tall buildings and fruit-bearing pomegranate trees that we have never seen anywhere else in Venice. During the ghetto’s heyday in the 17th century, Jews from all over Europe carved out space for themselves and maintained their synagogues. When it was dissolved in 1797, most residents fled, emptying what had once been a vibrant center of cultural exchange.

Melissa Conn, director of Save Venice’s Venice office, shows our small group around an Italian synagogue under restoration, pointing out details such as the 16th-century terrazzo floor peeking out from under the hastily laid modern floor. Conn highlights another aspect of reconstruction: the clues to what life was like at the time and the reimagining of this symbolic space for the Ghetto.

“It is very important to keep this part of Jewish history and prosperity alive. “It’s exciting to hear from people who have invested in its future,” said Alexander Hankin, a sponsor of Save Venice, who was drawn to the mission seven years ago.

Katarina Fritsch’s Elephant (1987) among the many female artists at the 2022 Venice Biennale

Matteo Prandoni/BFA.com

A visit to Venice is not complete without cicchetti on a traditional bacaro

Ggutarin/Getty

Past, present and future topics are unavoidable all weekend. The Venice Biennale, a major showcase of modern art, takes over the streets and squares from the Accademia Gallery to the Arsenale, with a line of visitors snaking around palaces and museums, eager to see modern masters meet Venetian legends. For the first time in the Biennale’s 127 years, the exhibition features a female curator, Cecilia Alemany, and is led by a majority of female and gender non-conforming artists. Coincidentally, a new program to save Venice’s women artists is exhibiting works by some 30 women artists who worked in the city between the 16th and 18th centuries.

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