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Save Venice Inc. funds the restoration of Titian's 'Assumption of the Virgin'
Titian, Assunta and Frame. Before Restoration July 2017. Photo: Matteo De Fina.

VENICE.- Save Venice Inc., the American nonprofit organization, announces an historic restoration of Titian’s monumental Assumption of the Virgin on the high altar of the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari on the 500th anniversary of the painting’s unveiling (May 19, 1518), thanks to major funding from Mrs. Beatrice de Santo Domingo and the Jasmine Charity Trust in honor of Regina Jaglom Wachter. Painted from 1515-1518, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, popularly known as the Assunta, is the largest painting on wood panel in the world and among the most influential altarpieces in European art. Towering to more than 22 feet, the altarpiece is painted in oil on 22 horizontal poplar planks. The masterpiece is housed in a heavily decorated and imposing Istrian stone frame, attributed to Lorenzo and Giambattista Bregno and designed in collaboration with Titian. Modeled on an ancient Roman triumphal arch, the ensemble is topped by three over-life sized sculptures. The restoration will take place on site in the Frari and will cost over $500,000.

Chairman of the Board Frederick Ilchman said, “Just as Titian’s Assunta was a breakthrough in Venetian art, this urgently needed treatment will be a milestone in the conservation of art in Venice and the work of Save Venice. To undertake the restoration of such a prominent masterpiece requires not only the extraordinary generosity of our sponsors, but also builds upon decades of restoring sixteenth-century Venetian paintings, particularly those of Titian, and deep familiarity with wood supports. This major treatment will address threats to the physical integrity of Titian’s painting and frame and greatly improve its appearance so that it regains much of the brilliance and clarity displayed when first revealed 500 years ago. It is our responsibility to ensure this great painting survives for centuries to come.”

In 2012, Save Venice financed a 3-month maintenance treatment on the painting to remove surface dust and debris. The maintenance was undertaken along with a diagnostic campaign and extensive archival research to reconstruct the conservation history of the artwork, whose last full restoration dates to the early 1970s. On the painting itself, conservators identified small areas of lifting and flaking paint, isolated areas of loss of the original paint and surface cracks, as well as several non-original surface layers and residues, including discolored varnishes from previous restorations. The Istrian stone frame surrounding the painting is covered by a thick layer of grime, oil, and wax, obscuring the original gilding and polychrome decoration.

For decades the pipes of one of the church’s organs were located directly behind Titian’s painting, making it impossible to verify the state of conservation of the back of the panel and the wooden support structure. Conservators did observe, however, an active infestation of wood-boring insects, known as tarli, on wooden elements of the organ in close proximity of the painting, posing a risk should the infestation spread. In January 2018, a second examination confirmed that tarli were now present in the painting’s wooden support structure, potentially damaging the painting itself.

With the pressing need to safeguard this vulnerable and irreplaceable masterpiece, treatment will immediately address the tarli infestation on both the painting and organ; verify the stability of the back of the painting and its support structure; clean the surface of the painting, and thin the various non-original surface residues that currently veil the full chromatic brilliance of Titian’s color palette. Finally a new apparatus will be installed on the back of the painting to allow conservators to monitor the health of the artwork on a regular basis as well as permit them to move the painting safely in the case of an emergency. The gilded and polychrome Istrian stone frame will be cleaned, revealing the original gilding and colors from beneath centuries of dirt and grime.

Restoration will be completed by experienced conservators working under the supervision of the local branch of the Italian Ministry of Culture (Soprintendenza Archeologica, belle arti e paesaggio per il Comune di Venezia e Laguna) and in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Venice (Curia Patriarcale di Venezia) and the Conventional Franciscan Friars (i Frati Minori Conventuali di Venezia).

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