Venice floods

Art School staff and students have been shocked and saddened by the devastating high tides that have flooded the majority of the city of Venice in the past two weeks. As the flood water reached unprecedented heights inside St Mark’s Basilica, a group of second year Historic Carving, Conservation and Art & Material Histories students, were on the Art School’s annual study trip in Venice and witnessed first-hand the damage to the city and incomparable heritage.

L-R: the island of San Giorgio Maggiore from the flooded main city of Venice; bailing out Santa Maria and San Donato Church, Murano

The Art School group arrived in Venice on Monday 11 November and stayed at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, one of the city’s leading educational and cultural institutions, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just across the lagoon from St Mark’s Square.  As the lower floor of the building flooded during the week, some members of the group had to relocate to rooms on higher levels.

L-R: the group of students and tutors outside St Mark’s Basilica; high tides forced gondolas to crash into the balustrade resulting in severe damage.

Being present at the time of the floods and experiencing first-hand the difficulties and challenges faced by our Venetian colleagues, gave students and tutors a real insight into the increasing threat the environment poses to the historic treasures of this UNESCO world heritage site. Our thoughts are with our collaborators and friends who are faced with protecting and repairing these important historic buildings and heritage sites.

The annual study trip enhances and supports our Historic Carving, Conservation and Art & Material Histories course programmes. Students study a wealth of stone and wood carving of all periods such as the extensive 16th century wood relief carvings by Gatti and Van den Brulle in the San Giorgio Maggiore Church or the Canova Monument in the Santa Maria dei Frari,. They explore the diverse range of conservation issues stemming from the city’s unique situation and rich heritage and discover the rich history of Venice’s architecture.

As well as site visits, students attend daily lectures delivered by Art School tutors on a variety of topics including Venetian architecture, conservation and the impact on the city of socio-political issues. Despite the high tide, most of the group’s itinerary was still possible, with just a few buildings inaccessible to visitors.

Art School Conservation Tutor, Jennifer Dinsmore, who was part of the group in Venice, commented on the situation. “The experience of being in Venice during the second and third highest Acqua Alta events since formal recording began brought into sharp focus for us the risk and vulnerabilities that the city is exposed to. It was clear from travelling around Venice that a great many homes, businesses and historic buildings have been severely affected and the extent of damage and the scale of the recovery and conservation processes will take some time to assess. A number of the buildings that we normally visit were closed because they were either still flooded or staff were clearing up.”

L-R: the magnificent painted ceiling inside the San Pantalon Church; Head of Historic Carving, Tim Crawley, delivering a lecture by the Rialto Bridge

The Art School has fostered long-standing collaborations with several cultural institutions and charities in Venice, alongside Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Each year, two Conservation graduates are selected to spend a two-month, fully-funded internship at the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore supported by Venice in Peril, a fund dedicated to conserving Venice’s architectural heritage and treasures. During the internship, the graduates live with the small community of Benedictine monks in the Abbey and carry out a conservation project within Palladio’s Church, a fantastic opportunity to work at a world-famous site with complex conservation requirements. The 2019 Venice in Peril interns, Miyuki Kajiwara and Jonida Mecani, are working on the cleaning of a series of stone sculptures around the inner walls of one of the Church entrances. Artefacts from the Church are also loaned to our Conservation Department for students to work on.

L-R: the current Venice in Peril interns Miyuki Kajiwara and Jonida Mecani; the stone statues being treated inside Palladio’s Church

In 2018, Conservation and Carving students and alumni were chosen as Young Ambassadors at Homo Faber, also held at Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Homo Faber is an exhibition of European craftsmanship aiming to showcase fine contemporary, traditional and rare craftsmanship and its link to the world of creativity and design. It is the brainchild of the Michelangelo Foundation, which celebrates master craftsmanship and aims to preserve traditional craft skills.

The Art School is honoured to be part of the Michelangelo Foundation’s network of like-minded educational institutions throughout Europe that champion historic crafts. The Foundation selected four of the Art School’s historic craft-based Summer School courses to form part of their inaugural Summer School Programme in July 2019. This initiative exposed eight European makers and craft students to different practices that can inform their work and was a great success.

Summer School students on the Art School’s gilding and stone carving courses

We will continue to follow the heroic conservation efforts of our friends in Venice with great interest and look forward to continuing to make our own modest contribution to their task in the years to come.


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