Torcello Cathedral, Iconostasis


A joint project with Save Venice,our American sister committee for the conservation of the Veneto-Byzantine iconostasis in Torcello cathedral in memory of John Julius Norwich (1929-2018), author, historian, champion of Venice and Chairman of Venice in Peril for many years.

The project consists of two distinct phases, one to treat the 11th century stone screen and the other to conserve the early 15th-century panel paintings of apostles attributed to Zanino di Pietro. Work has got underway with the dismantling of the iconostasis and the removal of the thirteen panel paintings to the conservation studio in Venice. The panels, which are over a metre tall, were held top and bottom by an L-shaped support with carved ornament. The arched frame and supports of the panels date from the end of the 19th century and it is very possible that an original more elaborate structure with gilded pinnacles and colonnettes was removed at this time to make the work lighter. The paintings have suffered very badly from damp in the church (since the last conservation in 1889) and it is difficult to identify all the apostles. They are painted in egg tempera using earth colours typical of the time including ochre, cinnabar, copper green and ultramarine blue. It is anticipated that investigation in the studio will reveal much more about these paintings commissioned from Zanino di Pietro around 1420-30.

Meanwhile the earlier stonework elements of the iconostasis showing slabs with carved peacocks and lions are not in such a grave state and will remain on Torcello to be treated. They are made of Greek marble with breccia corallina framing elements. The plutei, columns and pierced Corinthian capitals are now being treated in tanks of deionised water to flush out damaging salts. Dismantling will also allow for investigations into the methods used for fixing rods, which may be of bone, wood or lead and analysis of mortars and other pastes used for repairs in the past.

Two Venetian firms, MAUVE srl and Seres have been engaged to carry out the conservation work, which it is estimated will take between a year and eighteen months.

Thank you to all those who have so generously supported the Appeal.

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