San Michele in Isola, Cappella Emiliana, 1999-2006


Given the exposed position of this chapel attached to the church of San Michele on the north-west corner of the cemetery island, the undermining of its foundations by wave wash, and the salt and moisture-laden environment, this building has always needed systematic maintenance. Inappropriate consolidation work in the early 19th century and neglect in the 20th (caused also by a dispute between the Church and the City Council as to which was the owner and therefore responsible for upkeep) resulted in increasingly dangerous structural and surface decay.

The chapel was built by Guglielmo de' Grigi d'Alzano, with sculptural work by Giovanni Battista Carona, between 1528 and 1543. Funds came from a bequest, left by the widow of Giovanni Battista Emiliani in 1427, for the building of a chapel and its maintenance in perpetuity. A special feature of its decorative scheme is the large number (37) of different coloured marbles and stones used. The Venice in Peril Fund responded to the urgent appeal first by funding detailed studies of the problems. The subsequent work involved raising the marble slabs of the floor for desalination prior to global restoration work. The Fund also made representations to the Magistrato alle Acque, the authority responsible for traffic regulation in the Lagoon, asking for speed limits to be strictly imposed on boats passing the island and for breakwaters to be re-installed in an attempt to reduce the damage constantly being caused to the building and its foundations by excessive wash.

Following test procedures on the fine white marble, the sculptural reliefs on the three altars were cleaned and consolidated, together with the stone and other marble elements in the hexagonal interior. Conserving the double cupola proved a difficult operation. Rust affecting both the iron tie-rods of the brick arches inserted in the 19th century to support the outer cupola and the iron cramps joining the masonry blocks of the cupola itself had caused it to sag. The tie-rods were repaired or replaced and about two-thirds of the Istrian stone blocks of the outer cupola were dismantled and rebuilt, using appropriate mortar and over 300 new stainless steel cramps. The damp-proofing of the inner cupola has been improved to impede the formation of mould on the marmorino-surfaced vault and the Istrian stone cladding of the hexagonal façades with their coloured marble insets, has been consolidated and repointed. The marble flooring slabs have been desalina

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