San Zaccaria

Church of San Zaccaria, Chapel of San Atanasio, altarpiece (oil on wood) Madonna and Child with Saints.

The large altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints, now on the wall of the Chapel of San Atanasio, is traditionally attributed to Jacopo Palma il Vecchio, but in fact it was probably painted by Marco Basaiti. In 1810 it was donated to the church to take the place of the famous painting by Giovanni Bellini that had previously stood on the Altar of St. Jerome in the left aisle of the church and which had recently been requisitioned by the French and sent to Paris. The initials of the donor - a medical doctor, Pietro Pellegrini - can be seen at the feet of St.Paul.

Before it could be installed on the vacant altar, the painting was enlarged and extensively retouched and repainted by Antonio Florian, a controversial but celebrated restorer of the time, who also worked on the Bellini altarpiece when it returned from Paris, in 1817. The infra-red reflectogram and ultra-violet ray analyses conducted before the present restoration show the numerous alterations to the figures that Florian introduced to adapt the originally rectangular painting to the size and arched shape of the altar frame.

The restoration work was carried out in two stages: first, the consolidation, cleaning and retouching of the painted surface, followed by the difficult operation of re-tensioning the wooden panels. The XIX century enlargement of the surface involved the extension of the original nucleus in poplar wood using horizontal larch planks of different widths and thicknesses; vertical battens were nailed to the horizontal elements on the reverse side and the whole of the back was covered with a thick coat of bitumen. In time, the rigidity of the new arrangement caused structural damage, with gaps opening between the planks and cracks appearing in the wood. On the advice of experts from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence, the bitumen was removed and the heavy vertical battens were replaced by a firm but more flexible system of support.
By Emanuela Zucchetta

The restoration of the painting (2006-7) was financed by The Venice in Peril Fund (with a donation from Martin Randall Travel Ltd.) in the framework of the UNESCO-Private Committees Programme for the Safeguarding of Venice. The work was directed by dott.ssa Emanuela Zucchetta and assistente tecnico restauratore Silvia Magnani of the Superintendency of the Art, Architecture and Landscape of Venice.

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