Cappella Emiliana, church of San Michele, island of San Michele

37 varieties of marble were used for the inlaid decoration of the hexagonal interior
Annunciation in the Cappella Emiliani

About the project

In 1999 Venice in Peril was asked to support the conservation of the Cappella Emiliana which is attached to Mauro Codussi’s church on the cemetery island of San Michele. 

Built by Guglielmo de’ Grigi d’Alzano between 1528 and 1543, the hexagonal interior is decorated with 37 varieties of coloured marbles and its sculptural reliefs by Giovanni Battista Carona were badly affected by crystallisation of soluble salts and condensation

The project was long and difficult. The challenges included putting right 19th- century work that had caused its own problems which were then aggravated by neglect in the years that followed.  The  old concrete underfloor had to be removed and replaced with clay at varying levels to accommodate the marble slabs which were relaid following desalination. Rusted tie-rods, in the 19th century brick arches supporting the outer cupola, had to be repaired and replaced. Weakened iron cramps holding the Istrian blocks of the cupola in place were replaced with stainless steel cramps, but this involved dismantling two thirds of the outer cupola which was then difficult to reassemble because of the tilt of the building and problems finding the right mortars. The inner cupola was protected with damp-proofing to prevent further mould appearing in the marmorino decorated vault.

In front of the church a protective breakwater was  left in place although it had been hoped to move the  channel instead.  Raising the level of the  ‘sagrato’ or fondamenta level outside the church was not felt to be an appropriate alternative.  A removable barrier was designed to stop Acqua Alta from entering the chapel.

How to find it

In brief

  • The exquisite profile and bright white cupola of the Cappella Emiliana is a feature of the boat trip to Murano or the airport from the Fondamenta Nuove.  But its exposed position has always made it vulnerable, particularly to the wave wash from passing motor boats which undermines its foundations.
  • Work began in November 2001 and was finished by April 2006.
  • Substantial donations were received by British Airways Holidays. Claudio Menichelli was the supervising architect from the Soprintendenza advised by Lorenzo Lazzarini and Arte e Restauro Padova carried out the work.
  • Thumbnail captions clockwise from top left: the chapel following restoration with the breakwater in the foreground, one of three altars in the hexagonal interior; view of marmorino decoration in the vault of the inner cupola, relief by Giovanni Battista Carona; external view before the project started showing extent of damage to the cupola; altar view showing the variety of coloured marbles. is?
  • The cemetery Island of San Michele can be visited daily. 
  • Venice in Peril has also funded works to the Protestant section of the cemetery see separate project

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