Iconostasis, Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello

About the project

The cathedral of Torcello dates back to 639 and is famous for its Veneto-Byzantine interior and beautiful mosaics, which were the subject of an extensive earlier restoration project between 1977 and 1985.

However this did not include the iconostasis, the screen dividing the nave from the sanctuary, which by 2018 had severe structural issues and extensive paint losses to the panel paintings.

In memory of John Julius Norwich (1929-2018), much-loved Chairman of Venice in Peril, an appeal was launched in late 2018 in partnership with the American committee SAVE Venice. Thanks to a generous response from supporters and friends the target of £100,000 was reached by April 2019.

The earliest part of the Torcello iconostasis  consists of the marble closure slabs, carved with confronted peacocks and lions amongst foliate designs, which probably date to about 1100, and which show a clear debt to earlier Byzantine prototypes. These are of the first importance for the history of Venetian sculpture, illustrating the formal vocabulary that would dominate the relief sculpture of the city throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The Torcello iconostasis has a superb painted image beam. Added probably around 1420-30, it has been convincingly attributed to Zanino di Pietro, one of the most accomplished Venetian painters of the first decades of the fifteenth century. Here, echoing the mosaic of the apse, are the Virgin and Child flanked by the twelve apostles, again paying homage to the dedication of the church. If the central figures give a clear indication of the quality of the painting – close to that of the more famous Gentile da Fabriano – those to the right and left have suffered from the effects of time and climate.

How to find it

In brief

  • This screen, dividing the nave from the sanctuary, consists of two elements: the structural stonework and the ‘image beam’ with 13 tempera panel paintings.
  • The project has involved dismantling the screen columns and slabs which have undergone desalination, cleaning and consolidation treatment, before being reassembled in August 2019. 
  • The image beam which features the Virgin and Child at the centre, flanked by the Apostles, was probably painted by Zanino di Pietro in the early 15C.  The central panels are less damaged than those those towards each end which have lost large areas of paint and gilding. Treatment of the panels by MAUVE srl in their studio on the Fondamente Nove was completed in June 2022 and the panels have been reinstalled.
  • The iconostasis was adopted as a project in memory of John Julius Norwich,  founding Chairman of Venice in Peril, who wrote widely about both Venice and Byzantium. 
  • This is a joint project with SAVE Venice, for whom John Julius Norwich was also an active champion.
  • For Venice in Peril’s earlier work at Torcello see Mosaics
  • For visiting times and the Patriarchate’s Torcello App: Torcello 

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