Project Description

Painted – Wood Crucifix,
Church of Gesuati, Venice

project
restoration of the painted-wood crucifix of the 16th century

location
Church of the Gesuati, Venice

project director
Ministry of Culture, Monuments and Fine Arts
Office of Venice

contractor
Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali (Marina Vettori)

funding
Venetian Heritage

start date
April 2010

end date
April 2011

cost
€ 6.500,00

The church of Holy Virgin of the Rosary, known as the church of the Gesuati, was named for a religious order (abolished in 1666) that owned the still church of Santa Maria della Visitazione and a large monastery that was later bought by the Dominicans and partly demolished to build the church that Massari designed in 1724. The wooden crucifix was almost certainly from the nearby church of the Visitazione, which was built by Lombardian builders in the late 15th century. The church of the Visitazione was turned into a library in 1750, at which point the crucifix was probably moved to the nearby church of the Gesuati. The sculpture is similar to other early Renaissance wooden crucifixes that have been recently restored in the Adriatic area. It can therefore be dated to the early 16th century, when the church was under construction. Diagnostic studies of samples taken from several points on the crucifix (loincloth, flesh, and gilding) show three layers of overpainting and two overlapped layers of gilding. Analysis of a piece of the base showed the wood to be lindenwood. After the first analsyes and cleaning, the decision was made to remove the inconsistent overpainting. At the same time the painted layer was reinforced with injections of rabbit-skin glue. The considerable accumulation of inconsistent materials (dust) was obvious and covered almost the entire wood surface. In addition, wood-boring insects (woodworms) and old application of stucco had caused widespread damage to the wood. There were also some severe problems caused by the heavy load of the sculpture on Christ’s arms hanging on the cross and anchored by a completely oxidized metal hook and partially detached from its housing. This caused a major lesion on the left arm, which created a detachment on top of the shoulder, which had been attached with oxidized metal nails in a previous restoration. It was later covered with plaster and paper stucco, which lengthened the arm by a few centimeters. In the area of the head, a large missing part of the wood support was found, severely compromised by a dense net of tunnels caused by wood-boring insects. Here again, a previous restoration, likely at the same time as that on the left arm, filled in the gap with thick stucco plaster and many nails of different types, completely oxidized. The head had shifted slightly forward from its original alignment and was attached to the bust with a large, metal pin, which was also oxidized, probably after the work was completed. The delicate restoration revealed the original Renaissance polychromy and the sculpture’s elegant forms, which had been obscured beneath layers of overpainting and dust.