Palazzo Corner Spinelli on the Grand Canal was designed for the Lando family by Mauro Codussi in the late 15th century. Giovanni Corner purchased the Palazzo later,and commissioned some important structural changes to architect Michele Sanmicheli and the decorative part to Giorgio Vasari. In particular, Vasari, during his brief stay in Venice, painted nine panels on a wooden ceiling as he says in his memories (Ricordanze, 1527-73): “adi otto di aprile 1542 il Magnifico Messer Giovannj Cornaro […] mi alloga per ordine di Messer Michele da San Michele […] un palcho o soffitto di legniame a dipingere a oljo con nove quadri grandi” [On the 8th of April, 1542, the Magnifico Messere Giovannj Cornaro […] assigned me by means of Messer Michele da San Michele […] a ‘stage’ or ceiling of wood to be oil-painted with 9 large squares].
The paintings depicted five Virtues with Charity in the center and Putti with tablets in the corners: “in uno di mezzo la Carità […] in quattro quadri la Fede, la Speranza e la Giustizia e la Pazienza […] e di più 4 quadri drentovi quatro putti né canti” [in the one in the middle, Charity […] in four panels, Faith, Hope, Justice and Patience […] and in addition 4 paintings with inside four putti in the corners].
The ceiling painted by Vasari is representative of a pivotal moment in the XVI century, when central Italian Mannerist art had a profound influence on Venetian painting, as one can see in the elegant decoration of the Palazzo, synthesis of Gothic and renaissance forms.
Presumably in the early 19th century, the ceiling was broken into sections and separately sold on the European antique market.
In 1961, Jürgen Schulz attempted to piece together the ceiling based on Vasari’s description, tracking down six of its nine sections, including Patience, Justice, and two Putti in the Di Capua collection in Rome and Hope, and Faith in private European collections. The Di Capua panels, shown in 1981 at the From Titian to El Greco exhibition were purchased for the Gallerie dell’Accademia of Venice in 1987. A painting depicting a Putto with a tablet was later identified by Luisa Vertova as a segment of the famous ceiling, after seeing it in a photograph of a Milanese apartment published in Architectural Digest in 1998. This element of the ceiling was designated as part of Italy’s national heritage and transferred to the Gallerie dell’Accademia in 2002.
In May 2013 the Ministry of Culture, with the support of Venetian Heritage, organized a fundraising campaign to purchase the segment depicting Faith. Since 1960, the painting had been in Lady Kennet’s collection in London, from where it was purchased. Support was provided by many individuals, businesses and public and private institutions such as: Ministero dei Beni e le Attività Culturali e del Turismo – Direzione Generale per la Valorizzazione del Patrimonio Culturale, Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, artistico ed etnoantropologico, Fondazione Venetian Heritage, Fondazione di Venezia, Comune di Venezia-Vela S.p.a., The Venice in Peril Fund, MSC Crociere, SAVE S.p.a., Consorzio Venezia Nuova e Fondazione Veneto Banca.
A few years later, in the wake of the enthusiasm for the acquisition of Faith, a new fundraising campaign was organized for the acquisition of the Hope, another missing panel and launched by Oscar winning film director James Ivory, known for movies such as “A Room with a View”, “Howards Ends”, “The Remains of the Day” and “Call me by your name”, Honorary Member of Fondazione Venetian Heritage in October 2016. The painting was the property of the Lord Weidenfeld heirs. Using the same effective strategy adopted for the purchase of the Faith, based on a synergic collaboration between public and private actors, the campaign was successfully carried out. Less than a year from the start of the fundraising campaign and six months before the deadline agreed upon with Christie’s, Hope was purchased and brought to Venice. The purchase of the painting was made possible by Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo, Venetian Heritage, Venice in Peril Fund and Pro Venezia Sweden.
Finally, in 2018, a last panel showing the Suicide of Judas – since 1980 in the collection of the Museum of Casa Vasari in Arezzo – was reunited to the other panels thanks to a study realised by Luisa Caporossi and Rossella Cavigli. The restorers were the first to recognise that the panel with Judas was in fact the pendant of the panel with the Hope. In particular, it can be read as the allegoric representation of Desperation, the antithesis of the Hope.
Venetian Heritage has also supported the restoration of the panels’ wooden supports. This last intervention made possible the reconstruction of the ceiling and the removal of any chromatic unevenness between the reassembled paintings.
The ceiling will remain on display at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.