Project Description

Painted-wood Crucifix, 15th century 
Church of San Simeon Piccolo, Venice

Restoration of painted-wood Crucifix, 15th century

Church of San Simeon Piccolo, Venice

Project Director
Ministry of Culture, Monuments and Fine Arts
Office of Venice

Sansovino s.n.c. di Antonio Casellati
& Francesco Grimaldi, Venice

Krehbiel Family Foundation
Venetian Heritage

Project included in the framework of the UNESCO – International Private Committees joint Programme
for the Safeguarding of Venice

Start date
October 2011

End date
October 2012

39.000,00 €

The Sculpture

A rare example of Venetian ecclesiastical decoration, the crucified Christ is of considerable formal quality, which is even more evident since its conservation. It is worthy of comparison with those in the churches of San Giorgio, San Pietro di Castello, Sant’Angelo, San Maurizio and the Gesuati. It hangs in the right chapel of the church dedicated to Santi Simeone e Giuda, called San Simeon Piccolo. The original location of the work is not known, but after 1559 it was put in the chapel with a stone altar between the two doorways of the building on the right side of the church of Santi Simeone e Giuda, still extant: this was the base of the Arte dei tessitori dei panni di lana (Guild of woollen cloth weavers), under the protection of Sts Simon and Jude. 

The Technique

The sculpture is made of lime wood, a material normally preferred by German sculptors. The body was carved in one piece and only the arms are separate. The expressionistic signs of suffering, especially in the face, seems to be inspired by the Alto Adige circle and recall the crosses in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, pre-1450, and that of San Pietro di Castello, influenced by the carving of Giovanni Teutonico.
The body is supported by the open, slanted arms, tense, with thin, contracted muscles, with no bendingor sagging. The chest and abdomen muscles are clearly defined, emphasising a realistic appearance of volume. The muscular legs are joined with the right foot overlapping the left. The loin cloth reproduces a single band of fabric, knotted at the left with a long fall of drapery, marked by more rigid, angular shaping with deeper carving. The style of the long hair, in locks cut precisely, almost calligraphically, into the typical spiral gathers that divide into two bands of curls are still of Gothic inspiration. The expressive power culminates in a thin, sunken, elongated face, with the eyes closed in anguish and the mouth, half-open in spasm, allows a glimpse of teeth and tongue. These exude a fervent naturalism, also emphasised by the total collapse of the head, which has fallen completely downwards and is slightly inclined to the right, providing a counterpoint to the faint inclination of the body to the left and imparting a slight emphasis to the representation, though contained within moderate pathos.

The Restoration

The sculpture was in very poor condition as a result of previous restorations. The original-coloured surface was completely illegible because of repainting, which had altered the original reading of the sculpture, with a layering on the wooden structure of a protein chalk adhesive preparation, original colour in a protein binder and repainting with a flesh pigmented oil binder. The joints had to be checked and infestation by xylophagous insects were evident. The painted areas that had lifted were consolidated during the restoration and the greasy dust cleaned, followed by repair of all the painted surface and wooden parts, and checking of the arm joins. The more complex stage of the work then began, with removal of the repainting using special solutions and scalpels. The restoration continued with chalk-adhesive filling and watercolour retouching of the losses and application of a virgin wax and carnauba wax film to protect the surface; an anti- woodworm treatment was finally applied.