Project Description

The Gilt and Painted Wayside Cross, workshop of Paolo Veneziano, 14th century
Church of the Carmini, Venice 

Restoration of Wayside Cross, workshop of Paolo Veneziano

Church of the Carmini, Venice

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

Erica Bianchini, Venice
Giulio Bono, Venice

Venetian Heritage

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

Scientific analysis
Thierry Radelet

Start date
January 2011

End date
January 2012

24.320,00 €

This work recalls 14th-century Venetian crosses from Paolo Veneziano’s workshop. The first documentation of Carmelites in Venice date to the 1280s. However, it was not until 1348, when much of Europe was devastated by plague that Santa Maria del Carmine, also known as “Carmini”, was consecrated. The Wayside Cross dates to the mid-14th century, following a model that was very wide-spread in that period in churches on the Venetian lagoon. There is no definitive information on the cross until the mid- 19th century. This could be due to an unlucky happenstance of there having been no documentation at all about this work. Another possibility is that the cross came to Carmini only in this period at the time of major restoration to the church with many other donations dating from the same time. The first known reference is from Zanotto in 1856. The next mention is Berchet’s entry from 1898, which tells us that the cross was hung on the right wall of the left apsidal chapel and had been repainted and gilded. The trefoils were added during that dramatic “restoration”.
The investigative analysis done on the work from 2011-2012, through Venetian Heritage funding, showed extensive changes to the structure and the original painted layer under the heavy repainting. The base is made of three poplar boards forming the vertical structure and two horizontal arms. The trefoiled tips and the current frame around the perimeter are not original; they were added in the 19th century. Multispectral analyses were done in the first stage of work to gain useful information for stratigraphic micro-testing in order to locate and quantify the extant, original painted layer. The infrared analysis identified some minor signs of preparation on parts of Christ’s face and hair. This was the only area spared by the heavy oil repainting over the entire cross and Christ’s figure and the gold background. Radiographs showed significant evidence of discontinuity on the upper part of Christ’s legs, about halfway up his thighs, likely due to a later replastering of the wood base and resulting application of a new layer of paint. We can assume that this new layer, which dates between the 19th and 20th centuries, was due to damage sustained on the lower part of the board. This is confirmed by the results of microchemical and stratigraphic analysis that show a different, lighter preparation. The thin, reddish brown layer of paint, in the mixture of natural earths, has traces of zinc white, which started to be used as a pigment in the 1930s. Digital radiographs also showed that on the cross’s arms there is an original, underlying layer that has a different composition for Christ’s hands, shifted higher in the space of the cross’s arm. It also showed that the drops of blood were arranged differently, visible due to their high level of radio-opacity, likely due to a cinnabar-based pigment. The second investigatory phase involved performing small stratigraphic tests on different parts of Christ’s figure in order to see the consistency of the original paint underneath. The first step involved opening micro “windows” on the cross’s horizontal arms. This exposed the base of the wooden cross, which appears blue, most likely based on azurite.
In conclusion, analysis showed that the original, extant part of the painting is quite partial and damaged, limited only to Christ’s head and two arms, and a very small piece of the bust. It was therefore decided to keep it in its current form and only perform maintenance on the work, limited to dusting, disinfection, surface cleaning, and re-attachment of raised areas. The decision was partly based on the religious function of the holy image, now historicized in its current form, a partly based on its liturgical function it serves in its setting in the Church.