Project Description

Wooden Altars
Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Island of Torcello, Venice

Restoration of the Wooden Altars

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Island of Torcello, Venice

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

Maximilian Leuthenmayr and Benito Ghezzo,
in collaboration with Francesco Grimaldi, Venice

Venetian Heritage

Start date
November 1999

End date
November 2000

57.060,00 €

Venetian Heritage funded the restoration of the polychrome and gilded altars in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello. The Basilica, founded in the 7th century, not only represents one of the most outstanding examples of paleo-Christian architecture, but it also hosts the most important representation of mosaic art in septentrional Italy. Paolo Campsa sculpted the restored altars in 1526. On the left altar, one can find Saint Liberalis, between Saint Jerome and Saint Francis, whereas on the predella are sculpted episodes of the life of San Liberale. The altar on the right is dedicated to Saint Heliodorus, pictured in the middle, flanked by Saints Anthony Abbot and Nicholas. Recent studies have increased the number of sculptures attributed to Paolo Campsa. Restorations have uncovered all the alterations and adaptations the altars were subjected to over the centuries. For instance, the elimination of Paolo Campsa’s figure of Saint Martin from the altarpiece on the right and its replacement by Antonio de Poris extraneous Saint Heliodorus. In the late 19th century, more drastic changes were made to both altars; they were truncated on the sides to make them fit in the marble niches. Careful examination showed that the humidity from the wall was the main cause of the severe state of decay of the altars. They were removed from their marble structure frame, and the wall behind them was repaired to prevent future damage from humidity.  Restoration consisted of an anti-woodworm treatment, removal of all the polychromy, integration of the missing parts, and lastly the application of a protective coating.