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 €

The polychrome and gilded wooden altars in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello were sculpted by Paolo Campsa in 1526. On the altar on the left is Saint Liberalis between Saint Jerome and Saint Francis. On the predella are episodes of the life of Saint Liberalis. The altar on the right is dedicated to St. Heliodorus, flanked by Saints Anthony Abbot and Nicholas. recent studies have increased the number of sculptures attributed to Paolo Campsa. He worked with his brother-in-law Giovanni di Marines from 1497 to 1513 and, after the latter’s death, continued to supply altarpieces throughout the Venetian dominion until his own death in 1541.
During the restoration of the altars all the adaptations and changes made over the century were revealed. The first change involved the elimination of Paolo Campsa’s figure of Saint Martin from the altarpiece on the right and its replacement by Poris extraneous Saint Heliodorus. More drastic changes were made on both altars in the late 19th century when they were truncated on the sides so as 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.  The altars were removed from their marble structure frames, the wall behind has been repaired to prevent future similar damage from humidity. Restoration consisted of an anti-woodworm treatment, removal of all the polychromy which was not original, integration of the missing parts and the application of a protective coating.