Conservation Italy

Gold and silver hidden in 1913 restored

Rediscovered treasures go back on display in Venice

VENICE. You would not have thought that there were treasures left to be discovered in Venice, one of the most studied cities in the world, but a very fine one has just been revealed at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

All first-time visitors go to St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace, but the next level of immersion usually takes them to this Scuola Grande, with its extraordinary and revolutionary cycle of paintings by Tintoretto, and a vast Crucifixion scene that makes you feel as though you were present at the event.

The Scuole were a very important part of old Venetian life, not schools but a kind of lay religious Rotary Club with a charitable role. Napoleon closed them down in 1806, but the Scuola di San Rocco was revived in the mid 19th century and today is a flourishing expression of venezianità. Under its head, the Guardian Grando, it has been putting all its holdings in order and the latest campaign has been the restoration of its treasury, reinstalled now in its original setting.

Shortly before the fall of the Serenissima Repubblica to Napoleon, and then after the city fell to him, the gold and silver of the various Scuole were to be sent to the Mint and melted down; the Scuola di San Rocco, the richest of the Scuole, lost nearly a ton of precious metal objects, mostly usable plate. Exempted items were reliquaries associated with the Scuola’s patronal saints—in this case, St Rocco, protector against the plague, St Andrew and St Matthew—and anything whose workmanship was particularly fine. Curator Maria Agnese Chiari Moretto Wiel estimates that about one-tenth of the original holdings survived. In 1913, as war threatened, the treasure was put under the stairs and forgotten for 80 years. Some of it was so tarnished, she says, that it looked like ebonised wood.

Now it is gleaming again and back in the Sala del Tesoro, a purpose-built, elegant late 18th-century room lined with cupboards. The works date from the late Gothic to the Rococo: chalices, monstrances, reliquaries and processional crosses, with particular strength in 16th-century pieces. There is an illustrated booklet (Marsilio) and visits are by appointment.

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