Tears on Giovanni Bellini's altarpiece: the alarm raised by a visitor

The Madonna in Glory with Eight Saints, an altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini from around 1510, is in poor condition: the alarm raised by a visitor.

Severe damage suffered by a splendid altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini (Venice, c. 1430 - 1516), the Madonna in Glory with Eight Saints painted by the Venetian artist around 1510 and kept at the Diocesan Museum in Venice: the denunciation of the work’s poor condition was launched by Riccardo Beverari, who visited the Diocesan Museum in Venice on February 7 and, a week later, raised the alarm on the Facebook group Le connoisseur.

We quote Beverari’s account in full: “VERGOGYNOSIC STORY. Which you may already know. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, I entered the Diocesan Museum in Venice to see Bellini’s ”Madonna in Gloria,“ freshly restored, as announced by so many banners at the entrance. The custodian, however, tells me that, contrary to what was indicated at the entrance, the painting is not visible. I go down to the ticket office and get my money back, then go back to the custodian because I wanted some explanation. After no small amount of insistence, he let me up into the attic of the museum, and to my considerable amazement I saw the altarpiece placed horizontally on two planks. As evidenced by the photos I enclose below, and in contrast to what the museum director says below in the interview, the panel was quite damaged, the paint film had lifted in several places, perhaps because the frame had been removed, but more likely because of the damp conditions in the museum, which no one had thought about. The custodian, a graduate student in Cultural Heritage, had obtained from the director that the altarpiece be at least arranged horizontally, to prevent the color being lost in several places. Most likely the matter, for which there are very serious responsibilities, will be covered up with further action before the work is returned to St. Peter’s in Murano or, as I hope, to the Academy. Below you will find the photos I took; the tears are impressive, they were generated within a month of neglect, and may get worse.” The images can be seen in the post we linked above.

Bellini’s altarpiece, moreover, had only been unveiled to the public on Oct. 6 as part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Giovanni Bellini’s death. The painting, with a “long and difficult conservation history” (so on the Storie dell’Arte website in an article written on the occasion of the October presentation), was described by experts as a “chronic patient,” in need of monitoring and treatment.

The director of the Polo Museale del Veneto, Daniele Ferrara, attributed the lacerations suffered by the painting to adverse climatic factors, as he explained to the newspaper La Nuova Venezia: “the particularly dry climate” allegedly caused “a climatic shift that makes the wood fibers also drier,” consequently causing “the pictorial detachments right where the work was restored.” Everyone now agrees that a new intervention will be necessary.

Sources: La Nuova Venezia (1 ) - La Nuova Venezia (2) - Il Gazzettino ( 1 ) - Il Gazzettino (2) - Storie dell’Arte

Tears on Giovanni Bellini's altarpiece: the alarm raised by a visitor
Tears on Giovanni Bellini's altarpiece: the alarm raised by a visitor

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