12.11.2015 - UNESCO Venice Office

Restoration brings extraordinary 18th century Venetian furnishings back to life

Wooden benches - Palazzo Contarini di San Beneto, Venice

Three 18th-century wooden benches that sat for decades in the courtyard of Palazzo Contarini a San Beneto have been restored within the framework of the UNESCO- International Private Committees Joint Programme for the Safeguarding of Venice, with the support of the Venetian Heritage Foundation. The hall seats, built in 1748, were made to mark the marriage between Eleanor Morosini and Giulio Contarini.

The coat of arms of the Contarini di San Beneto and a second crest belonging to the Morosini family are depicted on one of the benches in celebration of the union. The scale of the articles themselves is impressive: the two larger benches, placed under arches, span 4 meters in height and 3.15 meters in width, while the third bench measures 3.50 meters by 2.30 meters, occupying a separate wall and fitted under a stone cornice.

The three monumental benches, which stand out for their size and for the quality of their decorations, depicting intricate architectural trompe l’oeil and sacred and mythological figures, were made around 1748 in the workshops of the Fontebasso, Diziani e Brusaferro, charged with the renovation and decoration of the entire building.

The benches, initially housed in the hallway of Palazzo Contarini,  were later moved into  an open courtyard at the entrance of the building where they were exposed to the elements. They had, with time, lost all signs of their former lustre and the decorative patterns had faded beyond recognition. In July 2014, following an initial study of their state of conservation, it was confirmed that overexposure to direct sunlight and humidity had damaged the cosmetic appearance by eroding the original paintwork and resin on the benches, while high water had contributed to structurally weaken the entire wooden framework. The damage was worst in the areas that came into contact with the brickwork, but also affected the metal fixings.

The project sought to restore the original appearance of the benches and to prevent future deterioration caused by natural elements. After the surfaces had been cleaned, the structures were strengthened with the addition of new supportive panels. Preliminary studies also revealed traces of previous restoration efforts, with the back of one of the benches having undergone repairs and the addition of an image which is likely to be linked to the purchase of the building by the Compagnie Générale des Eaux at the end of the 19th century.

The project was delayed due to the tragic death of one of the firm’s partners, Giovanna Menegazzi, to whom we wish to pay tribute. The restoration, completed on 20 June 2015, bears witness to the professional competence of both partners throughout.  

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The project was funded by the Venetian Heritage Foundation as part of the UNESCO – International Private Committees Joint Programme for the Safeguarding of Venice. The Director of Works was Dr Annalisa Perissa, assisted by Dr Valeria Poletto under the overall authority of the former Superintendent Dott.ssa Giovanna Damiani, Superintendency for Historic, artistic and ethno-anthropological heritage and for the museums of Venice and the municipalities of the “gronda lagunare” (Soprintendenza speciale per il patrimonio storico, artistico ed etnoantropologico e per il polo museale della città di Venezia e dei comuni della Gronda lagunare).




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