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Old Master Paintings

Save Venice: Preserving a City

As the festival of contemporary art enveloped the city during the preview week of the Venice Biennale, Sotheby's joined Save Venice to lead a behind-the-scenes tour of the critical work being undertaken to preserve the historic artistic foundations upon which the city is built.  

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THE ORGAN OF THE CHURCH OF SAN SEBASTIANO, VENICE, WITH THE SHUTTERS DEPICTING THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE, 1560, BY PABLO VERONESE; DETAIL OF A STATUE IN STUCCO BY GIROLAMO CAMPAGNA, 1582, CHURCH OF SAN SEBASTIANO, VENICE.

Save Venice was established in 1971 in response to the serious damage caused by the November 1966 floods – the highest tide in Venice in the last century. Almost fifty years later, it continues to protect the cultural patrimony of the city by raising funds to restore its monuments and works of art, and actively overseeing their restoration. 

Visitors were shown the crucial conservation treatments being carried out by specialist restorers at the church of San Sebastiano and the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The church of San Sebastiano houses more important works by the great Venetian Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese than any other site in the world. Guests were given privileged access to view first-hand the ongoing work to restore Veronese's extraordinarily inventive frescoes, ceiling paintings, altarpieces and canvases Originally a simple project begun  in 2007 to examine and treat some localized issues on the ceiling, it has become a decade-long initiative with the ultimate goal to fully restore the church from top to bottom. 

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VIEW FROM THE NAVE OF SAN SEBASTIANO, VENICE, TOWARDS THE BARCO, OR MONK'S LOFT, WITH THE CEILING OF SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF ESTHER BY PABLO VERONESE, 1556. 

At the Gallerie dell’Accademia, which houses the city’s most important collection of Venetian paintings, Save Venice has funded the restoration of dozens of the institution’s paintings, including masterpieces by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. The current work at the museum is the cleaning and restoration of the important cycle of paintings dedicated to Saint Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio, one of the best-loved painters of the Venetian Renaissance.

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SIDE CHAPEL OF THE CHURCH OF SAN SEBASTIANO, VENICE, WITH SAVE VENICE'S ONGOING RESTORATION OF THE MAIN ALTERPIECE OF THE CHURCH BY PABLO VERONESE, 1562; DETAIL OF THE COFFERED WOODEN CEILING OF THE CHURCH OF SAN SEBASTIANO WITH PAINTINGS BY PABLO VERONESE. 

Sotheby's Head of Old Master Paintings, Christopher Apostle, explains: "There is no city in the world that is as splendid and as fragile as is Venice, and it has always been Save Venice's mission to protect and restore its works of art and architecture so that future generations will be able to experience its unique beauty. The city's great artistic heritage is thrown into even greater relief at the time of the Biennale. It was a great pleasure to give collectors and connoisseurs a tour of our work in the city and tell them about our ongoing projects, both large and small."

All of the organisation's urgent restoration projects are made possible with support from individuals, foundations and corporations who believe in a universal responsibility to preserve the world’s irreplaceable artistic and cultural treasures found in Venice.

Find out more about the work of Save Venice

Get the latest news on Sotheby's at the Venice Biennale at sothebys.com/venice

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