Biblioteca Marciana

Venice, Italy


Venice’s Biblioteca Marciana stands as a symbol of the city’s wealth and its long tradition of civic investment in intellectual and artistic pursuits. The building’s construction began in 1537 and was completed over the next 50 years. The library, designed by Jacopo Sansovino, houses one of the world’s greatest collections of classical manuscripts. Sansovino completed 16 of the façade’s 21 arcaded bays before his death in 1570. Eighteen years later, Vincenzo Scamozzi finished the structure according to Sansovino’s plans.

How We Helped

In 1967, WMF began conservation work in the ground floor library, mint, and entrance hall, where stucco and marble stonework were retouched, and cracking architraves were reinforced with iron girders. Later efforts in the 1980s focused on the library’s antisala, which was used at various times as a classroom for Greek and Latin languages, and a public museum of classical sculpture. Though the walls of the room were originally decorated with paintings by artists like Tintoretto and Domenico Molin, its ceiling, featuring Titian’s allegorical painting, Sapienza, is widely considered the room’s most important decorative element. Before WMF’s intervention, however, the painting had fallen into serious disrepair, its surface blistered and obscured by layers of soot. To restore the work, a team of six conservationists reattached cracked paint to its wooden surface, and then cleaned it, removing dirt and layers of varnish that muted and discolored the brilliance of Titian’s original. The effort, completed in November of 1986, has restored the subtlety and vibrancy of the painting’s original color scheme, allowing visitors to experience the work, and the antisala, as originally intended.

Why It Matters

The Biblioteca Marciana is one of the most celebrated of Venice’s historic monuments, and its antisala demands special attention for its architectural prominence and decorative achievement. WMF’s conservation efforts, which successfully restored a deteriorated work by one of Venice’s great masters, helped revive a space that had largely been neglected, despite its historic significance. Although the project largely focused on the Titian centerpiece, WMF also worked to improve the structural and aesthetic quality of the decorative elements surrounding the painting. The emphasis on the entire decorative suite reflects a belief that the diverse design elements at the Biblioteca Marciana, as with many public monuments, were conceived as a unified whole, and should be considered in that light. WMF’s work in the antisala highlights the important, but sometimes overlooked, interdependence of those architectural and decorative elements.

Last updated: July 2021.

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