San Giovanni in Bragora

Venice, Italy

Background

San Giovanni in Bragora was founded in the 7th century, making it one of the oldest churches in Venice. The small building there now was constructed in the late Gothic style as part of a renovation that began in 1475 and continued for 15 years. Pope Paul II was baptized there and later in his life he granted indulgences to the church, increasing its status and attracting more financial supporters. The entire body of St. John the Almsgiver, a finger of St. John the Baptist, and a piece of the True Cross are reportedly held within. The most prized possession of San Giovanni is the altarpiece in the east end presbytery, below the stuccoed vault attributed to Alessandro Vittoria. The Baptism of Christ was painted by Giambattista Cima da Conegliano between 1492 and 1494. It is surrounded by an intricate marble frame carved by Sebastiano Mariani of Lugano, forming an exquisite pairing of Renaissance painting and sculpture.

How We Helped

In 1988, WMF joined the organization Save Venice to conserve the east end presbytery of San Giovanni in Bragora. The Sorprintendenza per I Beni Artisticie Storici was already present at the site, working to repair structural damage in other areas of the church. We focused on the altarpiece decorated by Giambattista Cima da Conegliano. The painting itself was hidden under numerous layers of overpainting from the 16th century and had been darkened by an application of varnish. Infrared reflectography, a new technique at the time, was used to document the painting before conservation. Restoration began on the Baptism of Christ with the removal of the overpainting and varnish, revealing the original surface in good condition with bright blues against a country landscape. The earliest large-scale depiction of the scene, the Baptism of Christ shows Christ standing serenely against a hilly countryside while John the Baptist prepares for the rite and angels rest on clouds in a light blue sky. The stucco work and marble frame were also treated to renew the entire section of the church.

Why It Matters

After Venice’s 1966 flood, the World Monuments Fund committed to helping reinvigorate the art and architecture there. That promise did not waver after the emergency stabilization work was complete: over the last several decades, WMF has conducted many restoration projects and has continued to develop partnerships in the city. The major damage caused by the flood had been addressed when WMF signed on to work at San Giovanni in Bragora. Restoration of the fresco once again revealed the naturalistic depiction and spatial representation of the landscape that influenced generations of Italian painters.

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