> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

Saving A City One Painting At A Time

February 27, 2022
A Baroque arch with paintings of saints

Spandrel paintings of Saints Luke and John by Giulia Lama (at the church of San Marziale, Venice)

Save Venice is a US-based nonprofit that works to preserve and educate about Venetian cultural patrimony. The organization raises money to fund the restoration of paintings, sculptures, and public monuments in Venice that have deteriorated over the centuries. In one of their many projects, Save Venice restored 19 works by the sixteenth-century Venetian master Jacopo Tintoretto in time for his 500th birthday in 2018. But the organization found itself with another project in the works due to their Tintoretto restorations. The altarpiece Saint Martial in Glory with Saints Peter and Paul was one of the Tintoretto paintings restored. But when conservators returned the painting to the parish church of San Marziale, they noticed two oil paintings on canvas inserted into the spandrels between the arch and the wall above the altarpiece. Save Venice decided to restore the spandrel paintings, showing the evangelists Luke and John, to brighten up the entire altar. The conservators also worked on two similar spandrel paintings at another altar in the church, showing Saints Mark and Matthew. When all the oxidized varnish started to come off the canvas, specialists almost immediately recognized that the saints were created by one of Venice’s greatest female artists, Giulia Lama.

Giulia Lama was never registered with the painters’ guild and was not widely known among scholars until the twentieth century. She was constantly overshadowed by her male contemporaries like Canaletto and Giambattista Tiepolo. According to Save Venice, Lama has since become “one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures of the early Venetian Settecento.” Experts had previously attributed much of her work to Giovanni Battista Piazzetta. This is understandable since Lama and Piazzetta were close friends who continually influenced each other. Lama’s work is mainly located at some of Venice’s parish churches, like Santa Maria Assunta, Santa Maria Formosa, and San Vidal. Her work also hangs in Venice’s great museums, namely the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Ca’ Rezzonico.

The rediscovery of Giulia Lama’s works at the church of San Marziale prompted Save Venice to start their newest project, Women Artists of Venice (WAV). Work is beginning on the paintings of a few select artists, but specialists have already drawn up a list of about thirty Venetian women whose work will be studied and eventually restored. The restoration projects currently underway include Lama’s evangelist paintings, her Female Saint in Glory at the church of Santa Maria Assunta, and the pastel portraits by Rosalba Carriera and Mariana Carlevarijs. Hundreds of thousands of euros have already been donated and appropriated for the WAV. While the work of female artists is not nonexistent in Venetian museums and galleries, up until the WAV there has never been an organized effort to study them as a category of their own.