Baroque Scrolls and Titian Fire Disaster

When I visited Europe several summers ago, there were a couple of things that inspired me to pick up a sketch pad. And I’m not really an artist, so when I’m motivated to draw (and put aside the impulse to self-criticize), I’ve gotta be pretty darn inspired. Santa Maria della Salute (Venice, 1631-1687, shown right) was one of the things that inspired me to draw for a bit. Really, it was the huge baroque scrolls along the drum of the dome that I sketched (click on the image to see the scrolls in better detail).  They are awesome, and I couldn’t help but think about the large volute scrolls that flank the top of some Greek vases (like this one).

Anyhow, tonight I read here that there was a fire in seminary building near Santa Maria della Salute. (When I read about the initial fire, I immediately gasped and thought, “Are the baroque scrolls alright?” But it seems like the fire was concentrated at the nearby seminary.  Perhaps firefighters doused the roof of Santa Maria della Salute to prevent the fire from spreading. Nonetheless, my scrolls were spared! Yay!) However, water did seep in through the roof of Santa Maria della Salute, which has permanently damaged Titian’s David and Goliath (1542-44, shown right). David and Goliath was hung on the ceiling of the church, and seemed to have received the brunt of the damage. There are eight other Titian paintings located in the church, but an initial examination suggests that no damage has been done.

That’s good news, but it’s sad to hear about the ruined work.  I actually gave an empathetic moan when I read a quote by Vittorio Sgarbi (head of Venice’s museum agency) on The History Blog, which has a great post about this unfortunate disaster. Sgarbi rushed to the museum scene after seeing the fire from a nearby restaurant. He then relayed to the press that he saw “water dripping from the painting for over an hour.”

Aw. Poor man. That definitely won’t be the highlight of his career.

Luckily for us, it sounds like this painting will be able to be restored.  I don’t know if the painting can ever be “good as new” (or, er, good as it was before this deluge), but at least this painting isn’t lost forever.

  • H Niyazi says:

    I was immensely relieved to hear that it was in a restorable state!

    When I first heard the news, it was inaccurately reported as "Titian lost in fire" which made me feel ill.

    Thanks M, and also to Liv from the History Blog for the accurate reporting!

    I'd love to see your sketches M!

    H

  • Hels says:

    Santa Maria della Salute is fabulous, agreed!!!

    But I wonder why, in this day and age, we cannot protect our most precious historical treasures better. I don't mean catastrophic events like when Pakistan disappeared under water or when London was totally ablaze in the Great Fire.

    But thefts from galleries continue as if noone cares. And vandals manage to cut out canvases and cover statues with paint :(

  • columnist says:

    As others have said, it is a relief that the Titian can be restored, and one presumes that the church too. Sadly these things happen, and the preventative measures (water) quite often cause more damage. But in perspective, these disasters have happened many times in history, and it's great thay we still care enough to restore.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I agree: I wish that more measures (or perhaps different measures – as columnist mentioned, sometimes preventative measures cause the most damage!) were taken to protect historical treasures.

    Someone sent me a link to this photo, which shows the current state of "David and Goliath" right now. It also appears that there is some confusion regarding the sprinkler system in Santa Maria della Salute. From what I have read on The History Blog (see above link in my post), a sprinkler system at Santa Maria della Salute (which went off in response to the nearby fire) could have damaged some of the other Titian paintings in the building. From what I can tell, though, "David and Goliath" was ruined from water which seeped through the roof. If I find any new information (or if anyone finds a news source which clarifies information about the sprinkler system – please share!), I'll post it here.

  • M says:

    This article doesn't mention the sprinkler system, but it does confirm that the painting was damaged through the roof: firefighters doused the roof of Santa Maria della Salute with a high powered hose.

  • heidenkind says:

    Well, on the plus side it's not Titian's best work anyway. :P And restoration=more work for art historians! Yay!

  • e says:

    It sounds like the damage was certainly worth saving the dome and/or building. I'm glad it can be restored. that is good news.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.