Titian painting damaged in Venice fire

"David and Goliath", Titian, 1542-44Titian’s David and Goliath (1542-44) in Venice’s Basilica Santa Maria della Salute was damaged by water when firefighters soaked the roof while fighting a fire in the seminary next door. David and Goliath was displayed on the ceiling of the basilica’s sacristy along with 2 other works by Titian (Abraham and Isaac and Cain and Abel).

“I saw water dripping from the painting for an hour” after the fire at an adjacent construction site was put out late on Sunday, the head of Venice’s museum agency Vittorio Sgarbi told AFP, adding that he rushed to the scene after seeing the fire while dining at a nearby restaurant.

Sacristy ceiling water damageWorkers have erected scaffolding to inspect the damaged “David and Goliath” along with two other Titians that look down from the ceiling of Santa Maria della Salute’s vestry.

“The painting might have experienced some alteration, but nothing that can’t be restored,” said Sgarbi, a well-known art critic.

David and Goliath was restored 20 years ago. It’s that recent restoration work that is most likely to have been affected by the water. Restorers nowadays use “reversible” colors to ensure that they don’t fall into the trap of past restorations that ended up materially altering the original canvas. That makes them easy to remove in case they’ve made a mistake without needing to use any harsh solvents that might damage the original brushstrokes. That also makes them more susceptible to external elements like, oh, say, gallons of water from firefighter hoses, but by design they’re easy to repair so that’s why Sgarbi doesn’t sound too upset.

There are several other Titian paintings in the vestry of the basilica (8 tondi of the Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists) which may have been damaged when the sprinkler system went off in response to the fire next door. Any damage that may have occurred isn’t immediately obvious. They will all be carefully examined and repaired as necessary.

Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) was built in 1631 as a votive offering to the Virgin Mary, considered the protector of the Venetian Republic, to end the devastating plague of 1630.

Santa Maria della Salute

5 thoughts on “Titian painting damaged in Venice fire

  1. Oh, I feel for Vittorio Sgarbi. Who wants to sit and watch water drip off of a masterpiece for over an hour? Poor man. I’m sure that he felt quite helpless.

    (I wonder which would be more pricey: rebuild a burned seminary building or restore the painting of a Renaissance master? Hmm! Maybe the money would have actually been saved the firemen had let the seminary building burn down!)

    I’m glad to hear that the painting can be restored, though. At least the damage isn’t irreparable.

    1. Some of the Italian stories suggest the roof of the church was already beginning to catch fire when they doused it. Buildings are so jammed up against each other in Venice that I doubt it’s even possible for one building alone to burn down.

      I’m hoping there are no surprises, like that the tondi are more damaged than they seemed at first glance. Fingers crossed!

  2. When I first heard about this, it was reported along the lines of “Titian lost in fire” I’m sure I wasnt the only one that felt like I just got a punch in the guts!

    I’m glad that report was exaggerated and the work is in a restorable state.

    I think I’m going to have a drink – it’s been one of those days!

    Keep up the great work Liv!


  3. Regaarding Titian’s “David and Goliath”, I have published an article where I theorize that this painting can be read on a nationalistic level as well as the obviously religious one. The head of Goliath resembles the heads of men in other paintings by Titian where we know he was painting Turks. “The Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto” is a good example. In other words, Goliath represents the huge Ottoman Empire, and little David is the Venetian Republic that was fighting against the Turks. Also the body of Goliath is based on the Laocoon seen from one side and tilted backwards. Goliath’s right hand is based on the right hand of Michelangelo’s “Moses”.

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