A Weekend in Venice: Save Venice Celebrates the church of San Sebastiano

Featured image
Save Venice supporters in the charming Veneto town Bassano del Grappa — home of, yes, Grappa.

Who needs an excuse to travel to Venice on a beautiful early summer weekend? Well, last month in Venice, Save Venice invited its supporters for a gratis weekend of celebration to recognize a long-awaited moment: the culmination of the eighteen-year campaign for the church of San Sebastiano, which funded meticulous conservation of nearly every element of the 16th-century building in Dorsoduro.

On Friday evening, donors gathered in the church alongside dozens of Venetian restorers and officials to take in the splendors of the restoration and mark the achievement. Save Venice, the American nonprofit organization founded in 1971 with a mission to preserve the artistic heritage of Venice, has funded the conservation of more than 2,000 works of art and counting.


Church of San Sebastiano Celebration
Guests gathered in the Church of San Sebastiano to celebrate the eighteen-year conservation campaign for the church.

Church of San Sebastiano Celebration (1)


Between 1555 and 1570, Renaissance master Paolo Veronese painted decorations throughout the church’s interior, including the ceiling, altarpieces and many other oil paintings on canvas, extensive frescoes, and the organ loft. The restoration of this jewel of a church began in 2006 with pre-restoration studies, and now, from top to bottom, the entire building gleams again. The architecture, sculpture, and paintings once again possess a clarity and beauty that the original artists, patrons, and worshippers would recognize.

The total conservation campaign took even longer than the approximately fifteen years Veronese needed to execute his pictures. Such an extensive restoration was required given the complexity of the individual treatments in varied media and the wish to keep as much of the church open to the public as possible while work was underway. San Sebastiano is, of course, a functioning church.


Frederick Ilchman, Save Venice Chairman
Remarks by Save Venice Board Chairman and Chair, Art of Europe at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Dr. Frederick Ilchman.

Don Gianmatteo Caputo, Frederick Ilchman, Melissa Conn, Xavier Salomon
Don Gianmatteo Caputo, Frederick Ilchman, Melissa Conn, and Xavier Salomon.
Joe Rubinelli, Fabrizio Tibolla, Mike Minieka
Joe Rubinelli, Fabrizio Tibolla, and Mike Minieka.
Xavier Salomon, Mary Frank, Howard Frank
Xavier Salomon, Mary Frank, and Howard Frank.

Charles Tolbert, Tom Schumacher
Save Venice Board President Charles Tolbert and Tom Schumacher.
Dayssi Kanavos, Bob Lovejoy, Patricia Lovejoy, Jill Almeida
Dayssi Kanavos, Bob Lovejoy, Patricia Lovejoy, and Jill Almeida.

Save Venice financed the restoration through years of fundraising with 3.8 million USD. Of that amount, nearly two million USD came from more than 100 individual donors. Major benefactors were Richard K. and Nancy Riess and Beatrice de Santo Domingo, Alejandro Santo Domingo, and Andrés Santo Domingo, as well as an anonymous donor. The project was undertaken in collaboration with the Venice branch of the Ministry of Culture (Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per il Comune di Venezia e Laguna) and the Catholic Diocese of Venice (Diocesi Patriarcato di Venezia). Nearly two dozen restoration firms carried out the conservation treatments.

The campaign celebration included remarks by Save Venice Board Chairman and Chair, Art of Europe at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Dr. Frederick Ilchman; Catholic Diocese Cultural Delegate Father Gianmatteo Caputo; Anna Chiarelli, Architect from the Venice branch of the Ministry of Culture; Melissa Conn, Director of the Venice Office of Save Venice; and Dr. Xavier F. Salomon, Save Venice Board member and expert on the painter, delivered a lecture, “San Sebastiano. Paolo Veronese’s Church.” Guests also enjoyed a special performance by the Venice Music Project featuring soprano Liesl Odenweller and the Aurora Chorus.


Venice Music Project Ensemble
Venice Music Project Ensemble.

A reception at Ca’Rezzonico, Venice’s museum of 18th-century art, followed the formalities at the church. Despite the threat of rain, the sky turned clear and the weather was perfect for a cocktail in the garden. Dr. Ilchman toasted the church, Paolo Veronese, and the sponsors of the evening who underwrote the reception: Save Venice Board members Richard and Jill Almeida, J. Robert and Patricia Lovejoy, and Tina Walls.


Reception at Ca' Rezzonico during Church of San Sebastiano Celebration
Reception at Ca’ Rezzonico during Church of San Sebastiano celebration.
Mary Frank, Fred Wilson, Irina Tolstoy, Xavier Salomon
Mary Frank, Fred Wilson, Irina Tolstoy, and Xavier Salomon.
Patricia Olsen, George Olsen, Carter Emerson, Susan Emerson
Patricia Olsen, George Olsen, Carter Emerson, and Susan Emerson.
Ulrich Birkmaier, Fred Wilson, Tina Walls
Ulrich Birkmaier, Fred Wilson, and Tina Walls.
X, John Fiorilla, Lizzie Asher, Cristina Ciusa, Anne H. Fitzpatrick, William Steele, Chris Drake, Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden
John Fiorilla, Lizzie Asher, Cristina Ciusa, Anne H. Fitzpatrick, William Steele, Chris Drake, and Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden.
Liesel Odenweller, Melissa Conn, Larry Davis, Sherry Davis
Liesel Odenweller, Melissa Conn, Larry Davis, and Sherry Davis.
Save Venice Executive Director Amy Gross, Conservator Valentina Piovan, Save Venice Director of Venice Office Melissa Conn
Save Venice Executive Director Amy Gross, Conservator Valentina Piovan, and Melissa Conn.
Janelle Birkmaier, Ulrich Birkmaier
Janelle and Ulrich Birkmaier.
Amy Harmon, Andra Zeppelin.
Amy Harmon and Andra Zeppelin.

The next morning began with a special mass in San Sebastiano presided by Parish Priest Father Paolo Bellio. Guests were then offered three distinct opportunities to view recently completed restorations funded by Save Venice: Eye to Eye with Giulia Lama: A Woman Artist in 18th-Century Venice at the Pinacoteca Mandfrediniana and Sacristy of the Basilica della Salute; Titian’s Annunciation in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, usually high up on a wall by the grand staircase; and a prints and drawings exhibition at Ca’Rezzonico, Rinascimento in Bianco e Nero: L’arte dell’incisione a Venezia. (An accompanying exhibition in Bassano del Grappa with restorations funded by Save Venice through The Versailles-Giverny Foundation would be the feature of Sunday morning.)


Save Venice guests visiting an exhibition in Ca' Rezzonico
Save Venice guests visiting an exhibition in Ca’ Rezzonico.

Saturday evening, guests traveled by water taxi to the Palladian villa, La Malcontenta, home of Save Venice Board member Ferigo Foscari and his wife Claudia. Mr. Foscari is a descendant of the two brothers who commissioned Palladio to build the home in 1554.

After hors d’oeuvres and aperitivi in the garden, Mr. Foscari gave remarks, describing his family’s journey restoring the home and invited the guests up the imposing and grand exterior staircases for dinner. The large group was privileged to dine under the frescoed and vaulted ceiling decorated by Battista Zelotti and Bernardino India, a treat so far reserved for the extended Foscari family only.


Reception at the Palladian Villa Foscari ‘La Malcontenta.’
William Steele, Anne H. Fitzpatrick, Chris Drake
William Steele, Anne H. Fitzpatrick, and Chris Drake.
Frederick Ilchman, Cassandra Ilchman; Andrew Jones, Laura Hodgson
L. to r.: Frederick Ilchman and Cassandra Ilchman; Andrew Jones and Laura Hodgson.
Lizzie Asher, Dayssi Kanavos, Casey Kohlberg, Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden
Lizzie Asher, Dayssi Kanavos, Casey Kohlberg, and Michele Levbarg-Klein Rayden.
KJ Yun, Emily Smith, Ferigo Foscari, Barbara Gast, Carol Schuster
KJ Yun, Emily Smith, Ferigo Foscari, Barbara Gast, and Carol Schuster.
Christian Stracke, Bill Johnson, Nikki Paget, Charles Tolbert, Mike Paget
Christian Stracke, Bill Johnson, Nikki Paget, Charles Tolbert, and Mike Paget.
Ricardo Haegler Pilnik, Bader Al Shuaib
Ricardo Haegler Pilnik and Bader Al Shuaib.
Larry Davis, Tina Walls, Martha Stires Wright
Larry Davis, Tina Walls, and Martha Stires Wright.
Sarah Blake McHam, Annasue Wilson, Marta Nardi
Sarah Blake McHam, Annasue Wilson, and Marta Nardi.
Ferigo Foscari, Barbara de Portago, Majin Alfonso
Ferigo Foscari, Barbara de Portago, and Majin Alfonso.
Jill & Richard Almeida, Charles Tolbert, Save Venice Board President; Gabriele Matino, Claire Barry
L. to r.: Jill and Richard Almeida, with Charles Tolbert; Gabriele Matino and Claire Barry.
Matteo Corvino, Alberto Nardi, Marta Nardi, Irina Tolstoy
Matteo Corvino, Alberto Nardi, Marta Nardi, and Irina Tolstoy.
Chiara Simonius & Philipp Dmitriouk
Chiara Simonius and Philipp Dmitriouk.
Dinner at the Palladian Villa Foscari 'La Malcontenta'
Dinner at ‘La Malcontenta.’

Sunday morning, guests traveled by train to reach the charming Veneto town Bassano del Grappa, and home of, yes, Grappa, for a private tour of the sister exhibition of prints and drawings at the Museo Civico. The group was greeted by Museum Director Barbara Guidi and exhibition curator David Landau and enjoyed an in-depth visit followed by a light lunch in the museum’s cloistered garden.


Save Venice guests visiting an exhibition in Bassano del Grappa
Save Venice guests visiting an exhibition in Bassano del Grappa.

The generosity of Save Venice’s donor family continued back in Venice proper on Sunday evening with a final farewell reception at the Cannaregio home of Christian Stracke.

In the days prior to the San Sebastiano Celebration weekend, the Save Venice Board and special guests viewed current restoration projects including the massive and urgent restoration of the “Room of the Four Doors” in Palazzo Ducale and to see new potential projects for funding in the Ghetto of Venice and elsewhere. Board member John Leopoldo Fiorilla di Santa Croce hosted the group at the private club Compagnia della Vela for a festive dinner.


Laura Hodgson & Andrew Jones, John & Annasue Wilson
Laura Hodgson and Andrew Jones, with John and Annasue Wilson.
Janelle and Ulrich Birkmaier; Davide Gasparotto, Silvia Ottolini
L. to r.: Janelle and Ulrich Birkmaier; Davide Gasparotto and Silvia Ottolini.
Jill and Richard Almeida; Patricia and Bob Lovejoy
L. to r.: Jill and Richard Almeida; Patricia and Bob Lovejoy.
Christopher Apostle, Alberto Nardi, Marta Nardi, Derek Thompson
Christopher Apostle, Alberto Nardi, Marta Nardi, and Derek Thompson.

At Save Venice’s Rosand Library and Study Center, Historian Dennis Romano presented his new comprehensive (600-page) book, Venice: The Remarkable History of the Lagoon City, with commentary by Save Venice Board member and Professor Emerita of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University, Patricia Fortini Brown, and Save Venice Chairman Frederick Ilchman.

On Monday evening, the festivities concluded with a focus on the artist of the moment, Veronese, through a book presentation by Mary Frank, editor of the late David Rosand’s Paolo Veronese, along with Frederick Ilchman and Melissa Conn.

For those wishing to be immersed in the work of Paolo Veronese, wait no more as soon you may pick up a copy of the guidebook financed by Save Venice through the generosity of Mary & Howard Frank, “The Church of San Sebastiano. A Guide,” with Marsilio Editori, featuring texts by Xavier Salomon, Davide Gasparotto, Gabriele Matino, and Melissa Conn and photography by Matteo De Fina.

And to learn more about Save Venice, click here.


Photographs by Matteo De Fina

Recent Posts

Subscribe

FOLLOW US