Standing on the scaffolding in the Church of San Sebastiano, Megan Cassidy ’12 (Manalapan, N.J.) could literally reach up and touch ceiling canvases dedicated to the Old Testament heroine Esther by Renaissance master Paolo Veronese. Taking in every detail of the frame, victory figures, and everything else that had not yet been removed for restoration, Cassidy grasped the magnitude of her job in Italy.
“Being on the scaffolding made me feel like we were doing something real,” says the art major. “Seeing the works in the process of being restored was amazing and reminded me of what it is that Save Venice is working for. Going back now that the panels have been restored, it’s amazing to see how beautifully everything comes together.”
Cassidy and Katie O’Neall ’12 (Monroe, Conn.), an art and economics double major, have spent the last two months living in an apartment in the quiet Castello district of Venice, a short walk from Piazza San Marco, as part of the Save Venice Scholars program. They have fully subsidized internships with the world-renowned organization Save Venice Inc., where they work Monday-Thursday assisting with the restoration of priceless works of art. In addition to traveling with their internship mentors, Cassidy and O’Neall audited a Venetian art history course through Columbia University.
The internships and living expenses are funded by Mary Kolarek Frank ’79 and her husband, Howard. Mary Frank is a member of the boards of Save Venice and Miami Art Museum. Diane Cole Ahl, Rothkopf Professor of Art History, worked with the Franks to arrange the Lafayette internships at Save Venice. This is the second year that Lafayette students worked with program. Last summer, art graduates Erica Kamin ’11 and Lauren Novotny ’11 were the first interns.
Cassidy and O’Neall also spent their spring semester in Florence living with host families – good preparation for the Save Venice experience where they’re on their own to “live like Italian locals,” says O’Neall. Not only are they enjoying the rare luxury of viewing countless Renaissance works of art firsthand, they are getting a behind-the-scenes look at the funding and process of art restoration. In the office, Cassidy and O’Neall organize files and photo archives, compile information on past restorations in the database, and complete condition reports on works that Save Venice will restore. They’ve also visited Italian landmarks like the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, Dolomite Mountains in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Verona, and other Italian cities.
“It’s been a very busy summer, but it’s definitely been the most memorable of my life, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have had this opportunity through Lafayette,” says O’Neall. “It’s amazing to spend so much time in such a beautiful city because we get to experience Venice as locals. Of course, we see the main tourist attractions, but we also get to see the everyday routines of the Italians who live in our neighborhood, so we are immersed in the Venetian culture more than I could have ever imagined.”
Both students also count their time in the Misericordia Lab to see Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin as a highlight. In the lab, they were able to get a much closer look at the painting, which takes up an entire wall in its original location in the Sala dell’Albergo of the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità, which is now part of the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Presentation of the Virgin stretched out and lit up for the restorers,” says Cassidy, who studied the painting prior to her lab time. “It already looks so different than the original picture before restoration began.”
“It was amazing to look at all the individual brushstrokes and the texture of the canvas, a very different experience than looking at a printed image in a book,” adds O’Neall, who, like Cassidy, is now considering a career in art management and restoration. “We watched some of the restorers working on other projects, talked to them about the challenges of restoring this particular painting by Titian, and saw how much the painting has come alive after the first rounds of cleaning. It was unbelievable to have this rare chance to see one of his works so personally and with a group of experts who have put so much dedication into understanding and restoring his paintings.”