Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Capitelli: restoration under the radar

In Venice: The Tourist Maze Davis & Marvin lament that most decisions, regarding the use and restoration of structures in Venice, rarely involve Venetians themselves. But sometimes, they write, locals are in complete control of the situation:

Ordinary Venetians have, for example, continued to tend their city's five hundred or so
capitelli, or street-side shrines, "that adorn the intersection of a great many calli and canals, that illuminate dark sottoportici, or that reign on remote channel markers in the Lagoon." These little altars are part of a cultural tradition in Venice that dates back a millenium or more, though as works of art they have yet to appear on the aesthetic radar screens of UNESCO or APC. Still, modest as they are, these shrines require regular upkeep, generally from parishioners, who not only keep them in flowers and candles, but also clean, paint, and repair them when necessary. How well this work is done depends to a great extent on the "sensitivity" of the volunteers -- we never heard of anyone getting any special training in this sort of thing -- but then fixing up of such "popular" artwork is not usually subject to the same standards as those demanded for art in the recognized canon. However well the restoration is done, neighborhood people still appreciate the improvement, and they still come to make use of their local capitello -- for personal prayers, to leave ex voti, or to join together in the somewhat more formal business of chanting orations or reciting the rosary in the evenings.


Blogger Stephen Gavin said...

Hello Greg,

re: Capitelli: restoration under the radar. I made a photographic survey of Capitelli in 1984. I am currently rebuilding a website I had online from about 1999, but received little interest or response. I am currently rebuilding the site and I am contemplating returning to Venice on the 25th anniversary of my first visit to see how the capitelli are thriving and to photograph those I missed before. What is your interest in the shrines? I found your comments interesting. I enjoyed those shrines that fall into the category of 'folk art' and are made from readily available materials. Do Venetians still make them? Any info. about shrines and their state in Venice would be welcomed.

3:11 AM  
Blogger Greg Bryant said...

That would be great!

It's particularly interesting that these shrines are folk art, in the middle of such a High Art city.

Post every photo in your survey ... maybe you could even attract the attention of Venetians themselves, who could tell us something about the individual stories of each capitello.

Post something here again, when you've posted a few, and we'll put in a link.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Stephen Gavin said...

I have not rebuilt the site yet, so I have posted a simple slide show of the photos I have at www.shrines.co.uk

7:38 AM  

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