Bristol’s Rialto Bridge needs conserving

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Deborah Sale, Development Manager

The Rialto Bridge painting

The Rialto Bridge by Michele Marieschi c.1740 © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

A public appeal to raise funds to conserve Bristol’s very own Rialto Bridge has been launched. Unlike Venice’s Ponte di Rialto made of stone and mortar, Bristol’s version is made of canvas and paint, so restoring it should be a lot easier.

Bristol has its very own Rialto Bridge, normally located at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, in the form of a wonderful 18th century painting by the Italian artist Michele Marieschi. At the moment we’re unable to show you Marieschi’s masterful depiction of one of the most iconic landmarks in Venice because of the painting’s deteriorating condition, which means we’ve had to take it off display.

We want to carry out some urgent conservation work on the painting so that once again you can experience this magnificent Italian view without having to step outside of Bristol. £5,000 is needed to fully restore the picture and so far we’ve raised two thirds of the target. A public appeal has been launched to raise the remaining third.

Although born in Venice, Michele Marieschi spent only the last years of his short life painting views of his native city and completed The Rialto Bridge in about 1740, three years before he died. The Rialto Bridge, with its shops and stalls spanning the arch, was already a famous landmark in Venice and provided the only foot passage across the Grand Canal. In this painting it stands out against the luminous sky and serves as a backdrop to the busy traffic of boats going about their business on the city’s main waterway.

Marischi MM detailFellow artist, Canaletto, had already revealed a demand for pictorial mementos of this kind from wealthy foreign visitors on the Grand Tour. Compared with Canaletto’s prolific output Marieschi’s output was small, and he rarely signed his work. So the inclusion in Bristol’s painting of his initials – seen on the end of the barrel in the lower right corner – makes this painting very special and a significant painting for scholarly study, attracting art historians from around the world to Bristol. The painting was gifted to the city by Alfred de Pass in 1936 and is an important work in Bristol’s fine art collection.

Generally as soon as a painting is finished it begins to age. Even with the best care and high quality display, all paintings experience the effects of natural ageing and dirt accumulation. Yellowing of varnish and other coatings make the paint much less vibrant and can lead to a loss of depth of field. The canvas and frame can also start to show stress and other effects of ageing. All of this has happened to Marieschi’s painting, but a condition study has revealed a more serious problem.

A number of cracks across the surface of the painting are raised and in imminent danger of flaking. So the first step will be to stabilise the surface. A structural investigation of the canvas has revealed the likely need for re-lining which means the canvas will have to be removed from its stretcher, the back side covered with either a synthetic or linen fabric and then re-stretched onto a new stretcher – a highly skilled process.

Photo of a conservator holding the rialto bridge paintingThe varnish, which has yellowed considerably over time, will need to be removed from the front of the canvas. The next process will be filling and retouching to eradicate all evidence of the dark and discoloured past restoration work, and then it will be re-varnished. Finally in order to display the painting to its best aesthetic advantage and as safely as possible, museum quality low reflect glass will be fitted so that you can view the work from as many vantage points as possible, back on the wall in the recently refurbished 18th century gallery.

If you feel you’d like to help bring back The Rialto Bridge to Bristol then please do support our public appeal. Just follow the button to make your donation. Thank you.

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