The University of Art Restoration in Venice – UIA
UIA – Universita Internazionale d’Arte Venezia
Venice, November 12th 2019 – the acqua alta reached 187 cm – the second highest high tide recorded in history after 194 cm were touched in 1966!
As you probably saw from my previous blog posts, a disaster for Venice.
But few days later, the Venetians are on their feet, trying to get back to normality.
On November 12th I was due to go and visit the UIA, aka Restauro – Universita Internazionale Dell’Arte Venezia (the International School of Art Restoration in Venice), but of course we had to cancel due to the exceptional high tide.
Very kindly and incredibly, the school agreed to see me only a few days later.
So, last Tuesday, exactly a week after the major event, which totally submerged 85% of the city and brought damages to practically 2 out of 3 businesses and thousands of residents, I made my way to the Giudecca Island to Villa Heriot, the headquarters of UIA.
I was greeted by Luca Ferrari, a Venetian journalist and social media manager of the school: you can follow his blog about Venice and travels The Way of the Miles.
As we entered Villa Heriot, I was immediately struck by the fact that it does not look at all like a Venetian Palace. On the contrary, it felt like I was entering a medieval castle somewhere in Tuscany.
Villa Heriot, dating from the early 1900s, is a mix of architectural details from the Byzantine, the Veneto, Medieval, Greek and Roman times.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many wealthy foreigners chose to make Venice their second home, exploiting land often occupied by abandoned buildings in previous centuries.
This is what the French Auguste Hériot decided to do. So, after having bought the land of a former soap factory at the Giudecca, he built two villa structures with eclectic architecture and with copious decorative elements such as patera, tiles, columns and other Byzantine motifs.
In 1947 Hériot’s wife, after the death of her husband, gave Villa Hériot complex to the Venice municipality, with the wish that it must be used as a public school: therefore the building became the Carlo Goldoni elementary school.
The school was later closed and Villa Hériot is now home to the “International University of Art, seat of Venice”, and the Iveser, Istituto Veneziano per la Storia della Resistenza.
As we entered the administrative offices, I was warmly welcomed by Professor Emanuela Zucchetta, history and theory of restoration teacher and Cecilia Benzoni, training tutor and organizational secretary of the school.
Professor Zucchetta immediately started to explain the history of the Institute.
The History of UIA
The institute was founded in 1970, on the wake of the big Acqua Grande (high tide) of 1966, once people realised the enormity and gravity of the conservation problems which arisen from the huge flood. It soon became obvious that the education of art history and restoration of the time was insufficient to cope with the latest problems.
Some illuminated scholars, among which Giuseppe Mazzariol, art historian, and Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, art critic, historian, philosopher of art and politician, decided to create an institute dedicated to restoration: one in Venice and one in Florence.
Pretty soon the school in Venice become an institution in the world of art and science, with Avant-guarde innovative teaching techniques in art history, as well as a centre for seminaries and research, carrying out, not only mere academic studies, but also hands on practice. Subsequently the institute concentrated above all on restoration, becoming a professional training centre, giving a diploma to restoration technicians.
Who are Restoration Technicians?
Restoration Technicians are one of the two professional figures, officially recognized by the Ministero per i Beni e Attività Culturali (the Ministry for Cultural Heritage), who can put their hands and work on cultural heritage.
In Italy you have the restorers, with a 5 year long university degree, who direct the works and then you have the restoration technicians, who follow the advice and indication given by the restorers and do the actual manual work.
Both the restorers and the technicians must belong to a professional register and it is from this list that the staff, for various cultural heritage restoration projects, is chosen.
How to train to be a Restoration Technician
The number of restoration technicians is very limited; therefore at the end of the three-year course, it is very easy to find an occupation.
The peculiarity of this course is that you do not study only the theory, but you have to do a lot of practice: the students must do 260 hours of practice per year on site. The course lasts 3 years, 900 hours of lessons (theory and practice) and it is open to everyone with a diploma.
It is aimed to people who already went to an artistic school or who, at least, can show some artistic inclination, preparation and commitment. To enrol you must pass an admission test.
The school works with the European social fund, therefore the course is totally free, through Regione Del Veneto. Every year UIA submits some restoration projects for approval and once they are approved, they become part of the course.
How to be admitted to the UIA
The selection of the students is divided in 3 parts.
First part: a graphic test, where the students must reproduce by free hand a picture onto an A3 blank graph paper. Here the students must prove control of proportion, clarity of stroke and an inclination to draw.
Second part: a watercolor test, testing the use of colours.
Third part: a motivational interview, first of all, and also to test the general knowledge of art history.
The course is open to everyone, as long as the student has got at least a B2 level in Italian with a certification and a certified translation of their school diploma, so foreign students are welcome.
From this year the number of students that can be admitted is 18 – therefore the school will need extra classroom space, extra computers, more teachers.
The school gives also a free lunch voucher to all of its students.
Many people ask to attend the school, but, despite the large amount of requests, the school has difficulties finding the right motivated people. This is a very intense 3 year course, Monday to Friday, from 9 to 5. This requires passion and commitment, not so easy to find in todays youths. Therefore this is a very selective institute.
Here they teach fundamental theoretical subjects such as chemistry, biology, art history, cultural heritage law, photography, technique of non–destructive mythology, restoration history and as well as practical studies of wood, stones, marble and architecture, in all their declinations (all types of related materials, carving and engraving, chiseling).
This allows the student to learn also antique techniques; what made this school different in the 70s from the other traditional restoration University studies.
During the first year the practical part takes place at school, restoring various artifacts; the second and third year the restoration takes place in various locations, with the students taking part in proper working internships: like at the Church of Tolentini, at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and at the Venice Musical Conservatory.
The Association Un amico per Venezia has given the school, together with the Venice Art School Guggenheim, an award for excellence for their incredible working activity.
They are an example of how Italian Schools should be like: a bridge between Academic studies and the real world of work.
From this year, with the new President of the School, Michele Gottardi, they are trying also to strength their communication channels, to increase the number of enrolments and to promote the school not just in Venice, but also in Italy and in the world.
After the lovely long chat, discovering all this wonderful information about the school, I got to visit the students hard at work with their Restoration teachers.
I visited the first year students, who were working on two beautiful candelabrums, lent by Fondazione Cini.
Teacher and restorer Stefania Sartori explained how they first have to clean off all the deposit of dusts and wax that grips the artifacts. They might also have to clean off any possible layers of varnish, applied through the centuries. These, very often, are very thick layers, in alternation. They have to scrape all, to go back to the first bare layer. They must be very careful not to lift off both the gold and the original colours.
A long and painstaking job, which requires lots of patience and control, but which, when the results start to appear, gives immense satisfaction.
As Gerardo Pecci says:
In Italy there is an immense cultural heritage, which cannot be quantified numerically in unlikely statistics, as it too often happens.
Cultural assets are historical “testimonies of civilization” physically present among us.
They remind us of the passing of time and offer us the roots to understand our own identity as living people in the incessant flow of history.
Our cultural, archaeological, architectural, historical-artistic and book heritage is composed of a heterogeneous set of objects that have their own physicality.
It is a heritage of perishable objects that requires great attention, with constant interventions of ordinary maintenance and well-coordinated restoration projects. We need to pass on these precious objects to posterity; the 9th article of the Constitution of the Italian Republic dictates this.
One of the essential components of cultural heritage conservation is represented by the restoration, which is a direct intervention on the assets.
It intervenes on the matter of which a good is physically composed. Weather, atmospheric agents, human hands, errors and incautious movements of works of art, endanger the subject of any cultural asset.
There is a need to act on the causes of natural deterioration, or induced by external factors, of a work of art, for example a painting or a sculpture.
It starts with a clear and unambiguous rule; only cultural heritage is subjected to restoration because it is unique and unrepeatable.
If they deteriorate or are destroyed they are lost forever.
In the restoration, errors or lightness are not allowed which could further compromise the state of conservation of a work of art.
Any error can be irreparable. We must be philologically and scientifically careful when we take action on the subject of these testimonies of culture and civilization. Even the cleaning of a work of art must be previously designed and made with suitable tools, so as not to damage it.
You can understand, by reading the above lines, what an important role this school has in Venice and in Italy! A role even more important after the high tide of the last few days!
So please spread the word, the school needs students, Italy and the world need competent passionate well- trained restorers!
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