“Seminario Patriarcale” in Venice


The building of the Patriarchal Seminary (in Italian Seminario Patriarcale) was built in 1671 for the Somaschi fathers starting from one of the Trinity monastery’s existing cloisters.
After the banishment of the Jesuits from Venice, the role of aristocracy’s educators of the Serenissima was assigned to the Somaschi fathers. Some lands on Punta della Dogana were grant to this Order, where it will build, along with the college, the church of Santa Maria della Salute. Both buildings, although visually separated, are part of a single representative and devotional program, wanted by both the Republic and the Somaschi fathers. The entire project was designed by Baldassarre Longhena, one of the main venetian architects of XVII century.
The college is built on five levels around a square-shaped colonnaded courtyard, and it’s composed by a monumental body flanked by other buildings. In plan the Seminario evokes the monastery’s type, but mixed with some elements taken from the civil palaces.
The design was then adapted to the different program and to the tight shape of the site.
These qualities make the building an authentic new invention. The college’s fa.ades strike for the linguistic poverty, for the lack of sculptural elements and in which the horizontal lines prevail on the vertical ones, with the aim, probably, to exalt the near Salute’s magnificence and to be alternative and a contrast to the aristocratic palaces’ sumptuousness.
After about only one century it became clear that the educative experiment that the Somaschi proposed was a failure because it wasn’t able to attract students from the higher classes; therefore all their schools were closed. After the monastery’s suppression in 1810, the Patriarchal Seminary, that once was based in the Murano island, moved to the building . Since this new function was similar to the previous one, the building was altered only in few parts. Transformations went on until the middle of the XX century and included: the closure of the courtyard between the church and the Seminary, the restoration of the Trinity oratory, the creation of a new garden divided into small courtyards for the recreation time of the students, the construction of many new rooms and a new specola, an astronomical and meteorological observatory.
The detailed restoration proposals for the XVII century’s building by Longhena was designed by the architect Stefano Battaglia and the final proposals and the construction works were carried out by the Sacaim company with other associated companies in minority share. Three interesting interventions regarded the pavement of the third floor above the historic library, the repositioning of the altar of the Trinity chapel and the creation of a ventilated wall for the lapidario, in the cloister.
Among the slabs that have been reinforced the one above the historic library is the widest one and it also supports the high quality decorated ceiling of the underlying space. After the interventions of XIX and XX century, some steel tie bar were placed connecting the timber trusses to the slab’s beams, to put an end to the continuous structural failures and to the beam’s bending. It was necessary to remove these tie bar to make the third floor usable again. The intervention performed the removal of the low quality pavement and the reinforcement of the so revealed extrados by gluing on it some layers of wooden boards using epoxy resin, until the slab became flat. In this way the cross section in the points of maximum loads was improved. Then two layers of 2,5 cm thick playwood boards were glued. In this way continuous “T” sections with flanges 5cm thick were created. The tie bar were left until the new structure was placed, then they were removed. In this way there weren’t dangerous adaptations of the structure and, consequently, of the library’s decorated ceiling.

Among the interventions made inside the Trinity chapel, the most interesting is the conservation and repositioning of the altar made of polychrome marbles. The repositioning was performed to change the axis of the chapel. In this way the visitors that enter from campo della Salute (the square in front of the Seminario), can immediately admire the stone altar that is illuminated by the windows overlooking the campo.
First of all the altar was pre-consolidated with the application of a protective coating made of filmsy paper and gauzes, then the deposits were removed. The barely cohesive painted films and gildings were stuck again provisionally with japanese paper and acrylic resin. At this point the altar could be removed and all his parts named and mapped. All the pieces were impregnated into basins full of ethyl silicate, which was applied also with brushes, syringes and little pipes, to reinforce them permanently. Then the gauzes and the filmsy papers were detached with the aid of an appropriate solvent. The cohesive surface deposit, the encrustations and the soluble stains were removed both with nebulized waterand pills soaked with inorganic salt solutions, ammonium carbonate and bicarbonate. The chips and the scales with limited dimension and weight were stuck again with epoxidic resin and gauzes on the back. At last the altar was plastered and microplastered with a compatible mortar and everything was consolidated using polioxane. After these interventions the altar was finally set in the new location.

Before the works, a number of stone artefacts of high artistic and historic value were scattered here and there in the epigraphic museum (lapidario), secured with mortar onto the cloister’s masonry walls.
The walls had undergone repeated interventions of partial rehabilitation over time, although the problem of rising damp and resulting efflorescence had never been solved, so that the masonry was saturated with salts.
To start with, the artefacts were dismounted, desalinated by immersion in special baths, and restored.
It was clear that any plaster applied onto the masonry would have peeled off soon after, considering the state of deterioration. It was therefore suggested to the Direction of the Architectural and Environmental Heritage to adopt a new and unusual approach in Venice. The idea was to make a totally reversible intervention aimed at obtaining a durable surface capable of receiving the designed finish. An insulating false wall consisting of a stainless steel framework adapted for outdoor environments was fastened to the masonry with insulating plastic dowels and neoprene supports, to ensure that humidity will not attack the framework and covering panels.
Once the guidelines for the structures were laid, the stone artefacts were relocated according to a new arrangement based on historic documentation. The artefacts were fastened by means of stainless steel stirrups and inserted into the neoprene supports for insulation purposes. Then, 8-9mm thick magnesite slabs were installed and finished with paintings to conceal the lack in coplanarity of the surfaces. [text E. Martino]

[Marzio Mazzetto, Lucia Veronica Ciuffi, Daniele Penzo – SACAIM]