About a third of Venice’s population died in the plague of 1630-1631. But not one of them lived in the Corte Nova in the Castello district.
And, according to legend, we have a young woman named Giovanna to thank for this.
Like others of her era who believed in the saints’ abilities to work miracles, Giovanna painted a canvas that would send to heaven her request to the saints for intercession. On it she depicted the Virgin Mary surrounded by the saints Sebastiano, Lorenzo, and Rocco, who were known to intercede particularly on behalf of those who feared the plague’s scourge. Throughout Venice, you’ll see these kinds of altars, specifically called capitelli in Venice, as small shrines to thank a saint for help.
At the Corte Nova, a plaque was also placed above the entrance to the sotoportego, the covered walkway that people must pass through as they enter the small courtyard where Giovanna and her neighbors lived. Shown in the photo at the top, the plaque reads, in part, “Oh Mary of good health who numerous times you preserved the inhabitants of Corte Nova . . . please accept their grateful vows of this parish and we pray to you to expand your protection onto all those devoted to thee.” (It also mentions another plague from 1848-1855 plus the war years of 1917-1918, when apparently Mary interceded once again to keep the Corte Nova inhabitants safe.) (If you want a fuller story with more details, see my chapter on Giovanna in my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice.)
Well, Giovanna’s painting has made the news this month! Save Venice, Inc., which restores Venice’s artistic and architectural treasures, has taken on the project of restoring the sotoportego of the Corte Nova as well as the paintings there. I’ve never been able to learn if the painting I’ve seen there is a replica of Giovanna’s original one; in my opinion, the style seems too modern to have been from 1631, and all the stories I read said that Giovanna painting only one piece. But the four paintings that have hung there for generations have now been moved to the nearby church of San Francesco della Vigna. Here are the crowds of people who turned out to see the paintings in their new home.
What would Giovanna, a simple working class woman, think about this?!
Members of the Istituto Veneto per i Beni Culturali carefully transported the paintings to their new home. The works had been in storage (replicas hang in the actual street). Parish priest Padre Adriano Campesato was on hand to thank Save Venice and the donors who made the move possible. This spring, the restoration work will continue at the sotoportego, and Save Venice is looking for donors to donate the $85k needed to finish the work. This link provides more details about this project:
Who would guess that a simple, good-hearted act would still be celebrated nearly four hundred years later? The Save Venice information presented on their website doesn’t mention Giovanna, so I wanted to make sure she was given her due!
(Top photo is mine, while the others come from the Save Venice website.)