Five hundred years ago this month, the Venetian Republic created the world’s first ghetto. Now, an €8.5m campaign to preserve the city’s Jewish heritage, backed by the fashion designer Diane von Fürstenburg, among others, is in full swing.
Von Fürstenburg and the property investor Joseph Sitt launched the Venetian Heritage Council, a branch of the New York- and Venice-based foundation Venetian Heritage, in 2014. The organisation hopes to complete fundraising to restore Venice’s Jewish Museum and three of its five 16th-century synagogues “by the end of the year”, says Toto Bergamo Rossi, the director of the council’s Venice office.
The work, which will be overseen by the Italian ministry of culture, will bring a more logical structure and improved visitor facilities to a museum that was “hand-made” in the 1950s within a historic apartment building, Bergamo Rossi says.
This is a restoration as much as a refurbishment, because “in Venice, we would never [gain] permission for a new structure”, he says. The plans include reconnecting the Italian synagogue—one of the three to be restored, along with the German and French (Canton) synagogues—to the museum, termite-proofing wooden benches, repairing leaking roofs and consolidating walls.
The catalyst for the project was the recent rediscovery of a cache of silver liturgical objects dating from the 17th to the 20th centuries, which Venetian Heritage restored and sent on a worldwide tour, Rossi says. After stops including Houston, Vienna and Perth, the pieces will be permanently housed in the museum’s modernised galleries in 2019.