Venezia alla Partigiana

by Philip Smith

On the shoreline of Venice, a bronze sculpture stands to commemorate the women of the Resistance in Italy (Venezia alla partigiana). The statue of a lonely reclining figure is by Augusto Murer, a well-known Italian sculptor who made several works commemorating the Italian Resistance.

Scarpa’s response to siting the sculpture (which Murer envisaged as being marked by shadows) was to position it upon the water. He designed a floating deck (to allow the statue to move with the tides), surrounded by an undulating ‘landscape’ of squares. The squares (whose arrangement is similar to a fractured mosaic in plan view) were intended to provide a variety of viewpoints from which to view the statue. These squares are constructed of rough Istrian stone placed over concrete bases.

The joints between the stone and concrete are a noteworthy aspect of the design; technically these would be termed ‘half lap splice joints’, but that is just an overly complicated way of describing two pieces of material that have a section cut out of each to form two L-shaped ends that fit into each other. It is a particularly beautiful detail for joining stone and concrete, and the kind of feature that illustrates Scarpa’s attention to detail (especially the elaboration of joints).

The project is an example of a design that has suffered due to bureaucratic compliance requirements, and unforeseen practical problems. Firstly, the local authorities insisted on several safety measures including additional lighting and the erection of barriers to prevent access to the squares (the design is one into which the viewer is supposed to enter to obtain the effect), whilst the Council refused to make repairs to damage to the floating deck that bears the statue. The small space between the squares also creates the unforeseen problem of flotsam gathering from the polluted lagoon.

At the time of my visit, the appearance of the monument was marred by large steel barriers (that functioned as protection from the waves created by the large amounts of sea traffic around Venice), and a basic steel fence that has been erected by the Council to block access.

In the intervening years, this work has thankfully been restored to represent its original intent – allowing the public to participate in a more appropriate manner with a monument that is meant to bring the viewer closer to the figure at its centre (in both a literal and emotive sense).