The Cotisso Award to the Angels of the ‘acqua alta’ at the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello

Thanks to a quick response, the notes of Vivaldi and Beethoven and other priceless volumes were saved from the high water of 12 November 2019. President Giovanni Giol: ‘Thanks to their efforts, nothing was lost’.


The notes marked out in ink seemed to dissolve on the wet paper. The thin twine bindings no longer held, the pages of music split apart or floated around, stuck together. When the ‘acqua alta’ crept into the archives of the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory on 12 November 2019, eighteenth-century works by Vivaldi, nineteenth-century first editions of Beethoven, and compositions by Benedetto Marcello and Domenico Cimarosa risked being lost for ever, along with other precious volumes.


An irreparable disaster seemed imminent, but then the ‘angeli dell’acqua alta’ – the angels of the high water – arrived: students from the Conservatory, students from Venetian universities and from the mainland, assisted by teachers, employees and private citizens from all over. All together to save one of Venice’s priceless collections.

Thanks to this exceptional commitment aimed at safeguarding our cultural heritage, VIF has decided to award the 2020 Cotisso Prize to the students of the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello.

The Venice Foundation has not limited itself to a symbolic prize, but wanted to make a ‘material’ contribution that would really help the students both to attend the Conservatory and to continue their work of recovering the archive and library.

At what point are we?

We asked Paolo Da Col, who has followed every aspect of the restoration.

“The large number of non-antique volumes that needed to be restored have been taken in hand by the Castel Maggiore centre,” he explains, “which has completed the drying process and added ph-neutral materials for conservation, as well as new bindings and undertaken various other interventions. For the antique and more precious material, we put out a call for restorers and found a professional who tackled the work on the printed editions, such as the works of Antonio Vivaldi, and who has succeeded in recovering the ancient splendour of the originals. The manuscripts have also returned from the restoration centre in Florence.”

Have you also added protection to the library itself?
“The event taught us many things and now the situation is under control. Everything has been surveyed and the antique materials have been moved to the upper floors. In addition, a sump tank with two water pumps, a dehumidifier and a humidity detector have been installed, which will act as the first line of defence against another eventual flood.”