The Winter 2015 edition of Smithsonian Journeys Travel Quarterly is all about Venice! I'm looking forward to reading this soon.
"We have much to learn from the historical parade of varied characters who so reflected Venice's rise and long, long decline."
- Paul Strathern
I enjoyed this "new" history of Venice. It's not comprehensive (and it's a bit heavy on naval battles), but I liked the author's focus on Venetians who are not only the usual suspects (Marco Polo, Vivaldi, Casanova) but also those who I'd never "met" before.
I enjoyed learning about Nicolo Barbaro, a Venetian physician who was in Constantinople in 1453 during the Siege and whose diaries tell us much about that epic war. "Game of Thrones" fans will be interested to see the parallels between the Siege and the fictional Battle of the Blackwater in the second GOT book, Clash of the Kings.
Another Venetian who was new to me was Leon da Modena (1571-1648), a poet, scholar, rabbi, and compulsive gambler who lived in the Ghetto. A fascinating character!
And then there's Sofia Baffo, born into a noble Venetian family in 1550. Her father was the governor of Corfu when it was still part of the Venetian empire. In the early 1560's, she left Corfu on a boat on its way back to Venice and was kidnapped by pirates who sold her to the Sultan's son who added her to his enormous harem in Constantinople. The son eventually became Sultan, and she became "first wife" (bash kadin, chief woman of the harem), and she used her influence and power to help Venice in its seemingly constant struggles with the Turks. When her husband died, she had 18 of his 19 sons strangled so that her biological son would become the next Sultan. In 1602, she herself was strangled. Instant karma?
"The Venetians" also has the most detailed account I've read of the life and times of Caterina Cornaro, Venetian noblewoman who was briefly the Queen of Cyprus. What a sad life she had. The Venetian Republic used her badly, sad to say.
Another Venetian woman I met was Laura Querini who entered (or was forced into) the convent of San Zaccaria in 1584 when she was 15 years old. She and a friend painstakingly dug a hole in a storeroom floor in order to allow boys to sneak in for visits and romance. They were caught and it was quite a scandal!
I also met Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838), a Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a priest (which didn't stop him from maintaining an active romantic life). He was briefly the priest of the church of San Luca but was eventually exiled from Venice because of scandal. He went to Vienna, hung out with Mozart, and ended up moving to New York City. Welcome to America!
So I recommend this book to any and all Venice lovers. It was fun to read!
“That the light of Venice differs from that of any other place there can be no doubt, but to discover precisely how it differs is a task that has baffled both writers and painters. (It is worth noting that, whereas most of the best paintings of Rome are by foreigners to the city, only the Venetians have been able to capture the atmosphere of Venice: even Turner and Monet failed, hard though they tried).
It is not, save on fine winter days, a particularly clear light and never as sharp as that of Greece. Usually it is slightly powdery and at evening can take on a rare apricot tinge. One of its peculiarities is that the intensity seems to derive as much from the horizon as from the sun – the result no doubt of reflection from still waters. I, for one, am prepared to leave it at that and accept it as a mysterious enchantment, for mystery is the essence of poetry.”
Hugh Honour, The Companion Guide to Venice
When I found this early 20th century photo of Madonna dell'Orto, it took a few moments for me to realize, "what's wrong with this picture?"...it's the power poles and power lines standing in the campo in front of the church. They are no longer there - at some point, the various utilities were relocated so that they snake alongside the buildings and aren't free-standing like they were in this photo. A good move - it's hard to imagine Venice with poles blocking the views.
In the photo below, you can see some power lines and something else encased in a pipe. I didn't take this photo because of the utilities though. What caught my eye were the two small hearts.
What are they? Two small open hearts surrounded by glass tiles (though some are missing now). Another Venetian mystery!
And you can sometimes see mysterious letters embedded in the Venetian pavement. Just speculation here, but I wonder if these letters might indicate underground utilities. If anyone knows what they are, please share.
And here's one of my favorites shrines in Venice.
Power lines above, graffiti below, fresh flowers in tinfoil vases.
A friend took this photo a decade or so ago (with film and I scanned it in).
I've written about this shrine before. It's at the foot of the Ponte di Rialto on the San Polo side. So beautiful but also so poignant with that weather-beaten face.
Follow this link to see a wonderful photo of a Venetian lady tending to the flowers before this shrine.
Santa Maria della Misericordia, a deconsecrated and long-closed church in Venice makes the news...
This isn't the first mosque in Venice, by the way, there used to be one in the Fondaco dei Turchi.
UPDATE: Much more information (plus some wonderful photos) is here.
This is the most unique street shrine that I saw in Valletta, the capital city of Malta. It's a 3D representation of Santa Casa, the Virgin Mary's house, which was miraculously moved from the Holy Land to Loreto, Italy in the 13th century. The shrine shows the house in transit being carried by a meringue full of angels.
I've written about the legend of this house and the Madonna di Loreto before, in one of my posts about Venice's church of San Pantalon, which has an oratory that is a recreation of Santa Casa.
Another unique thing about this Malta shrine is its plaque which offers indulgences to those who pray before the shrine. I saw many shrines in Malta with similar offers.
This shrine was high up on the building, and I couldn't get a good photo of inside the house, but I could tell that it's a framed image of the Black Madonna who is on the altar in the church in Loreto (and there's a copy in Venice in the San Pantalon oratory).
It made me sad to read this article in The Venice Times about how Venice's legendary pigeon problem is now a seagull problem. As with so many of the other challenges facing Venice, I have no solutions. But does anyone want to go to Venice or any other city where there are no birds or other creatures besides humans? I've always sympathized with the Venetian pigeons (even though I didn't like being swarmed by them when I was eating a panini outdoors). And as I wrote on my blog early on, I once saw a seagull kill and eat the heart of a pigeon in Piazza San Marco. Romantic Venice, not!
They aren't that lovable, but don't seagulls have the right to live in a city by the sea? It's kinda overwhelming to think about and yes, maybe I'm a dreamer, but I hope that someday nature will be in balance - not just in Venice, but everywhere on our beautiful out-of-whack planet Earth.
A few photos from my recent trip to Malta, a place I knew next-to-nothing about when I learned that I was being sent there on business.
It's a beautiful little country (and it was so wonderful to be back in Europe again!). February was a good time to visit Malta - mild temperatures and beautiful green landscapes. I was told that summers are brutally hot and humid, full of other tourists, and that all that lovely green turns brown.
I thought about Venice often while I was there, since Malta has an abundance of churches, a fair number of street shrines, and lots of well-cared-for stray cat colonies. I was staying in the capital city, Valletta, which is a great walking city with many car-free, pedestrian-only streets.
I took many many photos, and it's going to take a while to go through and edit them. So I'll probably post more later on. I've also started a set on Flickr if you'd like to see more.
It's such a small island that you can see the Mediterranean from every hill.
The fortress in the background of the photo below is where a pivotal (and shocking) scene in season one of "Game of Thrones" was filmed.
Images of saints all over the place, and many lovely mysterious doors~
The Siege Bell, a WWII memorial. They ring this bell everyday at noon.
Seeing street shrines again made me happy~
Another Venice reminder (and yes, I drank several of these)~
Sunset at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta~
This beautiful photo of Piazza San Marco was taken by Bruno Rosso in 1965. It's now part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. You can see a larger image here.
I love the mood of this photo. I've never experienced snow in Venice - I hope to some day. A Lover of Venice has a magical trip through Snow-covered Venice on his site (so glad that ALoV is back on line!).
Hope everyone is having a nice winter without too much extreme cold.
This church is dedicated to San Benedetto (St. Benedict) – you can see the saint's name carved at the top of the façade. In typical Venetian fashion, the name of the church was shortened to San Beneto.
San Beneto was founded in 1005 by three wealthy Venetian families. In 1229, the church was given to the monks of San Michele Brondolo (in Chioggia) by Pope Gregory IX. The church gradually fell into ruin and then in 1540, the campanile collapsed and damaged the already crumbling church. Both the church and the bell tower were rebuilt in the 17th century at the expense of patriarch of Venice, Giovanni Tiepolo (the architect is unknown).
In the de Barbari map of 1500, you can see that the old church faced in a different direction and that the bell tower had a dunce cap top similar to San Barnaba and San Polo. The new church was reoriented so that the façade faced the campo.
This is what the bell tower looks like today - it has an onion dome instead of a dunce cap.
The Patriarch of Venice website reports that “the interior is very simple and straightforward, has a single nave” but doesn’t list Mass times or opening hours. I’ve never heard of this church being open, but I don’t think it’s deconsecrated (the patriarch website lists it as a “vicariale” church under the auspices of parish church, San Luca). Is it ever open and is the art still in there? I don’t know.
Lorenzetti (Venice and Its Lagoon) praised the church’s art collection, especially the “remarkable painting” of St. Sebastian by Bernardo Strozzi (a priest from Genoa who was probably the most talented painter in Venice in the 17th century).
Lorenzetti also mentioned the two “good and imaginative” paintings of St. Benedict by Sebastiano Mazzoni (you can see one of them here).
Other works listed by Lorenzetti:
San Francesco di Paola by Giambattista Tiepolo
Virgin in Glory with St. Dominic and Archangel Michael by Carlo Maratta (on the high altar)
Virgin Mary and Saints by Antonio Fumiani (he painted that amazing ceiling in San Pantalon)
A Byzantine Madonna with silver repousse in a marble niche (sigh, I’d love to see this)
A crucifix from the workshop of Paolo Veneziano
I did stumble across this charming altarpiece, dated 1408, from the original church. It’s now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
"Relief Altarpiece with Saints Peter, Paul, and John the Baptist. Attributed to Gerardo di Mainardo. Limestone from the Istrian peninsula, painted and gilded."
It's a signed work. Translation:
On the tenth day of October, 1408, messer Gerardo taiapera [stonecutter] made this altar to messer Saint Peter in reverence of messer Saint Lord God and of Sainted Mary and of all the Celestial Court, Amen.
San Beneto shares its campo with the 15th century Palazzo Pesaro (now the Museo Fortuny).
Several interesting tidbits about the church of San Marcuola~
• It's one of the few churches on the Grand Canal
• It’s dedicated to a “Venetian” saint that doesn’t exist
• Has one of 8 partially demolished bell towers in Venice
• It houses one of 7 Tintoretto Last Suppers in Venice (this is the earliest)
• It's one of a number of Venetian churches with an unfinished façade
There’s no saint named San Marcuola. The real name of this church is SS. Ermagora and Fortunato, in honor of two first century martyr saints from Aquileia in Northern Italy. Venetians seem to dislike churches with names that are too long and so they morph them into something more manageable like San Marcuola, which is how this church has been known for centuries (other churches whose names have been crunched include San Trovaso and San Zanipolo).
Sources disagree about when San Marcuola was founded. 9th or 10th century, most say, though one Italian source says that the original church was a small wooden one built in 569. It’s been a parish church since the beginning and remains one today. Early in its history, the church housed a group of nuns who lived in a hermitage above the portico, but at some point the nuns relocated to San Trovaso and then later to the Eremite in Dorsoduro.
San Marcuola was rebuilt in the 12th century after it was destroyed by a fire caused by an earthquake. In de Barbari’s map (1500), the church sat parallel to the Grand Canal and the apse faced north. When the church was rebuilt in 1728-36 by Giorgio Massari, it was reoriented so that the façade faces the Grand Canal. But when you enter the church, the high altar is to the right, not straight ahead.
Work did begin on the facade (you can see the marble at the bottom) but was never completed, which happened a lot in 18th century Venice when the republic and its residents were running out of money (other façade-less churches include San Pantalon, San Lorenzo, and Santa Maria della Fava). If the facade had been completed, the church would have looked similar to the Pieta or Gesuati, also works by Massari.
About those obscure saints, the church’s sacred relics include the body of St. Fortunato and a finger of St. Ermagora. But the most revered relic is the hand of John the Baptist, which is displayed every year on June 24th and is commemorated in this relief on a building behind the church.
Inside the church: “The plan is unusual, with twin pulpits over the north and south doors and altars clustered in the corners.” (Hugh Honour, Companion Guide to Venice). There’s a lot of nice carving on the columns, and as for the art, there’s more sculpture than painting, with a bunch of Baroque works by Venetian sculptor, Gian Maria Morleiter (1699-1781) and several paintings by Francesco Migliori (1684 -1734).
The church’s greatest artistic treasure is its Tintoretto Last Supper, which can be seen on the wall to the left of the high altar. He painted it when he was in his 20’s and it’s interesting to compare it to his masterpiece in San Giorgio Maggiore, painted almost 50 years later. (See the end of the post for the list of Tintoretto's Last Suppers in Venice).
German composer, Johann Adolph Hasse, and his Venetian-born wife, opera singer Faustina Bordoni, are buried in this church.
For centuries, there was a traghetto station in front of San Marcuola, as you can see in the vintage photo above and my photo at the top of the page. Later, a vaporetto station was added as well. Sadly, the San Marcuola traghetto station closed in 2012, and the little wooden hut is now gone.
San Marcuola Photo Gallery
In this Flickr gallery, you can see what it looks like without the traghetto station in the first photo (taken in 2013).
The bell tower was partially demolished in the 19th century. The lower portion remains and has been converted into housing, You can kinda sorta see it behind the trees in this photo below.
Today the church has Roman bells on the roof instead of a campanile.
The large Baroque well-head in the campo in front of the church was built in 1713. By decree, its water was for the use of the poor.
A beautiful door on the back of the church~
On the rear corner, a saint in a niche~
I've never seen this shrine in person and have no idea where in Venice it is. I'm hoping that someone who reads my blog knows!
A friend of mine took this photo in 2003 - with film (remember film?) and thus she doesn't have the digital clues of date/time/what other photos were taken close to this one.
It was her first and only trip to Venice, and she doesn't know what sestiere she was in (in fact, she said that she might have taken it on Murano since she spent part of a day out there).
Here is the uncropped photo below. Please let me know if you have seen it!
A few years ago, I wrote about my small and accidental collection of dragons in Venice. Here are a few more!
These first two came from Lawrence, a serious dragon hunter/collector who found a couple of obscure ones on his last trip to Venice. This first one is on the facade of Palazzo Dandolo, which was being restored for quite some time but finally the scaffolding came down, and St.George and the dragon were revealed.
This second one is in Campo de la Tana, a campo with a gate. I photographed this one through the bars of the gate, but Lawrence was lucky to find the gate unlocked and was able to get a better image of it.
This third dragon was shared by Bert - this is Santa Margherita and her dragon in an altar in San Nicolo dei Mendicoli. The dragon is funny looking - is he smiling? More likely, he's grimacing about being chained to the saint (who looks very peaceful and unconcerned about the fire-breathing creature at her side).
Thanks to Lawrence and Bert for allowing me to share these pics. :)
This church and an adjacent monastery were founded in 1620 by the Franciscan order of the Riformati (which gave the name to the Fondamenta dei Riformati in front). These Franciscans friars relocated from the island monastery of San Francesco del Deserto and received funding from the wealthy Zen family to build this religious complex on reclaimed land in northern Cannaregio, not far from the church of Sant’ Alvise.
The church is dedicated to St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), an Italian theologian and early follower of St. Francis of Assisi.
After the fall of the Venetian Republic and the great suppression of churches, the church and monastery were closed. The place was used as a factory and for other secular purposes until 1859, when it was purchased by a Venetian countess who gave the complex to the Carmelite nuns of Santa Teresa. In the early 20th century, the nuns ran a children’s hospital here, and the church was the private chapel for the convent.
The nuns are still there today and Mass is celebrated daily at 6:30 in the morning according to the Patriarch of Venice website. I've never found it open and going to Mass might be the only way to visit it. The church was behind scaffolding a few years ago – not sure if the restoration is completed yet or not.
This Google Earth view shows the cloisters, gardens, and so many trees.
The National Gallery of Art has a treasure trove of Venetian art - an amazing collection. The gang's all here - the Vivarinis and the Bellinis, Cima, Veronese, Lotto, three paintings by Giorgione (!) and a whole room of Titians. Here are a few things that caught my eye during my visit last month.
Paolo Veneziano, The Coronation of the Virgin, 1324
Both of these Carpaccios are so beautiful. While I love his epic series in Venice, these smaller and quieter paintings are so lovely.
Vittore Capaccio, The Flight into Egypt, 1515
Vittore Carpaccio, The Virgin Reading, 1505
This Tintoretto below is very interesting, not as dark and stormy with a much lighter palette than most of his works.
Jacopo Tintoretto, The Madonna of the Stars, second half of the 16th century
After I visited the National Gallery, I walked across the mall to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. Those of you who have visited the Guggenheim Museum in Venice and seen "The Angel of the City" on the terrace will understand why this sculpture by the same artist caught my eye. It's very similar but something is missing...
Marino Marini, Horse and Rider, 1952-53
I went to Washington DC for a few days last month; it was a work trip, but I did have enough free time to visit the National Gallery of Art to see Titian's painting, Danaë, which is on a six-month loan from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.
I was excited to visit a Titian I'd never seen before, and the museum helped build the anticipation during the long walk to see the painting.
And here it is. What a gorgeous painting. You can get a better look at it on the Web Galley of Art.
Titian was commissioned to paint Danaë by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the grandson of Pope Paul III. Titian began the painting in Venice and then completed it during his trip to Rome in 1545-46. The brochure from the National Gallery of Art says, "Titian established a new genre in Western art, that of erotic mythologies..." and notes that there wasn't much demand for such paintings in his hometown of Venice and so Titian painted these beauties for non-Venetian patrons like Cardinal Farnese.
Giovanni della Casa, the papal legate to Venice, visited Titian's studio when the Danaë was in progress and wrote a letter to Cardinal Farnese telling him that the painting was so shocking that it made the Venus of Urbino "look like a nun by comparison." A funny exaggeration! Eight years prior to painting Danaë, Titian had painted the equally gorgeous Venus of Urbino for another non-Venetian patron (this painting is now in the Uffizi in Florence).
Another great story about Danaë comes to us from Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists. When Titian went to Rome, he was given studio space in the Vatican and continued his work on Danaë. One day Michelangelo visited Titian's studio and saw the painting. He praised it lavishly but later confided to Vasari that while the colors were masterful, it's a shame that Venetian artists had never learned how to draw. Ouch! Sounds like some sour grapes to me. But I love knowing that Titian and Michelangelo met.
During World War II, the Nazis looted Danaë and many other works of art. When the war ended, the painting was found hidden in a salt mine in Austria; two years later, it was returned to Italy.
Another post will be coming soon about some of the other Venetian gems I saw in DC.
Here's a couple more pics from the National Galley of Art - these little kids were gathered around Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, all holding the audio guide headsets up to their ears and listening intently. It bugs me that the arts have been pretty much eliminated from US public schools, so it made me happy to see this.
And I saw this in the National Gallery bookstore - a new book about Venice! I haven't read it yet but it's on my to-read list.
There are several shrines in Venice with inscriptions indicating that the shrines commemorate "Anno Mariano" (a "Marian year" dedicated to Mary).
The first of these years was 1954, declared by Pope Pius XII. An article published in 1953 explains it and says that the Pope asked for people all over the world to visit shrines to Mary during this year. He also wrote a special prayer for her.
I learned via google that hundreds of roadside shrines were built in Ireland during the Anno Mariano 1954.
I'm not sure that all of these Venetian shrines were built in 1954; my guess is that some of them were existing shrines that were renovated to commemorate Anno Mariano. This first one is on Giudecca and has a metal plaque at the bottom that says "Anno Mariano 1954."
A Cannaregio shrine that in addition to "Anno Mariano 1954" says "Regina della Pace, Prega per noi. La Parrocchia di San Giobbe."
Another Cannaregio shrine, this one a little worse for wear, with the same inscripition as the one above indicating that the shrine was built or is maintained by the Parish of San Giobbe.
This one is in Dorsoduro~
Another gorgeous Giudecca shrine, the inscription below this one says "Ricordo Anno Mariano 1954" (in memory of...).
This beautiful shrine on Murano with the Madonna Nikopeia inside has a stone plaque below that says "Anno Mariano 1954."
The second Marian Year was in 1987, decreed by Pope John Paul II. He also wrote a prayer for the Marian year. This Cannaregio shrine honors both of the Marian years. This is the only one I've found that mentions the second year.