Sunday, March 11, 2018

John Ruskin Returns to Venice

Self portrait with blue necktie by John Ruskin (1873) Morgan Library & Museum, NY
(Venice, Italy) John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the first foreigners who tried to "save Venice," a phenomenon that continues to this very day. An English art critic, writer, historian, artist and social reformer with a tormented personal life, Ruskin arrived in Venice with his wife, Effie, in the winter of November 1849 and stayed through March 1850, to research what would become his most famous work: The Stones of Venice.

Ruskin had been visiting Venice with his parents ever since he was a young man, which he described as "the paradise of cities," and would continue to do so throughout his life. At the time he arrived as a married man in 1849, the Venetians had just lost the Republic of San Marco, a revolutionary state that had lasted for 17 months (1848-1849) after Venice had declared her independence from the Habsburg Austrian Empire. On August 28, 1849, Austrian forces reconquered the city following a long siege. Ruskin was alarmed that Venice's fragile beauty would be lost forever, and worked diligently to document her monuments and stones.

"Venice is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak, so quiet, so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow. I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image before it be for ever lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves that beat like passing bells against the Stones of Venice."

Ponte dei Pugni, Santa Fosca by John Ruskin (1849) - Ruskin Foundation
There are no works by John Ruskin in any Italian public collection, so everything in the excellent John Ruskin - The Stones of Venice exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale comes from major museums all over the world. The exhibition was conceived by Gabriella Bella, the Director of Venice's Civic Museums, and was curated by Anna Ottani Cavina with scenography by Pier Luigi Pizzi.

Divided into ten sections inside the Doge's apartment, the exhibition presents drawings, watercolors, writings and other marvels, including Ruskin's original manuscripts for The Stones of Venice never before exhibited and conserved at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. The exhibition is the first major presentation in Italy of an artist who "crossed every border in the name of an interdisciplinary vision, which he practised even before the term itself was coined."

Venice, Punta della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute by JMW Turner (1843) - National Gallery of Art, Washington
John Ruskin was the only child of two first cousins, born in London on February 8, 1819. His mother, Margaret, was four years older than his father, and gave birth to Ruskin at age 38. She was English, a fervent Evangelical Christian, and insisted that Ruskin read the King James Bible over and again. His father, James, was a wealthy Scottish wine importer with a passion for art and literature. The Ruskins traveled frequently, taking their young son with them, exposing him to privileged international travel, foreign landscapes and the beauty of nature. He was precocious, which his parents encouraged. Ruskin graduated with a double degree in Classical Literature and Mathematics from Christ Church College, Oxford. He then went to live with his parents in Denmark Hill, south of the Thames, where he remained until his mother's death in 1871 at age 90.

On his 13th birthday, he had received a copy of Samuel Roger's poem, Italy. The illustrations by J.M.W. Turner deeply affected him, beginning a life-long obsession with the artist's work. In fact, three magical paintings by Turner add zest to the exhibit: Venice and Venice: The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, both from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Venice, the Ceremony of the Doge Marrying the Sea from Tate Britain, London.

"He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of his work, the greatest number of the greatest ideas."

Portrait of Rose La Touche by John Ruskin (1860) - Ruskin Foundation
I didn't know much about Ruskin before I saw the exhibition, except for the scandal that continues to fascinate us 150 years later -- that he had never consummated his marriage, which was annulled after six years. We will never know exactly what went wrong, but the most persistent rumor is that he was so used to seeing the nude female figure depicted by smooth classical statues, that he was shocked to discover that Effie had pubic hair.

The exhibition kicks off with a room full of portraits, some of Ruskin himself, and others of important women in his life. In addition to his strange marriage, Ruskin had another bizarre relationship with the opposite sex: a student, Rose La Touche, whom he met when she was nine-years-old and he was was about to turn 39. He eventually fell in love with her, and asked her parents if he could marry her. Warned off by Effie, who, by that time, had married the artist John Everett Mallais, Rose's parents refused.

Ruskin proposed again when Rose turned 18 and could decide for herself, but she again refused. Rose died at the age of 27 in a Dublin nursing home, probably of anorexia, which caused Ruskin to go a bit mad. He convinced himself that Vittore Carpaccio had included portraits of Rose in his paintings of Saint Ursula, delved into spiritualism, and tried to contact her spirit beyond the grave.

Rocks in unrest by John Ruskin (1886) - Morgan Library & Museum, NY - Photo: Cat Bauer
"These great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of cloud, choirs of stream and stone, altars of snow, and vaults of purple traversed by the continual stars."

In contrast to his tumultuous relationships with human beings, when it came to nature, Ruskin was in perfect sync. He believed that nature was the handiwork of God, and that you could see the fingerprint of God in the rocks, in the trees and in the mountains themselves. In the summer of 1845 and then again in 1858 and 1869, Ruskin retraced the route through the Alps that Turner had taken before him.

When Ruskin returned to Venice in 1876, he was disturbed by the enormous amount of restoration the city was undergoing. He was particularly concerned about the fate of the mosaics in the Basilica of San Marco. Of the entire facade, only the mosaics on the Northwest entrance that dated from the 13th century had survived, and risked being destroyed. He thought St. Mark's was "a jewelled casket, every jewel of which was itself sacred." 

In a letter to Count Zorzi in 1877, he wrote, "I... being in truth a foster-child of Venice; she has taught me all that I have rightly learned of the arts which are my joy; and of all the happy and ardent days, which, in my earlier life, it was granted to me to spend in this holy land of Italy, none were so precious as those which I used to pass in the bright recess of your Piazzetta, by the pillars of Acre; looking sometimes to the glimmering mosaics in the vaults of the church; sometimes to the Square, thinking of its immortal memories; sometimes to the Palace and the Sea."

Basilica of San Marco by John Ruskin (1879) - The British Museum, London - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition focuses on "the nature of Gothic," and its rediscovery and celebration. From Wikipedia:

For Ruskin, the Gothic style in architecture embodied the same moral truths he sought to promote in the visual arts. It expressed the 'meaning' of architecture—as a combination of the values of strength, solidity and aspiration—all written, as it were, in stone. For Ruskin, creating true Gothic architecture involved the whole community, and expressed the full range of human emotions, from the sublime effects of soaring spires to the comically ridiculous carved grotesques and gargoyles. Even its crude and "savage" aspects were proof of "the liberty of every workman who struck the stone; a freedom of thought, and rank in scale of being, such as no laws, no charters, no charities can secure."
Classical architecture, in contrast, expressed a morally vacuous and repressive standardisation. Ruskin associated Classical values with modern developments, in particular with the demoralising consequences of the industrial revolution, resulting in buildings such as the Crystal Palace, which he criticised.[196] Although Ruskin wrote about architecture in many works over the course of his career, his much-anthologised essay "The Nature of Gothic" from the second volume of The Stones of Venice (1853) is widely considered to be one of his most important and evocative discussions of his central argument.

In all, Ruskin visited Venice eleven times between 1835 and 1888, documenting her palaces, monuments and stones, and the exhibition does a terrific job in taking us on a journey through his life and works by use of drawings, paintings, photos and excerpts from personal correspondence with friends and relatives. Venice has bewitched many suitors throughout the centuries, and Ruskin was one of her most passionate. In June, 1852, he wrote to his father from Verona: "I should like to draw all St. Mark's, and all this Verona, stone by stone, to eat it all up into my mind, touch by touch."

In addition to art and architecture, Ruskin had very strong views about social reform and politics, attacking industrial capitalism and formulating what would constitute the ideal community. When his father died in 1864, he inherited a fortune, which allowed him to put his strong political and social theories into practice.

I spent a good two hours absorbing the exhibition, and could easily have spent more. Ruskin seemed to be a prolific, complicated genius, with a dark Victorian side. At the end of his life, he grew a long beard, and had frequent bouts of mental illness, haunted by the memory of Rose La Touche.

John Ruskin in 1892 - Photo by John McClelland - National Portrait Gallery, London
That is just the tip of what the exhibition has in store; there is much, much more. The thought-provoking John Ruskin - The Stones of Venice opened on March 10 and runs through June 10, 2018, and is a MUST SEE. Go to Palazzo Ducale for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Can #Generosity go Viral? FREESPACE - Venice's 16th International Architecture Exhibition

Light on the Doge's Palace - Photo: Shelley McNamara
(Venice, Italy) "The Beast from the East meets Storm Emma" stranded co-curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara in Dublin on Friday, March 2, so they Skyped into the presentation of La Biennale's 16th International Architecture Exhibition. McNamara said they were sad not to be able to come to Venice, but observed how Nature -- the winds from Siberia hitting a storm in the Bay of Biscay -- was still running the show here on planet Earth.

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are famous for working as a team. They live and work in Dublin, and co-founded the firm Grafton Architects in 1977. Grafton won the World Building of the Year Award in 2008 for the design of the new building for the Università Bocconi in Milan, as well as many other prestigious awards.

The Arts of La Biennale in 2018
The Arts of La Biennale 2018 - Click to englarge

Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale di Venezia, said that it is we, the citizens, who create the historic center of a city, and that the Architecture Exhibition has two goals:
1. To complete the system of the arts that La Biennale is devoted to -- Art, Cinema, Theatre, Dance, Music -- by engaging in the most political of all the arts
2. To address the public with an informative as well as pedagogical-political function
Showing how something "can be done differently" is in itself a gesture against dependence and conformism.

Therefore, the goal is to promote the desire for architecture.

Giardini - Photo: Francesco Galli
Attendance by both professionals and the public at La Biennale's International Architecture Exhibition has exploded over the years, evolving into one of the most important events on the cultural calendar. There are 65 countries from around the globe that will participate, in addition to the 71 participants who have been invited by the curators. Farrell and McNamara's theme is FREESPACE, and they have written a Manifesto, which you can read in its entirety on La Biennale di Venezia website.

In addition to the 65 national pavilions and the 71 participants, there will be two Special Sections. The first is titled Close Encounter where 16 participants will present works inspired by well-known buildings of the past. The second is titled The Practice of Teaching in which 13 participants, many of whom are actively involved in teaching, will collect projects developed as teaching experiences. There will be Biennale Sessions for universities and institutes of higher learning. There will be educational experiences for students, children, families, adults, professionals and companies. For six months, FREESPACE will be a topic of discussion here in Venice that will resonate throughout the Earth. As architects, Farrel and McNamara see Earth as a client.

FREESPACE describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture's agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself. It provides the opportunity to emphasize nature's free gifts of light -- sunlight and moonlight, air gravity, materials -- natural and man-made resources.

Danish architect Jorn Utzon's concrete and tiled seat at the entrance of the house at Can Lis, Majorca is an example of an element molded perfectly to accommodate the human body. The sunlight on Palazzo Ducale in Venice is an example of a free gift of beauty from Nature.

Jorn Utzon's entrance seat at Can Lis - Photo by Beatrice Pedrotti
Farrell and McNamara relied on the FREESPACE Manifesto to put the Exhibition together, calling it a "robust tool." They revealed the list of participants on Friday, saying that it was wonderful to think that for months architects around the globe have been pondering and responding to the FREESPACE Manifesto, trying to dig deep and reveal the FREESPACE ingredient in their work.

"We believe that everyone has the right to benefit from architecture. The role of architecture is to give shelter to our bodies and to lift our spirits A beautiful wall forming a street edge gives pleasure to the passer-by, even if they never go inside. So, too, does a glimpse into a courtyard through an archway, or a place to lean against in the shade, or a recess which offers protection from the wind and rain."

There are seven countries that are participating in the Architecture Exhibition for the first time: Antigua & Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan, and, most intriguingly -- the Holy See.

Aerial View of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore 
photo by Alessandra Chemollo 
Curated by Francesco Dal Co, who was the Director of La Biennale's Architecture Exhibition in 1988 through 1991, the Holy See's pavilion will be set inside the mystical forest on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore -- which is truly one of the most enchanting venues on the planet. Peaceful and serene, the island has been a haven for enlightened thinkers since the ninth century.

Inspired by Skogskapellet, or, "Woodland Chapel," a simple wooden structure built in 1920 by Gunnar Asplund in the Stockholm cemetery, Francesco Dal Co has selected ten architects to create their own personal chapels set in the woods. The chapels must be constructed so that they can be transported to places that lack their own houses of worship when La Biennale is over in November. (If you would like to learn more about the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, I wrote an article for entitled "A Heavenly Island in Venice - Where Humanism Meets Heaven.")

Personally, I can't wait until the Architectural Exhibition previews, which are on May 24 -25, so I can experience how the architects have incorporated FREESPACE into their work. Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara ended their statement with an ancient Greek Proverb:

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

La Biennale di Venezia 16th International Architecture Exhibition will run from May 26 through November 25, 2018. Go to La Biennale di Venezia for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Artist Behind that Famous Phallus - Marino Marini at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

The Angel of the City by Marino Marini (1948) - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) You know the statue. A rider with outstretched arms and an erect phallus astride a horse challenging the Grand Canal at the water entrance of Palazzo Venier dei Leone, also known as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. And now, thanks to an excellent exhibition at the Guggenheim entitled Visual Passions, you can learn more about the artist, Marino Marini (1901-1980), in the first retrospective dedicated to him.

Left - Etruscan art (early 1st century BCE)
Right - Portrait of Lucosius by Marino Marini (1935)
Photos: Cat Bauer
Marini was the most famous and admired Italian sculptor of the 20th century. Considered an "artist outside history," he was inspired by works from the ancient Etruscans and Greeks, to Eastern art, to Renaissance sculpture, to Auguste Rodin, to Henry Moore, to Pablo Picasso. By mounting selections of his works next to those of his inspirations, the exhibition illustrates how he went through different stylistic phases and accepted challenges from many diverse subjects.

Horse by Marino Marini (1942) - Photo: Cat Bauer
His development of the theme of a rider and a horse brought Marini international acclaim, and there are two galleries full of the dramatic equestrian wonders. When James Thrall Soby bought one Rider for the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1948, Marini was on his way.

Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, second version (1951) Photo: Cat Bauer
And Marini was not just about horses. He sculpted both male and female nudes, and loved creating portraiture of his friends and acquaintances, such as Igor Stravinsky.

Peggy Guggenheim next to Angel of the City, 1960s
©Fondazione Solomon R. Guggenheim
fotoArchivio CameraphotoEpoche
donazione Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia 2005

Marino Marini. Visual Pleasures is co-curated by Barbara Cinelli and Flavio Fergonzi, and runs through May 1, 2018. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, February 9, 2018

Casanova & Friends - A Venice Carnival Seduction

Outside the Caffè Florian - Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Giacomo Casanova is Venice's most famous hometown boy. In addition to his notorious reputation as a lover, he was also a prolific and gifted author, as well as a spy, cleric, violinist, alchemist, Freemason, financier, gambler, traveler, adventurer and prison escapee. He met everybody who was anybody in nearly all of Europe, including Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin. Even today, during Carnival, the wild, wonderful, seductive spirit of Casanova permeates the air. You can still sip a hot chocolate in Caffè Florian with your lover, just as Casanova did about 275 years ago.

Creatum: Civitas Ludes is the theme of this year's Carnival. Chosen by Marco Maccapani, the artistic director, it sort of translates to "Creativity: City of Games." Now, what Venice considers games might not be everyone's definition. It can include games of seduction, gambling, pranks and mischief -- even exotic animals. And there are masks involved.

Playing cards printed by Antonio Moro (1841)
The other day I went over to the Archivio di Stato to see what their offerings were for Civitas Ludes. The Venice State Archive is one of the largest in Italy, and preserves more than 1000 years of Venetian history covering about 80km (50 miles) of shelves. It is enormous, and located inside the former convent of Santa Maria dei Frari.

The Archive has dug up some intriguing official documents regarding the behavior of its citizens -- it is as if the FBI, the CIA and the US State Department released their files for public consumption under the Freedom of Information Act. In 1310, Venice created the Council of Ten to overcome the revolt against the Doge and the Republic by Bajamonte Tiepolo. It was supposed to be a temporary body, but became a permanent fixture by 1334. Over the centuries, its powers grew greater until it had almost unlimited authority over all governmental affairs, including Venice's diplomatic and intelligence services.

The ten individuals, who were limited to a term of one year, became Venice's spy chiefs -- and Venice had a vast network of spies, one of whom was Casanova. In 1539, an additional, even smaller unit was created: the State Inquisitors -- three super-secret judges who wore masks and had as much authority as the entire Council of Ten, and could independently try and convict those accused of treason -- they could sentence people to exile, or even death. Needless to say, being called in front of the Council of Ten or the State Inquisitors was a terrifying prospect.

Council of Ten prohibiting all lotteries whatsoever under penalty of 500 ducats
On display at the State Archive is a document dated 1776 from the State Inquisitors by a confidant named Camillo Pasini, who reported on the gambling habits of the nobility. Another is dated 1580 from the Heresy Magistrates regarding the card-playing manner of the renowned courtesan, Victoria Franco.

But the most interesting document is one dated 1754 from the State Inquisitors about Casanova, who is called a card player and a "hyperbolate." Casanova had returned to Venice the year before from his own Grand Tour, and was under surveillance due to his wild escapades, and association with Freemasonry and secret rites. The next year, on July 26, 1755, at age 30, he would be arrested for affront to religion and common decency, and thrown into the Piombi prison in Palazzo Ducale, from which he would make a daring escape.

We know a lot about Casanova because he wrote a terrific erotic memoir called, The Story of my Life, which you can read for free in English as an ebook thanks to Project Gutenberg. Because Casanova is such a clever writer, I thought my readers might enjoy an excerpt from the man himself.

Casanova describes an adventure that he and his gang-of-eight had during Carnival 1745 -- ten years before his imprisonment -- when they snatched a pretty young woman away from her husband and his two friends and seduced her -- much to her enjoyment. She did file a complaint with the Council of Ten -- not because of the orgy, to which, according to the complaint, she had willingly succumbed, but because she was frightened about the welfare of her husband.

Here's Casanova, in his own words, translated into English by Arthur Machen:

We were seven, and sometimes eight, because, being much attached to my brother Francois, I gave him a share now and then in our nocturnal orgies. But at last fear put a stop to our criminal jokes, which in those days I used to call only the frolics of young men. This is the amusing adventure which closed our exploits. 

In every one of the seventy-two parishes of the city of Venice, there is a large public-house called ‘magazzino’. It remains open all night, and wine is retailed there at a cheaper price than in all the other drinking houses. People can likewise eat in the ‘magazzino’, but they must obtain what they want from the pork butcher near by, who has the exclusive sale of eatables, and likewise keeps his shop open throughout the night. The pork butcher is usually a very poor cook, but as he is cheap, poor people are willingly satisfied with him, and these resorts are considered very useful to the lower class. The nobility, the merchants, even workmen in good circumstances, are never seen in the ‘magazzino’, for cleanliness is not exactly worshipped in such places. Yet there are a few private rooms which contain a table surrounded with benches, in which a respectable family or a few friends can enjoy themselves in a decent way. 

It was during the Carnival of 1745, after midnight; we were, all the eight of us, rambling about together with our masks on, in quest of some new sort of mischief to amuse us, and we went into the magazzino of the parish of Santa Croce to get something to drink. We found the public room empty, but in one of the private chambers we discovered three men quietly conversing with a young and pretty woman, and enjoying their wine. 

Our leader, a noble Venetian belonging to the Balbi family, said to us, “It would be a good joke to carry off those three blockheads, and to keep the pretty woman in our possession.” He immediately explained his plan, and under cover of our masks we entered their room, Balbi at the head of us. Our sudden appearance rather surprised the good people, but you may fancy their astonishment when they heard Balbi say to them: “Under penalty of death, and by order of the Council of Ten, I command you to follow us immediately, without making the slightest noise; as to you, my good woman, you need not be frightened, you will be escorted to your house.” When he had finished his speech, two of us got hold of the woman to take her where our leader had arranged beforehand, and the others seized the three poor fellows, who were trembling all over, and had not the slightest idea of opposing any resistance. 

The waiter of the magazzino came to be paid, and our leader gave him what was due, enjoining silence under penalty of death. We took our three prisoners to a large boat. Balbi went to the stern, ordered the boatman to stand at the bow, and told him that he need not enquire where we were going, that he would steer himself whichever way he thought fit. Not one of us knew where Balbi wanted to take the three poor devils. 

He sails all along the canal, gets out of it, takes several turnings, and in a quarter of an hour, we reach San Giorgio where Balbi lands our prisoners, who are delighted to find themselves at liberty. After this, the boatman is ordered to take us to Saint Genevieve, where we land, after paying for the boat.
We proceed at once to Palombo Square, where my brother and another of our band were waiting for us with our lovely prisoner, who was crying. 

“Do not weep, my beauty,” says Balbi to her, “we will not hurt you. We intend only to take some refreshment at the Rialto, and then we will take you home in safety.” 

“Where is my husband?” 

“Never fear; you shall see him again to-morrow.” 

Comforted by that promise, and as gentle as a lamb, she follows us to Do Spade. We ordered a good fire in a private room, and, everything we wanted to eat and to drink having been brought in, we send the waiter away, and remain alone. We take off our masks, and the sight of eight young, healthy faces seems to please the beauty we had so unceremoniously carried off. We soon manage to reconcile her to her fate by the gallantry of our proceedings; encouraged by a good supper and by the stimulus of wine, prepared by our compliments and by a few kisses, she realizes what is in store for her, and does not seem to have any unconquerable objection. Our leader, as a matter of right, claims the privilege of opening the ball; and by dint of sweet words he overcomes the very natural repugnance she feels at consummating the sacrifice in so numerous company. She, doubtless, thinks the offering agreeable, for, when I present myself as the priest appointed to sacrifice a second time to the god of love, she receives me almost with gratitude, and she cannot conceal her joy when she finds out that she is destined to make us all happy. My brother Francois alone exempted himself from paying the tribute, saying that he was ill, the only excuse which could render his refusal valid, for we had established as a law that every member of our society was bound to do whatever was done by the others. 

After that fine exploit, we put on our masks, and, the bill being paid, escorted the happy victim to San Giobbe, where she lived, and did not leave her till we had seen her safe in her house, and the street door closed.

My readers may imagine whether we felt inclined to laugh when the charming creature bade us good night, thanking us all with perfect good faith! 

From the Archives 1754: State Inquisitors re: Giacomo Casanova
Two days afterwards, our nocturnal orgy began to be talked of. The young woman’s husband was a weaver by trade, and so were his two friends. They joined together to address a complaint to the Council of Ten. The complaint was candidly written and contained nothing but the truth, but the criminal portion of the truth was veiled by a circumstance which must have brought a smile on the grave countenances of the judges, and highly amused the public at large: the complaint setting forth that the eight masked men had not rendered themselves guilty of any act disagreeable to the wife. It went on to say that the two men who had carried her off had taken her to such a place, where they had, an hour later, been met by the other six, and that they had all repaired to Do Spade, where they had spent an hour in drinking. The said lady having been handsomely entertained by the eight masked men, had been escorted to her house, where she had been politely requested to excuse the joke perpetrated upon her husband. 

The three plaintiffs had not been able to leave the island of San Giorgio until day-break, and the husband, on reaching his house, had found his wife quietly asleep in her bed. She had informed him of all that had happened; she complained of nothing but of the great fright she had experienced on account of her husband, and on that count she entreated justice and the punishment of the guilty parties. 

That complaint was comic throughout, for the three rogues shewed themselves very brave in writing, stating that they would certainly not have given way so easily if the dread authority of the council had not been put forth by the leader of the band. The document produced three different results; in the first place, it amused the town; in the second, all the idlers of Venice went to San Giobbe to hear the account of the adventure from the lips of the heroine herself, and she got many presents from her numerous visitors; in the third place, the Council of Ten offered a reward of five hundred ducats to any person giving such information as would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the practical joke, even if the informer belonged to the band, provided he was not the leader. 

The offer of that reward would have made us tremble if our leader, precisely the one who alone had no interest in turning informer, had not been a patrician. The rank of Balbi quieted my anxiety at once, because I knew that, even supposing one of us were vile enough to betray our secret for the sake of the reward, the tribunal would have done nothing in order not to implicate a patrician. There was no cowardly traitor amongst us, although we were all poor; but fear had its effect, and our nocturnal pranks were not renewed. 

Three or four months afterwards the chevalier Nicolas Ferro, then one of the inquisitors, astonished me greatly by telling me the whole story, giving the names of all the actors. He did not tell me whether any one of the band had betrayed the secret, and I did not care to know; but I could clearly see the characteristic spirit of the aristocracy, for which the ‘solo mihi’ is the supreme law. 

Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
So the crime was not the orgy, which the woman had apparently enjoyed, but that she was caused unnecessary fright because she thought her husband had been arrested by the Council of Ten. Luckily for Casanova and the gang the accusation took place during Carnevale, when conventions are flipped on their heads. Otherwise, I think the Council of Ten would not have been amused that they had been impersonated by Balbi, a young member of the aristocracy, nor that Casanova went along for the ride. 

Go to the official site for the program of Carnevale di Venezia 2018.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Peek Behind the Scenes - The Restoration of Carpaccio's Saint Ursula by Save Venice

Detail from Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) It was a great privilege to go behind the scenes and see up close the progress of the conservation of the much-loved Saint Ursula Cycle by Vittore Carpaccio inside the Galleria dell'Accademia -- a campaign by the American non-profit organization, Save Venice Inc.

Carpaccio (circa 1460-1525) was a young painter who came of age with the Saint Ursula Cycle. He created nine paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola, a devotional confraternity once located near the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo down in the Castello zone of Venice.

The Scuola of Sant'Orsola was founded on July 15, 1300. On November 26, 1488, it decided to decorate its headquarters. Enter Carpaccio, who was then about 25-30 years-old.

Saint Ursula Cycle - detail2 - Photo: Cat Bauer

What was happening in Venice around that time: 

In 1453, the Ottoman Turk Mehmed II had conquered Constantinople, turning it into Istanbul, destroying the over-1000-year-old Byzantine Empire and utterly transforming the order of the world. Some of the most horrific stories were about young mothers, virgins and nuns who were torn from their homes and debased.

The Ottomans were the archenemies of the aristocratic Venetian Loredan family, which was packed full of doges, admirals and captains, and known for their military feats, especially against the Ottomans. The Loredans were patrons of the Scuola of Sant'Orsola and probably commissioned the Saint Ursula paintings.

Saint Ursula Cycle detail - before restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer

Who was Saint Ursula?

There is no historic evidence that Saint Ursula ever existed, but people love her anyway. Her legend has many different variations, depending on the source. Carpaccio, too, created his own story line, mixing Venetian traditions with fantasy backdrops. The cycle is sort of like a Hollywood remake of an ancient story about a 4th century princess from Britain, but transported 1,000 years into the future to the time of the Venetian Renaissance.

According to legend, Saint Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king from Brittany who died in... let's say 383 AD. The princess Ursula was supposed to marry the son of a pagan king with the condition that he make a pilgrimage with her (and her 11,000 virgin ladies-in-waiting) to meet the pope and convert to Christianity. The prince agreed, and off they went to Rome. On her way back home, she and her entourage (which included the pope -- I am not clear why he was on the trip -- some say because he was smitten with Ursula and her virgins) passed through Cologne where they ran into Attila the Hun, who wanted to marry Ursula, who refused, so he chopped off everyone's heads -- except for Ursula, who was shot with an arrow.

What backs up that story is the Church of Saint Ursula in Cologne, built in the 12th century on top of a Roman graveyard, which is eerily decorated with thousands of bones.

Venice Carnival 2018 - La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua - Photo: Cat Bauer
Carpaccio and his wild imagination puts a whole different spin on the story by setting it in contemporary Renaissance Venice, full of festivals, visiting ambassadors and colorful ceremonies.

Included in the paintings are members of the Campagnie delle Calze, which were theatrical associations made up of noblemen that ran around Venice putting on events like masked watery processions on the canals (which Venice still does to this very day -- the opening of Carnival yesterday was entitled: La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua which took place on the Cannaregio Canal). Calza means "sock" in Italian, and the companies were known for their distinctive hosiery. I was riveted by the intricate embroidery of one young man's sock.

Detail - Socks - Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
The restoration is bringing the faded colors back to vivid life. To aid the CBC and Arlango restoration firms in their work, Save Venice bought an Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) so the restorers could peer beneath the painted surface and reveal Carpaccio's work methods. They raised the loot for the restoration with funds from The Thompson Family Foundation, Inc., Un Ballo in Maschera 2016, the dynamic duo of Thomas Schumacher and Matthew White, the California Chapter of Save Venice, The James R. Dougherty, Jr. Foundation and Dolce & Gabbana.

Behind the scenes - Carpaccio restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer
To further embellish an already mythic story, according to the Save Venice newsletter, the Saint Ursula Cycle is not only about the courageous saint, but is also thought to outline the complex politics of marriage in Venetian society in the 1490s. What sounds like a fascinating presentation: art historians Patricia Fortini Brown and Sarah Blake McHam will hold a session for the March 2018 Renaissance Society of America annual meeting in New Orleans on the theme Venetian Brides - No Real Choices: Carpaccio's Life of Saint Ursula in Context, joined by independent scholar Francesca Toffolo and Melissa Conn, the Venice Director of Save Venice. Now there's a lecture I would love to attend!

The restoration of the Saint Ursula Cycle is expected to be completed in 2019 when the nine paintings will be back at home in the gallery room inside the Accademia designed by the renowned Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Venice in January - Real Life + "Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti at Ca' Pesaro"

Rialto Bridge Photo Cat Bauer
Rialto Bridge just before sunset - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) There is a beautiful pause here in Venice between the New Year and Carnevale. There is real life, provincial and serene, set against a backdrop of ancient architecture and kaleidoscope sunsets. Many people in town know each other, if not by name, at least by face. It is a village without cars that floats along the water, and it is safe.

There is golden sunlight, and there is mysterious fog. It is brisk and cold. There are children chasing balls in the campi, and dogs flying free.

Every morning I personally hand my trash to the street sweepers, hard-working angels who ring my bell, and holler, "Spazzino!" I tried to tip them at Christmas, but they would not accept, so I took the cash out of the envelopes, and just gave them the cards.

At this time of year, residents run into each other nearly every day. Kids travel alone on the vaporetti, which are stuffed full of locals, not tourists; the kids are connected to their parents by cell phones, and protected by the watchful eyes of the community. Venetians walk through the calli and campi; there is time for conversations, and room enough to stroll. In the background, winter tourists provide comic relief, rattling suitcases, clutching maps or trying hopelessly to navigate with their smartphones.

A Foggy Day in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
I am getting a refund from ACTV, the agency that runs the vaporetti, because I was charged when the machine over by San Marcuola debited my bank card but did not credit my vaporetto pass. It is a little victory -- in English, no less:

Dear Mrs. Bauer,
with reference to your enquiry of December 21st, 2017 we are sorry for the inconvenience in buying your pass at the automatic ticket dispenser located at San
We inform you that we checked the machine and stated the bad working of it on
December 1st, 2017.
For this reason your request of refund amounting to €37,00 has been accepted and
we will provide to credit the amount due with a bank transfer to the bank account number you supplied in your enquiry.
We apologize again and take this opportunity to extend our best regards.

That is real life.

Il tuffatore (The Diver) by Luciano Zarotti (1978)
Meanwhile, the inauguration today at Ca' Pesaro of Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti & Ca' Pesaro during 70s-80s drew an eclectic crowd.

Felicita Bevilacqua (1822-1899), the widow of General Giuseppe La Masa, left the monumental palace Ca' Pesaro -- now the International Gallery of Modern Art -- to the City of Venice in her will provided that it was used to enhance the education and careers of emerging artists who could not access large, international exhibitions. The Bevilacqua la Masa Foundation is still in existence today, and has the same mission, although its location has ambled around town. Luciano Zarotti, who was born in Venice in 1942, started his activity within the Opera Bevilacqua La Masa of Venice at the age of twenty-five. Now he is the star of the show.

It was interesting to note how the Pop artists of Europe and the US influenced the Venetian artist, and how the 1964 win of La Biennale's top prize, the Golden Lion, by American artist Robert Rauschenber impacted the art world. According to the Observer, a documentary examining the controversy entitled Americans in Venice: Robert Rauschenberg Rewrites the Rules is set for release in March.

The Sonnabend Collection - Photo: Cat Bauer
Ca' Pesaro keeps reinventing itself. Thanks to the Sonnabend collection, you can see works by the vanguard of Pop Art like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and many, many more.

Food art - Photo: Cat Bauer
The greatest triumph at the inauguration was the food, an assortment of divine nibbles -- there was even hot pasta e fagioli. The staff really outdid themselves, creating works of edible art that were almost -- but not quite -- too beautiful to eat!

Veneziano Pop - Luciano Zarotti e Ca' Pesaro negli anni '70-'80 runs through February 18. Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog