December 15, 2006

Venezia IV Arrivederci

Thursday 30th November
My 21st Birthday!
To celebrate I had a spritz with prosecco at lunchtime in my local patisserie. I then went to the island of Murano, in the lagoon to the north of Venice, where the biggest glass factories are. En route the vaporetto passes the cemetery at San Michele, which was the first renaissance church in Venice. I had a good wander round the glass shops, looking for the perfect birthday present from my parents: I now have a lovely little millefiore vase in blue and pink. It was a little worrying transporting it home though. I also bought a couple of Christmas tree decorations for the Christmas tree at home. There are a lot of very large and very expensive objects in the shops on Murano, some of which are more attractive than others, but also some beautiful smaller items, and the prices are cheaper then in Venice itself. When I got back I went to Florians, the most famous, and expensive, café in Venice and had a pot of lavender flavoured tea with Venetian biscuits, which was very nice. I took the sugar packets and the napkin as a souvenir though. In the evening I went round to some friends for dinner, and had a very yummy risotto and chocolate cake. We then met up for drinks in the Ollandese Volante (Flying Dutchman) to celebrate.

Friday 1st December
I went and collected Graham from Treviso airport in the afternoon, as he was coming to stay for the weekend. Unfortunately the vaporetto staff were supporting a national 24 hour strike, so we had to walk back from Piazzale Roma to my house, which takes about an hour. We did go via the Piazza though. In the evening we went to a masked ball at the Palazzo-there were lots of lovely masks, and I’d chosen a couple for us: had to get mine put on a stick though to make it easier with glasses.

Saturday 2nd December
We went to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the most famous of the Venetian Scuole or confraternities, which is on the other side of the Grand Canal. This one was decorated by Tintoretto. He originally got the job by, when several famous artists were asked to submit sketches for a ceiling panel, The Glorification of St Roch, (the plague saint the Scuola is named after) persuading someone to put a finished panel in the right location. The cycles cover Old Testament episodes relating to their charitable work and the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
After this we went to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. This was a Franciscan gothic church, and became a pantheon for the city: Titian was buried here, even though he died during a plague outbreak. It has a lovely set of wooden choir stalls, with inlaid marquetry panels, whilst its most famous works are Titian’s Assumption on the hgh altar, and the Giovanni Bellini Madonna and Child in the sacristy. I personally prefer the latter. In the evening Graham and I went for dinner in a local restaurant: I had Spaghetti Seppe alle Nero, or spaghetti made with black squid, which is a local speciality.

Sunday 3rd December
In the afternoon we went to San Marco. We had a look in the museum, which houses the original horses stolen from Constantinople, along with mosaic fragments, and a series of tapestries and other artefacts belonging to the previous patriarchs. We then went into the basilica proper, and saw the high altar and the Pala d’Oro: San Marco is a church that cannot be taken in fully in one go, and it is well worth queuing for multiple visits, especially as the hoards of tourists have mainly gone home. In the evening we went to an Advent carol service at St Georges, which was quite good-they had a scratch choir singing several pieces.

Monday 4th December
Before Graham flew home in the afternoon we went to the Doge’s Palace. As well as housing the Doge, or the head of the Venetian regime, who lived there, it was also the home of all the different parts of government: the Sala del Maggior Concilio, where the male patricians of Venice over 25 met weekly to discuss issues and elect government officials, is one of the largest rooms in Europe. The decorative scheme, generally dating from the late sixteenth century, is devoted to extolling the virtues of Venice, but there are one or two nice paintings, and it is interesting to see the rooms where the bodies of state I have learned about met and worked, including the new prison on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs. Of the portraits of previous Doges that line the Sala del Maggior Concilio the most famous is that of Marin Falier, who is covered by a black veil as he was executed for treason.

Thursday 7th December
Having written my second long essay, including 250 pages of Italian in my reading, I took the opportunity to see a bit more of Venice, including some of the churches on the other side of the Grand Canal. First I went to the church of San Polo. This is a gothic building that was somewhat mauled about by nineteenth century restoration (classical pillars in the nave.) It does however boast a Giandomenico Tiepolo cycle of the Stations of the Cross, filled with contemporary portraits. I then walked up to San Giacomo dell’Orio, which is in a large Campo buzzing with children. The church fabric dates from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, including a green marble column originally from Constantinople (yet another acquisition at the time of the Fourth Crusade.) There are some good paintings, but the architectural beauty is greater in my opinion.
The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista has a nice façade, including a lovely 1481 screen by Pietro Lombardo in marble. I then wended my way, via another quick trip into the Frari (I had mislaid my Chorus pass for the Venetian churches at the weekend, so I could get in on that), to Ca’ Rezzonico, now the Museo del Settecento Veneziano (Museum of the Eighteenth Century). It includes a series of eighteenth-century interiors, displaying furniture, including some massive chandeliers, and frescos, several by the Tiepolo family, most famously The New World and a series of Pulchinellos from Villa Zianigo, taken from palaces across the city. There are also paintings of Venetian scenes by Pietro Longhi, and on the third floor an art gallery and a reproduced apothecaries shop complete with rows of jars and the glassware for distilling remedies. There was also an interesting exhibition of prints, based on Canaletto drawings, of ducal ceremonies, including the coronation and the annual Marriage to the Sea.
From there I went to San Sebastiano. This church has some lovely Paolo Veronese frescos, but some of the ones depicting the life of St Francis are a little difficult to see because of the gallery. There is also a St Nicholas by Titian. Finally I went to the seventeenth-century church of Angelo Raffaele just around the corner. The highlight of this is the cycle on the organ loft showing the story of Tobit.
In the evening we had our final dinner in an Art Nouveau hotel on the Lido. There was shellfish pasta, polenta with prawns, and John Dory (San Pietro in Italian), followed by tiramisu, though not everyone on my table could manage it, then finally prosecco and speeches before we went back home via Du Champs bar.

Friday 8th December
I handed in my essay (“Discuss the roots of Catholic Reform in Venice”), and then went to the Accademia, which is the main art gallery for Venice. Some of the paintings ended up here from various churches and Scuole courtesy of Napoleonic suppressions. It is actually made up of several religious buildings, including a Scuola Grande. It features the development of Venetian art, and many of the pieces are large works for (semi) public display, such as altarpieces. Unfortunately expansion work means that most of the pieces that are hung in the same room as Giorgione’s Tempest are currently not on display, but there are still lots of impressive works, such as the Veronese Feast in the House of Levi. This was renamed to circumvent the Inquisition who thought it a most unseemly depiction of the Last Supper-its original title, and several Tintorettos relating to Saint Mark-these are a contrast with the more serene pictures of the medieval artists or Bellini. I prefered the earlier works to the later ones, especially given the long corridor of pastoral scenes: Venice also stopped producing big name painters. The tradition of painting cycles for the Scuole is represented in the Miracles of the Relic of the True Cross of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. These are very interesting for their depiction of Venice at the end of the fifteenth century. There is also another cycle, that of the Scuola di Sant’Orsola, which has a series of paintings, by Carpaccio and assistants, based on episodes from the life of St Ursula. Finally there is an in situ Titian: The Presentation of the Virgin still hangs in the space it was designed for in the original Scuola.
After this I went to the Museo Correr, which is the civic museum for Venice (and houses yet another art gallery, this one showing quite strongly the impact of the Low Countries on Venetian art). It has some interesting exhibits about Venetian life, including a Ducal hat, and a fantastic 1500 map of the city by Jacopo de’Barbari. It also has an incredibly high pair of platform shoes, so that the wearer, like the ladies in the Carpaccio painting of two noble women, could have a longer hemline whilst keeping the fabric out of harms way. The coin collection was fun as I was seeing how many Doges I could recognise.
Finally, and as it started raining, I went to the Venetian Christmas market and had a glass of mulled wine whilst buying various goodies, including cheese, sausage, and some lovely fretwork Christmas decorations. I then went home to begin the task of fitting everything in my suitcase to return to England.

Saturday 9th December
Having managed to pack everything up (the vase was carried separately) I said goodbye to the bakers and the patisserie, and went to have one last look at San Marco-there was very definitely aqua alta (only the third occurrence of it we had) in the Piazza, which made circumventing tourists with umbrellas interesting. I then returned home to take my case on the Grand Canal, having said goodbye to my landlady, and been promised somewhere to stay when I return-both she and the university secretary have made me promise to do so, up to Piazzale Roma to catch the coach to Marco Polo airport. Fortunately, despite having a great deal of excess baggage I didn’t have to pay, helped by being at the end of the check in queue! Leaving the airport the plane flew over the city, so I got to see San Marco from the air-the Campanile stands out, as does the size of the Arsenale. I finally arrived home safe and sound, and a little ahead of schedule, to be greeted by Mum and Graham-the lights of Surrey were quite prominent as we circled Heathrow.

The website for all the Chorus pass churches in Venice is

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