November 22, 2006

Venice III

Monday 6th October
Having handed in my first long essay (for which I got 70,) this week was devoted to a) getting started on the next long essay and book report, and
b) researching masks, and how out of reach of my budget some of them are.
I went to the Rialto market on the Friday and got a silver scaled fish called a Lotregano, which seems to be local, given the lack of translation in the dictionary. I also got a fennel bulb, which I cooked with milk a few days later. (It was very nice, as I like aniseed flavours.) I’ve been cooking quite a lot of local dishes, as I have a little English language Venetian cookbook.

Saturday November 11th
Today I visited Verona, which is about an hour and a half away on the intercity train (these have lots of compartments). First I went to the Romanesque church of San Zeno Maggiore, built to honour the city’s patron saint. It has a beautiful east door, although the bronze panels on the doors themselves were surrounded by tour groups when I tried to look at them. The Basilica walls are covered with lots of fresco fragments, many painted as votive offerings, whilst the statue of the Saint is interestingly depicted smiling. The altarpiece, which is by Mantegna, not always one of my favourite artists, was replaced by a copy, as the original is in the Mantegna exhibition, of which more later. When I came out of the church I discovered that the square was being used for a display of various riding and carriage groups, including the army and assorted branches of the police force. I then walked past the Castlevecchio into the centre of the town. I next visited the little church of San Lorenzo, which still has its matroneum, or women’s gallery. (Red and white striped seems to be a popular colour of church buildings in Verona.)
Following this I went to the Arena, the third largest Roman amphitheatre in existence, after the Colosseum and the Anfiteatro Flavio near Naples. Unfortunately an earthquake destroyed most of the outer wall, but the seating tiers still exist. Nowadays this is the home of the opera in the summer, they were clearing away the seating whilst I was there, although the steps to walk up the tiers are rather badly cut.
After this I walked to San Fermo Maggiore, which is in fact two churches built one on top of the other as the lower church kept flooding. The lower church contains many frescos, including one of several nursing Madonnas in Verona. It also has a beautiful ship’s keel roof. Unfortunately the south side of the church is currently mainly under scaffolding, but some of the frescos can still be seen.
I then walked past the Casa di Giulietta, mythical home of Juliet Capulet, into Piazza delle Erbe. In this square is the tell-tale sign of Venetian control from the fifteenth century onwards: a winged lion on a pillar. One of the houses in the square is covered in sixteenth-century murals: unlike Venice, which is too damp, they have survived very well.
Next looked at the Arche Scagliere, a collection of Gothic tombs of the della Scala family, whose surname is reflected in the ladders of the palisade around the tombs, and who on occasion had canine first names.
I then went to the church of Sant’Anastasia, although its most famous fresco, Pisanello’s St George and the Princess is unfortunately also under wraps for conservation. The holy water stoups interestingly are supported by figures of hunchbacks, whilst the statue of St Peter Martyr, had been removed (and it is a stone statue…) for the Mantegna exhibition.
Next door is the tiny San Pietro Martire, whose walls are covered by frescos that were later painted over, then rediscovered. The East wall lunette is interesting because it depicts an allegory of the Annunciation with several animals.
After this I visited the Duomo, which has a lovely Romanesque west door, and a south portal with a carving of Jonah and the Whale. One of the paintings inside is by Titian, whilst the choir has an interesting curved screen.
I then walked across the river on the Ponte Pietra, which bears signs of having been rebuilt several times in the past, most recently after being blown up by the Germans towards the end of the Second World War. The Teatro Romano was carved into the hillside, and is now accompanied by an archeological museum in an old convent above: the fresco in the chapel can still be seen. There are some interesting marble and mosaic fragments, a delicate bronze sieve, and several small bronzes, including some Etruscan pieces. The view from the terrace is also worth the climb.
I finished off this part of my trip with a visit to Santa Maria in Organo, which has in the sacristy and on the choir stalls some exquisite marquetry, showing animals and cupboards full of all sorts of intriguing objects, all in perspective. Unfortunately they seemed to be out of postcards. The lectern, which has a lovely rabbit, and marquetry music on the book-rest was another exhibit in the exhibition.
Walking back into the city centre I stopped off for a gorgeous hot chocolate, before heading to Castlevecchio. This is the main art gallery and museum for Verona, and has some beautiful Medieval and Renaissance paintings. There was also a concert going on in one of the rooms, so I was able to walk round listening to historical music.
Finally I went to the Palazzo della Gran Guardia. This is currently housing an exhibition on the influence of Mantegna’s San Zeno altarpiece in Veronese art, or lack of influence in some cases. It has most of the best period altarpieces, and other paintings, from the city, which show that Mantegna’s work was often reflected in details of setting, rather than portrayal of figures, and places it in the artistic influences of Verona, principally its classical heritage and illuminated manuscripts.
I then caught the train home, and had a St Martin biscuit figure before going to bed as it was his feast day: in Venice they cook sweet-covered biscuits and “cotemagna”, which are made out of crystallized apple, in the image of the saint on horseback.

Sunday 12th November
After church, which was a Remembrance Sunday service, I walked back via the Piazza San Marco to admire some of the sculptural elements on the Doge’s Palace, and in the Piazzetta, some of which were stolen from Constantinople, now the tourist hoards have more or less gone.

Monday 13th November
Again this week has been dedicated to work, especially my book report on Savonarola. However I did go to the Rialto on the Friday, although I’m not entirely sure what the stall-holders made of me taking lots of photos. It appears that cardoon or thistle plants are a seasonal speciality.

Saturday 18th November
The University went on a trip to the Venetian villas near Bassano del Grappa. The villas were built as a cross between grand summer retreat and working farm. The Villa Barbaro was designed for two brothers by Palladio, and the decorative scheme (including some statuary by a not very good sculptor) reflects their humanist interests. The frescos inside are by Paolo Veronese, and make one question who is the observer, as well as including some lovely pastoral scenes, although he seems to not be so good at painting trompe l’oiel architecture. Most of us will remember this place for the felt slippers we had to wear to protect the parquet floor in two of the smaller rooms. Palladio also designed the little Tempietto, his only church outside Venice, where finally he was able to build according to his ideas about the perfection of the circle as a church shape, not having to worry about the need to accommodate a congregation.
Bassano del Grappa, where we had lunch, is home to the local firewater, distilled from grape skins, and dominated by the pre-Alps, indeed the town is built on both sides of a river valley. In the centre of the town is a wooden bridge designed by Palladio in 1569. As it is timber it can withstand the spring melt waters, and if the worst comes to the worst, it is easy to replace.
After lunch we went to the Villa Emo, another Palladian house, but with a bigger focus on grain production than the Villa Barbaro. It has frescos by Zelotti, a rival of Veronese, who was better at architecture, but not quite so strong on figures. This house is interesting as the decorative scheme includes some religious works alongside the classical scenes, and one of the rooms is devoted to six of the muses.

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