This summer, the Hemingway Society is having its biannual conference in Venice, Italy. Having visited Venice previously, I am going to pass on this conference due to other travel adventures that await later in the summer. Thinking about my travel to Venice inspired me to share some of the the magnificent art and culture that I was fortunate to have experienced for those that will be going there this year. I want to thank my art history professor from SMU, Dr. Dianne Goode, who recently gave a lecture to current and former students on the art of Venice. She held the lecture to promote this year’s trip to Italy she is conducting, and there were so many people that were there! I think it was because we all miss hearing one of Dianne’s lectures and wanted to recapture our classes and trips. Anyway, much of the information on the art is from this recent and previous lectures in Dianne’s Italian Renaissance art class.
Before going to Venice I recommend reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. This nonfiction book from the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will give a sense of what the city and the people are all about. The premise is the reconstruction of Teatro La Fenice opera house that burned down due to arson in 1996, but there is so much more that Berendt weaves in as he recounts his stay in the city. This book was published shortly after my own trip. Another book I read after I had gone to Venice was In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant that gives the readers a taste of what the city might have been like a few hundred years ago. There’s the courtesan, Fiammetta, her dwarf friend, Bucino, and many historical figures. Dunant does extensive research for her books of historical fiction, and you can learn much about the city from this novel. Also, I read The Aspern Papers by Henry James before I went to Venice. One of the most interesting books I found and read before going was based on a real love story written by Andrea di Robilant, A Venetian Affair, about his ancestors who fell in love, Gustiniana Wynne and Andrea Memmo. I also enjoyed two video versions about Casanova that features the city. One was the Heath Ledger movie (2006) entitled Casanova, and the other was a BBC version I watched on PBS that Peter O’Toole starred in as the elderly Casanova.
If you are going to Venice you best go to the Gallerie dell’Accademia. This museum was full of most of the famous Venetian and Italian Renaissance artists’ works. Also, when a couple of my friends visited Venice, one of them snapped a photo of the Grand Canal from the Accademia bridge just in front of the museum and it has always been one of my favorite photos:
–click to enlarge
My favorite museum to visit was The Peggy Guggenheim Collection located right on the Grand Canal in a never-completed palazzo. Outside of the museum is the Nasher Sculpture Garden that I enjoyed since I actually knew who Raymond and Patsy Nasher were, being from Dallas. Peggy Guggenheim was a character herself and modern art collecting was her love. As a matter of fact, I also read her autobiographies shortly after my trip. After reading and enjoying those, my art history professor told me that I would enjoy reading Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill, and thus my Lost Generation and Hemingway obsession was born. So going to Venice and reading Peggy’s books started this almost 10-year obsession.
–The Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal
One of the smaller, not-to-miss churches is San Zaccaria. Not far from Piazza San Marco, this church was named after Zacharias, the husband of Mary’s (Jesus’s mother) cousin Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother).
Look at the beautiful facade of this church:
–San Zaccaria (from Wikipedia)
—San Zaccaria Altarpiece, Giovanni Bellini, 1505, oil on panel,
500 cm x 235 cm (200 in x 93 in), San Zaccaria, Venice
In this church we find a “sacra conversazione” by Giovanni Bellini. Since most of the Italian Renaissance art was religious, this work has the Virgin Mary (holding her son) enthroned, along with St. Peter and some other saints. This painting is very stable and grounded with the figures in an triangular formation. Why is this painting important? This painting is still in the original place where it was painted by the artist, or it is “in situ.”
Another not-to-miss church is Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a huge Franciscan church whose altar piece was painted by the great artist Titian. As you approach the altar of this church, you can view the painting from far away and still see the subject due to the three levels of the painting and the primary colors used. This painting shows the Virgin Mary being “assumed” vs. “ascended” into heaven. The Assumption of the Virgin by Titian was painted here from 1516 to 1518. This painting is another one that the viewers can see “in situ.” Most churches today in Europe do not still have the “rood” screen in place, but the Frari church still does.
—Assumption of the Virgin, Titian, 1516 -1518, oil on panel,
690 x 360 cm (271.7 x 141.7 in), Santa Maria de Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice
As I was writing this post and looking at old notes and pictures, I was reminded that the tomb of Antonio Canova was in this church and it was a really beautiful tomb for such a great sculptor. Canova designed this tomb for Titian, but it became his own. Actually, only his heart is in this tomb.
–Canova’s Tomb in the Frari (from Wikipedia)
There are two more not-to-miss churches. The first is the landmark Santa Maria della Salute, mainly noted for its architecture. You can see this landmark from the lagoon and down the Grand Canal:
–-the Salute church (from Wikipedia)
Lastly concerning churches, I would not miss a trip across the lagoon to see the Basilica di San Giorgio. From the Palazzo Ducale near the Basilica San Marco and from the Piazzeta, you can see this church across the lagoon and the white marble is so beautiful and interesting to note as the day passes because of the changing light. Also, to get a picture from San Giorgio of the Piazzeta and Doge’s Palace, one must climb the campanile of San Giorgio for an awesome shot.
–Basilica di San Giorgio
I really enjoyed Venice because when I went to Italy it was early June and it was hot in Rome, better in Florence, and so lovely and cool in Venice! Also, walking or taking the vaporettos was much more pleasant since there are no cars, trucks, or motorcyles in Venice. If I went back, I would definitely spend more time just hanging around Piazza San Marco and the Piazzeta for people watching. I don’t feed pigeons, but it was fun watching others and especially kids feed them.
–Piazzeta from near the lions on the basilica. San Giorgio is across the lagoon on the left.
I also had opportunity to tour the Palazzo Ducale or Doge’s Palace, as well as the attached prison accessed by the Bridge of Sighs. I usually eat on the fly and cheap when I am traveling, but a few times a nice meal is needed. I remember the seafood dishes and the beautiful display of food in the markets being photo opportunities. Antico Caffé Martini just outside of La Fenice was a must-do restaurant. Another stop I so enjoyed was going to Murano to see the glass blowers at work.
I was only in Venice for three days but saw much art and history related highlights of the city. The Hemingway people will be there longer. I would have liked to have gone over to the Lido, visited the Arsenal, and visited the cemetery island of San Michele. I hope they work it all in as they convene to celebrate Ernest Hemingway’s relationship to the city.