It is two years since I was in Venice for the autumn term studying medieval tombs and contemporary art. Pre pandemic it seemed a different time with the only things to worry about being floods and industrial action from the lecturers. Hey Ho – what’s new. But it did make me think about the wonderful visual culture of the city. Even after Napoleon plundered ‘the best’ there is still much to see.
The Venetian Renaissance and its following mannerist styles produced a number of great artists and the application of colour was their so called trademark. There were three paintings that I shall recall as examples I had seen in slide projections previously, but which did not prepare me for the real thing.
Tintoretto is everywhere, in all the churches and the palaces. In the presbytery of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore is his Last Supper from around 1594. This huge painting is difficult to see in its entirety due to access problems and the low light. But by persevering and keeping an eye on where the stewards were I managed to catch it all. The reward was stunning. On the same island was the Foundazione Giorgio Cini, a former monastery, with its fabulous library. Many happy hour spent in there ! But in one of the side rooms is a copy of one of the most unfamous paintings in Europe. The original Wedding at Cana, was plundered by Napolean and the Louvre have decided to place it on the opposite wall to the Mona Lisa – so no one looks at it. The version at San Giorgio is a full size digitally produced copy, hung in 2007 to commemorate Napoleon’s invasion.
My second is Titian’s Pesaro Madonna, an altarpiece in the Frari Basilica. The painting sits in one of the side chapels. This was also restored recently and was replaced by a digitally enhanced photograph. The restored original was replaced in 2017, so thankfully graced our visit. Titian broke with tradition placing the Virgin and Child away from the centre creating movement around the painting. This was one of the paintings that paved the way for the baroque period with its swags, garlands and sweeping movement.
My third painting is from an earlier period and is hung in the Accademia. Giovanni Bellini painted his Madonna and Child with Saint Catherine and Saint Mary Magdalene in 1490. It is not a large painting like the others but set in a special place with such exquisite lighting it captures the mood so hauntingly. Bellini has captured the concern on the mother’s face, as if knowing how her son’s life will end. It was the subject of my painting of the month two years ago.
Of course there is so much more to see and many great works that do not reach the slide projections of our university lectures but exquisite nonetheless. San Barnaba, our home, is near the centre of the student area with the lowest cost Aperol Spritz. You may recognise it from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Ciao.