BASILICA DI SAN MARCO (click)
HEAD TO THE ACCADEMIA FOR ART THAT`S CAUSED CENTURIES OF SCANDAL AND SENSATION
- Somewhere in the queue to enter the Accademia, you may grumpily wonder if the wait is worthwhile. But when the masses of students part to reveal Andrea Mantegna`s 1466 haughtily handsome St George or Rosalba Carriera`s brutally honest self-portrait from 1730, you`ll get the thrill of locking eyes with a major celebrity across a crowded room.
|Paolo Veronese - Feast in the House of Levi|
- The Accademia is hardly strictly academic - it also holds all the unforgettable characters, tall tales, murderous intrigue and juicy scandals that could be expected from the most extreme Venetian dinner parties. Giovanni Bellini`s gorgeous Madonna is haloed by red cherubs glowing like XXX neon signs, while a bejewelled beauty in the corner steals the Madonna`s thunder in Titian`s Mary`s Presentation in the Temple. Tintoretto`s Old Testament account of God`s creation of the animals is suspiciously Venetian, with its spotlighted lions (the symbol of St Mark) and mutant lagoon fish that would definitely be sold at a discount at the Pescheria.
- Giambattista Tiepolo`s Miracle of the Bronze Serpent is cracked from when it was hastily rolled up by creeped-out viewers, but for sheer, shimmering gore, there`s no topping Vittore Carpaccio`s Crucifixion and Glorification of the Ten Thousand Martyrs of Mount Ararat. Suffice to say, Harry`s Bar was quite correct in naming a dish of bloody raw beef after this painter.
|Giovanni Bellini - Procession in St. Mark`s Square|
- But the most controversial scene stealer is Paolo Veronese`s Feast in the House of Levi, which was called The Last Supper until Inquisition leaders condemned Veronese for showing drunkards, dwarves, dogs and even Reformation-minded Germans cavorting amid the apostles. Veronese refused to change a thing besides the title, and Venice stood by this act of artistic defiance. Follow the exchanges, gestures and eye contact among the characters here, and you`ll notice that not one Moorish trader, stumbling servant, gambler or bright-eyed lapdog could have been painted over without losing an essential piece of the puzzle - and not coincidentally, the same can be said of Venice. ALISON BING
TOP FIVE PORTRAITS THAT LOOK ALIVE:
- Giorgione`s Old Woman
- Hans Memling`s Portrait of a Young Man
- Gentile Bellini`s Blessed Lorenzo Giustinian
- Giambattista Piazzeta`s Fortune-Teller
- Lorenzo Lotto`s Portrait of a Young Scholar
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Galleria dell`Accademia. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 12. - 13.pg.
CHASE LIGHTNING FLASHES OF INSIGHT THROUGH TINTORETTO`S STORMY SCENES
- Lightning bolts can scarcely keep up with Tintoretto`s loaded paintbrush as it streaks across familiar scenes, illuminating them from within. His subject matter was typically dictated by his patrons - biblical scenes, mythical allegories, odes to the greats of Venice - but he made them seem new with his careful spotlighting, stormy backdrops and vertigo-inducing perspective.
- A crash course in Tintoretto begins at his preserved bottega (work-shop), then nips around the corner to Chiesa della Madonna dell`Orto, his parish church and the serene backdrop for his action-packed 1546 Last Judgment. True-blue Venetian that he is, Tintoretto shows the final purge as a teal tidal wave, with lost souls vainly trying to hold it back like human MOSE barriers.
- The riveting image of a dive-bombing angel swooping in to save one last person was reprised by Tintoretto in the upper floor of Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where he spent some 15 years creating works for the patron saint of plague victims. His biblical scenes here read like a graphic novel, with backdrops fading to black to capture the drama of Jesus` final days and the Black Death, the darkness lightened only by the artist`s streaky white rays of hope. ALISON BING
|Tintoretto - "Moses strikes water from the rocks" (Scuola Grande di St. Roch)|
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Tintoretto. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 15.pg.
TRAIL TITIAN ACROSS TOWN FROM MASTERPIECE TO MASTERPIECE
- In other cities you might actually have to search to find artistic inspiration, but in Venice you can just follow the footbridges to the first, last, and best paintings by the master of the red-hot moment. At the Santa Maria della Salute, you`ll notice Titian started out a measured, methodical painter in his 1510 St Marco Enthroned, although his brushwork was already loos enough and vermillion vibrant enough to add dynamism to a straightforward scene. But after seeing Michelangelo`s writhing Last Judgment Titian let it rip, and his expressive urgency is palpable in his final 1576 Pieta, where he smeared paint onto the canvas with his bare hands.
|Titian - Madonna of the Assumption|
- But even for a man of many masterpieces, Titian`s Madonna of the Assumption at I Frari is an astonishing accomplishment. Titian has captured the instant when the Madonna has risen beyond the grasp of the lowly mortals below, with the angels putting their backs into the final push. This altarpiece seems to fill the nave with the radiant warmth of the Madonna`s red robes, and that pale wrist revealed by a slipping sleeve has been known to get priests too hot and bothered to pray. ALISON BING
|Titian - Madonna di Ca`Pesaro|
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Titian. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 16.pg.
EXPLORE THE GHETTO, THE NEIGHBOURHOOD THAT LAUNCHED A RENAISSANCE
- Standing in the Ghetto`s lopsided main square, surrounded by ramshackle buildings, you`d never guess that this was the heart of an empire. In accordance with the Venetian Republic`s 1516 decree, by day Jewish lenders funded Venice`s commercial enterprises, while by night and on Christian holidays they were restricted to the gated Ghetto Nuovo.
THE GHETO VECHIO
- When Jewish merchants fled to Venice from the Spanish Inquisition in 1541, there was no place for them to go but up. Additional storeys on existing buildings in the Ghetto housed new arrivals and synagogues, while across town the Renaissance was advanced by Jewish lenders and Jewish artisans, filling palaces and churches with priceless treasures. But through papal restrictions and plague, the Ghetto was reduced to 3000 inhabitants by 1670.
- After Napoleon lifted restrictions in 1797, Ghetto residents gained standing as Venetian citizens. But Mussolini`s 1938 race laws were throwback to the 16th century, and in 1943 most of the 1670 Jews in Venice were rounded up and sent to concentration camps; only 37 returned. Venice`s Jewish community now numbers around 420, but children playing tag in the campo (square) show there`s still life left in the Ghetto. To explore some of the Ghetto`s seven synagogues, book a tour with the Museo Ebraico di Venezia. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - The Ghetto. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 19.pg.
SEE HOW VENICE`S SPIRITS SOARED, EVEN AS ITS POWER WANED, AT CA`REZZONICO
- Saying that Venice`s glory days ended with the 16th century is like saying the city peaked while a teenager - and it completely overlooks the splendours of Ca`Rezzonico, aka the Museum of 18th-Century Venice.
- For all its breezy gorgeousness, the Ca`Rezzonico`s wits are razor sharp. Airy and light without seeming frou-frou, the Ca`Rezzonico is Baldassare Longhena-designed palace that was just right for its time. Giambattista Tiepolo covered the Ca`Rezzonico`s ceilings with shamelessly flattering paintings, showing Ludovico Rezonico and his bride surrounded by Fame, Wisdom and Merit - but these trompe l`ceil domes are so clever, colourful and overtly theatrical that it seems Tiepolo was just gleefully showing off.
- By the 18th century, Venice had lived through plague, defended itself against Turkish invasion and seen its world-domination ambitions dashed - but it was determined to make light of a dire situation, and its tragicomic tendencies are captured in the art of the period. An entire drawing room at the Ca`Rezzonico is dedicated to Pietro Longhi`s drawing-room satires, including The Morning Chocolate (1775), which shows fashionable Venetians bingeing on trendy cocoa and doughnuts at the risk of popping their waistcoat buttons or upsetting a disapproving lapdog. Rosalba Carriera captures her sitters` every quirk in her pastel portraits, and their sly smirks make them look like the life of any 18th-century party. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Ca` Rezzonico. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 22.pg.
TAKE A WALK TO THE DOGI`S DARK SIDE IN THE DUCAL PALACE
- From the outside, the restored Ducal Palace is all elegant brickwork and graceful Gothic colonnades, but the inside of the palazzo reveals a darker side to the dogi (Venice`s leaders). Right behind a grand salon festooned with cherubim and Paolo Veronese`s allegories of Virtue conquering Vice lie the cramped secret headquarters of the shadowy Consiglio dei Dieci (Council of Ten), Venice`s version of the CIA. Upstairs was the Piombi, the dread attic prison where Casanova was sentenced to five years` confinement on charges of corrupting nuns and spreading Freemasonry.
- Casanova charmed his way past the guards in 1757, and you too can plot your escape from the Piombi on the fascinating Itinerari Segreti (Secret Passageways) tour. This tour leads you through the Consiglio dei Dieci`s administrative offices to a windowless room with a single rope: the dogi`s torture chamber. To Venice`s credit, the room was largely disused by the 17th century - but the same cannot be said for the studded cells where the accused awaited trial. Renaissance Venice was no place for rebels: anyone who dared question the rosy depiction of Venetian government on view downstairs just might be taken upstairs. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Ducal palace. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 25.pg.
EXPERIENCE THE SHOCK OF THE NEW AT PALAZZO GRASSI
- Paris is still burning with indignation over the decision by French billionaire Francois Pinault to showcase his vast art collection in a Venetian palazzo. In 2006, Pinault bought the Grassi from the Fiat Group, hiring celebrated minimalist architect Tadao Ando to update the palace to accommodate both Pinault`s personal contemporary-art collection and ambitious reappraisals of art history, such as the recent Rome and the Barbarians show. The results are simply startling. Ando`s stark partitions are capped with perfect halos of lighting, illuminating a past worth reconsidering and a future worth turning the next corner to find.
- But the spectacular exhibition space and the clever curation are only part of the attraction. Facing the Grand Canal, the Grassi uses its pier for sculpture installations, surprising gondola riders with Jeff Koons` shiny magenta Balloon Dog, and Subodh Gupta`s Very Hungry God, a gigantic skull made entirely of aluminium cookware. The 1st-floor cafe is actually an art installation that serves espresso; its conceptual decor is reinvented for each show by a contemporary artist to reflect that show`s theme.
- Until Pinault and Ando`s next project, the Punta della Dogana, opens in 2009, the Grassi remains the hottest art ticket in town. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Highlights - Palazzo Grassi. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 26.pg.
- How grand is it really? With some 50 palaces, six churches, four bridges, scene-stealing cameos in four James Bond films, two open-air markets and one rather picturesque prison (from the outside, anyway), this waterway definitely earns its name and fame. To get the full effect, travel the lenght of the Grand Canal at night, when dock lights turn into frenzied Tintoretto brush strokes on the water, and Murano chandeliers and Tiepolo ceilings can be glimpsed through palazzo windows.
- To max out on romance, tour the Grand Canal by sampierota (narrow sailboat) or gondola at night. During the day, motoschiaffi (motor boats) whiz past and kick up wakes that upset smaller crafts and wear away the fondamente (canal banks) of the Grand Canal, much to the dismay of Venetians in general, but especially og gondolieri, who can get grumpy when asked to take the Grand Canal. So unless you have a yacht and filming clearance - like Daniel Craig in Casino Royal - vaporetto (city ferry) 1 is your best bet to cover the Grand Canal by day. With a 12-hour vaporetto ticket, you can hop on and off wherever you like en route to San Marco. Embark at the train station, and as you chug up the canal, keep an eye out for the following landmarks.
- On the right, the baroque Baldassare Longhena-designed Ca` Pesaro juts out into the canal. Housing a modern-art gallery and the Museo Orientale, this palazzo has a deep double arcade atop a faceted marble base, and chiselled good looks to rival any Bond.
- The next vaporetto stop on your left is the Venetian Gothic Ca`d`Oro, with two tiers of peekaboo quatrefoil portholes lightly balancing atop lacy arcades. Beauty queen that it is, the Ca`d`Oro is capped with crenulation that looks like a tiara. Hop off here to check out Andrea Mantegna`s magnificent St Sebastian and other Napoleonic plunder.
- In the morning, you`ll hear the Rialto produce markets and covered Pescheria before you see them on your right. Fishmongers call out the catch of the day in Venetian dialect, and vendors brag shamelessly about their artichokes. If your stomach`s growling, there`s a vaporetto stop here. Otherwise, continue under the Ponte di Rialto, watching tourists hanging off the side of the bridge like gargoyles to get the best photo.
- As you round the next bend, the splendid Longhena-designed Ca` Rezzonico will be on your right, with two stories of grand window arcades to shed natural light on the Tiepolo ceilings inside. Hop off at the vaporetto stop out front to binge on baroque art here.
- Staring down the Ca` Rezzonico from across the canal is the Palazzo Grassi, recently resuscitated by billionaire Francois Pinault with minimalist architect Tadao Ando. The front dock is a contemporary sculpture installation featuring floating conversation pieces such as Subodh Gupta`s giant skull made of cooking pots. To see the Grassi`s latest show, disembark at the next stop at the Ponte dell`Accademia.
- Keeping a low profile on the right bank is teh Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Look for the Alexander Calder by the dock, and peek between the shrubs for Marino Marini`s 1948 Angel of the City, a nude figure on a horse who is apparently very excited indeed by this view of the Grand Canal. For a closer look, get off at the next vaporetto stop in front of the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute. Shrouded in semipermanent restoration efforts and a certain mystery, this unusual octagonal shrine echoes Roman temples to Venus and mystical cabbala diagrams. Alight here to see early Titians, or press on past the Punta della Dogana. End your Grand Canal tour near Piazza San Marco at the San Zaccaria stop, passing the Ducal Palace on your left and entering the Prigioni Nuove (New Prisons) just in time for your evening jazz concert. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Snapshots - Grand canal. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 152. - 153.pg.
- After a few blissful days of wandering this fair city, the same thought occurs to most visitors: thank heaven for Venice. This is no coincidence. Soaring Venetian Gothic arches and rooftop synagogue cupolas direct the eye heavenward, museums are packed with masterpieces based on religious themes, and angels are in the architecture at street-corner shrines and scuole (religious confraternities). Venetians grateful for surviving plagues, floods and invasion showed their appreciation in monumental form, building 107 churches and seven synagogues where they could give thanks on a regular basis.
- As if that weren`t enough, pontoon bridges are strung across canals for festivals such as Festa del Redentore and Festa della Madonna della Salute, when Venetians risk a dunking to light candles for the survival of their city. On saint`s days - and at every opportunity - Venetians celebrate with sweet treats and toasts to the bea vita (good life).
- With all this divine inspiration, where do you begin? Basilica di San Marco is an obvious choice, but the Museo delle Icone and the Museo Ebraico di Venezia show the diversity of Venice`s religious traditions. Island retreats such as Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore show true devotion, but so do smaller neighbourhood institutions such as Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Chiesa di San Sebastian. ALISON BING
BEST DIVINE INSPIRATIONS:
- Mosaics at Basilica di San Marco
- Madonna of the Assumption at I Frari
- The Last Judgment at Chiesa della Madonna dell`Orto
- Longhena`s stairway to heaven at Scuola Grande dei Carmini
- The women`s gallery of the Spanish Scola synagogue
BEST HEAVENLY INDULGENCES:
- Balsamic-vinegar chocolate truffles at Vizio Virtu
- Zaete (biscuits) and krapfen (doughnuts) at Festa della Madonna della Salute
- Mid-Biennale macchiato at Paradiso
- Pistachio gelato at Gelateria San Stae
- Prosecco and poetry at Sacro e Profano
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Snapshots - Religious experiences. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 161.pg.
- For a city of islands, Venice isn`t especially insular. Historically myny Venetians rarely left their sestieri (neighbourhoods), and some were loath to even leave the island where they lived - but there`s a certain logic to that inertia. Why would they need to leave when the world would come to them.
- When Venetians such as Marco Polo did shove off from these shores, they returned with stories, ideas and booty from countries as far away as Mongolia. Even after its glory days as a global trading hub passed, Venice continued to attract poets, bon vivants and billionaire art collectors - anyone for whom beauty trumped convenience.
- Even though it`s now more accessible than ever, Venice remains a self-selecting city: only art and films that have proven themselves elsewhere make it to the Venice Biennale and the Venice Film Festival. But that doesn`t make it snobby. The city welcomes anyone who manages to find their way to the outer reaches of Cannaregio, Castello, Santa Croce or Giudecca, or sticks around San Marco after the sightseers have cleared out.
- Island fever isn`t really a problem here. The sestieri are different enough that when restlessness begins to set in, you can just cross a couple of bridges or hop on a vaporetto (city ferry) to get a fresh perspective on the city. Overwhelmed by Byzantine glitz, Bellinis and shoe shopping in San Marco? Head to Santa Croce, where baroque edifices shelter modest cafes, wine comes straight from the cask, and talk revolves around boats and Berlusconi. For a change of pace from the industrial cool of Giudecca, wander across to Castello, where a stretch of greenery awaits you. If you hit church overload in San Polo, you might explore synagogues in Cannaregio instead. When Lido beaches get crowded with fashionistas in giant hats, Dorsoduro`s Zattere waterfront offers sun without the scene. To get away from it all, head for open waters and remote islands on the lagoon. It`s all Venice, and it`s all good. ALISON BING
- literature: Bing Alison. Venice Encounter: Sestieri. ISBN 9781741049978. London: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd ABN36005607983, 2009., 38.pg.