(VENICE, ITALY) When the Director of the International Center for the Study of the Architecture of Andrea Palladio in Vicenza begins his lecture with a not-very-flattering quote by John Ruskin about his subject, you know you're in for an exciting ride.
Professor Guido Beltramini did just that in the Giorgio Cini Foundation's Palladian refectory yesterday, and it was one of the most fascinating lectures I've heard in a long time. He was part of the Save Venice, Inc. Palladian Gala, which culminates at Hotel Cipriani's Granai tonight with the celebration of our most beloved Venetian holiday, the Festa del Redentore, complete with fireworks. (Each one of these topics could be a blog in itself, so I am going to give you a brief overview, and delve more deeply in the future.)
Professor Beltramini said that last year on November 30th, the kick-off of the 500 year anniversary of the renowned architect's birth, many local architects in Vicenza held an anti-Palladio demonstration. The projection screen then flashed up a picture of Andrea Palladio that had been doctored to give him horns! Professor Beltramini said it was about time we had a look at this part of Palladian architecture, and the dark forces that generate the upper harmony. The windows that are eyes; the doors that are mouths are countered by the belly of the building. He spoke about the "heart of darkness" and the unconscious, and showed us a photo of a brutish faun on the floor, saying no visit to a Palladian villa would be complete without a visit to the underground vaults. The lecture covered the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, the nobility who supported Palladio, his early life, and much, much more.
It is the ancient argument -- who is more powerful? Man or Nature? Does Man impose his Will on Nature? Does Man work together with Nature? Does Nature impose her Will upon Man? Or, most importantly, what is Man anyway? Who are we and what are we doing on this planet?
People constantly ask me why I moved to Venice, and I reply that Venice is a magnetic center. The more you study Venice, you will find it is not just about canals and gondolas. The palaces and churches were designed with esoteric principles. As was the Art. As was the Music. As was the Literature. Etc.
This is from the website of Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio at http://www.andreapalladio500.it/mostra0_en.php
"Andrea Palladio was born in Padua on St Andrew’s Day, 30 November, 1508. To celebrate this quincentenary, the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Vicenza and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), are mounting a major exhibition. It will open in Vicenza, (palazzo Barbaran da Porto, 20 September 2008 – 6 January 2009), it will then move to London (Royal Academy of Arts, 31 January – 13 April 2009) and will close in the United States of America in Autumn 2009. ...
Jefferson’s house at Monticello will be presented."
Well, apparently we have run out of money in the United States of America, and the Washington D.C. leg of the exhibition has not been confirmed, and may well be cancelled. Makes you wonder... doesn't it? Well, I most definitely intend to go to Vicenza to see it this fall, and strongly suggest you all try to catch it either here or in London.
Another interesting tidbit about Palladio: as hard as he and the nobility who supported him tried, he didn't make it into Venice until he was about 60-years-old, and even then, he only designed buildings on the outskirts of town, like the Churches of Redentore, Zitelle and San Francesco dello Vigna -- which, if you remember, I have written about before:
After the lecture, the Save Venice, Inc. folks bravely climbed into a wild boat, rearing against its ropes, docked outside on the Island of San Giorgio. It was pouring rain, and the waves were ghastly, but off we chugged to the Church of Redentore itself, where I have spent a lot of time behind the scenes with the Capuchin friars, an Order close to my heart. (In fact, you will find a Venetian Capuchin friar in Harley's Ninth:) We were given a brief tour of the interior by the scholars Professor Deborah Howard of Cambridge, and Professor Frederic Ilchman of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now, you might think that scholars are stuffy, but I actually hang out with them, and they always amaze me with their wit, humor and ability to bring the past alive.
The Church of Redentore was built in honor of Christ the Redeemer to save Venice from the plague, which wiped out ONE THIRD of the population, including Titian himself. Professor Howard said we must remember the time it was built, and what, exactly, were the sins from which the Venetians thought they needed redemption. One was that they did a lot of trading with the Muslim countries. (I can think of several others:) The Venetians had tried everything, and as we know, when all else fails, the only thing left to do is to pray. In any event, it WORKED! The end of the plague on July 21, 1577 is what we are celebrating tonight with what is usually the best fireworks in the entire world exploding over the lagoon. Venetians from all over the Veneto arrive in their boats to watch the show. The fondamenta on the Giudecca is lined with tables and Venetians eating traditional food. Terraces and balconies are filled with revelers. The Lido has their own party going on over there. It's a big Venetian party, and deserves its own blog, which perhaps I will give it in the future.
After the Church of Redentore, it was onto the Church of Zitelle, and then a lunch at the newly restored Zitelle convent, now the magnificent five-star Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa. I have known the Chair & CEO, Francesca Bortolotto Possati for a long time -- and no, I am not related to the Bauer Hotel:) But I saw the convent many years ago, long before Francesca restored it, and I will tell you that she did an amazing job (the photo you see is the garden where we had lunch -- the rain had stopped and the Sun came out!). She is also the International Chairman of Save Venice, Inc.. Something you should know about Francesca -- she puts her whole heart into all her projects with the purest intentions, and works tirelessly to help this city. For instance, despite all odds, she launched the very first solar-electric boat on the Grand Canal, which runs from the Bauer Hotel in the historic center, across to Zitelle.
Here is a little excerpt from something I wrote about Zitelle for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily years ago:
"Santa Maria della Presentazione, or Le Zitelle, was once a home for maidens famous for their skill in creating punto in aria Venetian lace. Founded in 1599 on the premise that impoverished, good-looking virgins were doomed to a life of sin unless someone intervened, the convent had strict entry requirements: the virgins had to be between the ages of 12 and 18, very healthy, very beautiful, and have a graceful, lively demeanor. The girls received training that prepared them not for the nunnery, but for marriage. The three-story structure, built on a Reformation model with a cloister behind the church and two wings near the Giudecca Canal, is currently undergoing restoration. Plans exist to convert it into a hotel and conference center, retaining much of the original structure, and to bring the large botanical garden back to life. The wellhead in the courtyard bears the coat of arms of the aristocratic Loredan family, and dates from the early 14th century when the Loredans were granted possession of the property by the Venetian Senate."
And something you should know about Save Venice, Inc. -- I have never seen the organization more vibrant and alive. There is a new contingency from the West Coast in the United States, which I strongly recommend those of you out there support, plus the Old Guard from New York, Boston and the South, etc. If you're looking for a charitable organization to stash your cash, your dollars will not only beautify Venice and its structures, but the soul of Venice itself.
Ciao from Venice,
P.S. I am back from Redentore. At the last minute, I decided to watch the fireworks with the Guardia di Finanza in honor of Bruno Abbate. Bruno was a renowned boat builder in a traditional family business, and he made some boats for the Guardia -- their party was next door to Save Venice over at Cipriani's. Bruno died last week at age 57. His birthday is one day before mine. We are Leos. Last year about this time, I had the great honor to be with Bruno on his yacht you see there during his Primatist Trophy with a group of friendly folks -- seriously, I was taking the Sun on that very cushion in the back of his boat. It seems incredible that he is now gone. Last year was the first time I had met him... he was such a generous man; he enjoyed sharing his great wealth. We zoomed all over the coast of Sardinia during the morning, paused for lunch and a swim, then zoomed some more in the afternoon to the next stop. Every evening there was some kind of spectacular. Bruno genuinely loved human beings from every walk of life. He created an enormous family called Primatist People, providing lots of jobs and lots of fun. When Bruno showed up, the world came alive with helicopters swirling overhead, and music, music, music -- he was like fireworks personified. The great explosion at the end of Redentore tonight reminded me of Bruno... Even though I didn't know him well, when you spend a week on someone's boat, you form a kind of bond.... he touched so many lives... Thank you, Bruno, for granting me the privilege of being one of the Primatist People, if only for a moment.
After the fireworks, I was swept back into another world -- the Cipriani Olympic-size pool where there was music, food, drinks, dancing.... It was strange... one of the first articles I had ever written for IHT Italy Daily was about the Redentore party at that very pool, back in 2001 -- it seemed almost frozen in time with the same stock characters wearing the same outfits.... as if that party has been going on for centuries during Redentore, and will continue for centuries in the future.
Tonight, however, I met a vibrant woman from Los Angeles, Francesca DeMarco, who had never been there before. She said: "I've seen fireworks at the Rose Bowl. I've seen fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl. But I've never seen fireworks like these!" I said, "Francesca, I am going to quote you. Are they the best fireworks you have ever seen in your life?" Francesca said, "YES!"