Sunday, July 17, 2016

Today is the Feast of Redentore in Venice! The Day in Pictures

(Venice, Italy) After last night's spectacular fireworks display, today is the actual day of the Festa del Redentore, a purely Venetian holiday to give thanks for deliverance from the plague back in 1577.

(For those of you who subscribe by email, and cannot view the video, here is the link, a short click away:)

You can read my previous thoughts about Redentore here:

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore 

Since I have written about Redentore so often before, today is going to be a visual post. It is a beautiful day here in Venice, clear and hot, with throngs making their way over the floating bridge as the sunshine dances on the waves of the Giudecca Canal, their feet keeping the beat to the chimes of the Redentore bells.

(Again, here is the link to the video, complete with bell chimes:

Everybody was up late last night because the fireworks don't start until 11:30pm, but that didn't seem to stop most folks from making the trek across to the Island of Giudecca to pay their respects inside the Church of Redentore, designed by the renowned architect, Andrea Palladio.

Once across the bridge, at the entrance of the church there are baskets full of shawls to toss across your shoulders if they are bare.

Inside, the church is all decked out for the special Votive Mass of the Redeemer, celebrated by the patriarch, as has been done for centuries.

Trays of candles flicker expressions of thanks.

Redentore Bridge - Giudecca view
This is the view of Venice from the entrance to the Church of Redetore. To arrive at the top, 15 spiritually-significant steps must climbed. The bridge stretching across the canal all the way to Venice reinforces the importance of the celebration. 

One of my favorite things to play is Pesca di Beneficenza, fishing for charity, or a lucky dip. You pay a euro,and a volunteer (or, today, a Capuchin friar, the Order in charge of the Church of Redentore) spins the barrel, and hands you a small, rolled-up scroll with a number or a word on it. Then you go inside to collect your winnings.

Everybody plays, young and old, boys and girls, men and women, and everybody wins something. If you draw a specific number, you get a specific prize, or else you get a grab bag kind of treasure. In the past, I have won some very useful items, like wooden stirring spoons, or a pad and pencil. 

Today my scroll said "tigre," or "tiger." Apparently, that was the designation for a type of grab bag. A boy about 12-years-old took my opened scroll, scurried away, and brought back a colorful bag tied by a pink bow. 

Here is what was inside my bag of loot, which I'm sure I would find very useful if I were a 12-year-old girl:

Meanwhile, the rowing regatta out on the Giudecca Canal captivated spectators on land and water. After all, what would a celebration in Venice be without a rowing regatta?

It was a beautiful, peaceful day inside the cocoon of the Venice lagoon -- something greatly appreciated, especially when much of the outside world seems stricken by turbulence.

Ciao from the Festa del Redentore in Venice,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore

Fireworks for the Feast of Redentore 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Contrary to what some people think, the Feast of Redentore is not held on the third weekend of July. It takes place on the third Sunday of July, with the festivities starting the Saturday before.

Back in the year 2001, I was writing for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily. That year, the first Sunday of July was July 1. That meant the third Sunday was July 15, but the third Saturday was July 21 -- therefore, July 22nd was the fourth Sunday, even though it was the third weekend. The correct date of Redentore that year was Sunday, July 15, with celebrations starting the day before on Saturday, July 14 -- the second Saturday of July, 2001.

Calendar for July, 2001

This year, 2016, the Festa del Redentore takes place on Sunday, July 17, with the celebrations starting the day before on what happens to be the third Saturday, July 16. The feast is to commemorate the official end of the plague on July 13, 1577, 439 years ago.

Got all that?

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
As I have written many times before, the Festa del Redentore translates to the Feast of the Redeemer. The Church of Redentore was built as a votive church to give thanks for delivery from the plague, which had devastated Venice in the years between 1575 and 1577, wiping out nearly a third of the population, even taking the life of the great Venetian artist, Titian.

  • The Death - On August 27, 1576. Tiziano Vecellio, aka Titian, died of fever during the raging plague. Now, I'm not saying that was the reason the Senate decided to build a church, but I think it is interesting they did so about a week later.
  • The Vow - On September 4, 1576, the Venetian Senate decided that Doge Alvise I Mocenigo should announce that a church would be built for Christ the Redeemer in exchange for ending the plague. So, they decided IN ADVANCE that the only way out was to ask for divine intervention.
  •  The Cornerstone - On May 3, 1577, the cornerstone was laid (more on that later).
  • The End of the Plague - On July 13, 1577, two months later, the plague was officially declared over.
  • The Consecration - The Church of Redentore was consecrated on September 27, 1592.

The Church of Redentore was built on the site of the Church of San Jacopo, not the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a sweet little ancient church that still stands on the Island of Giudecca, tucked away from most eyes, and is used by the Capuchin Friars to this day.

Pantheon - Photo: by Roberta Dragan
Il Redentore was designed by the great architect, Andrea Palladio, who, by that time had already built the new Refectory inside the Benedictine monastery on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as designed the church, which was in the process of being built at the time the Church of Redentore was ordered up. Palladio's career was strongly inspired by a book he had read written by Vitruvius in the first century BC called De Architectura that had been recently republished in Venice in 1511 (1500 years later), detailing how the ancient Romans built things like temples.

I went into some depth about it in a post I wrote about Aldo Manuzio, which you can read here:

MUST SEE - Aldo Manuzio - Renaissance in Venice - EXTENDED UNTIL JULY 31

To completely over-simplify, if Palladio had had his way, the Church of Redentore would have been round like Pantheon in Rome, but he was overruled by the Venetian Senate, who thought it was too pagan, so what we've got is a single nave church with three chapels on either side, and a Pantheon-inspired facade with an ancient Roman bath-inspired interior. (By the way, Palladio did get to build his dream temple at Villa Barbaro, one of the last things he did.)

Church of Redentore
Such an important church would have had its cornerstone laid by the highest ecclesiastical authority in the Republic of Venice, the Patriarch of Venice, not by Palladio, who, even though he was a genius, was not an aristocrat, although he had the support of some very powerful members of the nobility.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. For ecclesiastical structures, it is symbolic of Christ, the "Chief Cornerstone of the Church." When a cornerstone is set, it is often accompanied by official pomp and circumstance, even to this day. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone.

Christ the Redeemer by Titian (1534)
The Patriarch of Venice was not just some guy sent over from Rome. From the middle of the 15th century, the office was held by a Venetian patrician elected from the Senate. Surprisingly, he was usually a layman, rather than a cleric. Venice had a long history of doing its best to limit the authority of the Church in Rome inside its territory, and to look out for the interests of its aristocracy.

An exception was Giovanni Trevisan, who was a Benedictine monk, and was the Patriarch of Venice from 1559 to 1590; he was also the son of important Venetian patricians, Paolo and Anna Moro.

And it was Giovanni Trevisan, Patriarch of Venice, who laid the cornerstone for the Church of Redentore on May 3, 1577.

Go to Venezia Unico for the official program. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Flashback Summer! Napoleon Interview - Palladio's Refectory on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice

Baldassare Longhena Stair Hall at Giorgio Cini Foundation - Photo: Cat Bauer
Baldassare Longhena Stair Hall at Giorgio Cini Foundation
(Venice, Italy) I wrote about Palladio's Refectory at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore back on April 15, 2012 when it re-opened after being restored. I had been reading old articles written by Art Buchwald, who I had always loved. I can't remember the exact column, but I think he had conducted an imaginary interview with someone who was dead, and I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do. So, I interviewed Napoleon instead of writing a straight post about Palladio's Refectory. Although I am certainly no Art Buchwald, it turned out to be one of my more popular posts, and is evergreen, so here it is again for Flashback Summer:

Palladio’s Refectory - Unveiling of the Restoration

Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile
(Venice, Italy) On September 11, 1797, the French commissars of the Napoleonic army swiped Paolo Veronese's immense painting, Wedding at Cana, from the Palladio Refectory on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore as war booty. The original is now in the Louvre, in Paris. On September 11, 2007, on the 210th anniversary of the removal, a computerized recreation was unveiled.

From Wikipedia:

On 11 September, 2007, the 210th anniversary of the looting of the painting by Napoleon's troops, a facsimile of the original was hung in its original place in the Palladian Refectory. The computerized facsimile was commissioned by the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice with the collaboration of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where the original remains, and made by the Factum Arte Institute of Madrid, headed by the British artist Adam Lowe. It consists of 1,591 computer graphic files.

I decided to ask The Emperor himself what he thought about the situation. I found Napoleon sitting in the French Quarter of the Afterworld, sipping Champagne.

"Are the French ever going to give the Wedding at Cana back to Venice?"

Horses of San Marco
Napoleon frowned. "They got back the horses. It is enough."

"Yes, they got back the horses, but the Venetians stole them from Constantinople in the first place, so they don't really count," I insisted. "The Wedding at Cana was painted specifically by Veronese to decorate the Palladian Refectory. It was there for 235 years until your troops ripped it off the wall."

"It was war, ma petite chérie. These things happen." Napoleon looked me over and raised an eyebrow. "Where are you from? America?"

"...Yes," I hesitated. "But I've lived in Venice since 1998."

"Remember when the Americans changed the name French fries to Freedom fries in 2003 because we told them not to invade Iraq? That was amusing. They even changed the name on the menus in the restaurants and snack bars in the House of Representatives!" Napoleon chuckled. "French fries come from Belgium."

"So, you're not giving it back."

"Never." The Emperor became serious. "Do you know how much we spent to restore that painting? More than a million dollars. We're keeping it. The fascimile is excellent. Most people will never realize it is a copy."

"The House of Representatives put French fries back on the menu in 2006..."


Wedding at Cana - Musée du Louvre
Back on Earth, inside the Palladian Refectory, the facsimile is, indeed, excellent; the latest restoration of the refectory itself -- especially the wooden paneling, which gives warmth to the room -- has re-established the original vision shared between Palladio and Veronese.

From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

After having been closed for a year for major structural and functional restoration works, Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile is once more open for public use. Architect Michele De Lucchi’s refurbishing project for the refectory involved various important operations: the renovation of the roof, which required urgent repair work; the modernisation of the air-conditioning and lighting plants and equipment; the introduction of up-to-date security equipment; and the installation of wooden paneling on the interior walls and floors to restore the acoustic and aesthetic function of the old wainscoting, which had been removed during the various uses of the Island of San Giorgio before Vittorio Cini’s redevelopment programme in the 1950s. 
...The restoration work was funded by the Magistrato alle Acque, Venice, and Arcus spa. 

It is possible to visit the monumental complex of San Giorgio Maggiore and see the marvelous Palladio Refectory yourselves thanks to guided tours organized with Codess Cultura. 

For further information, please visit 

Information and reservations:
Codess Cultura
+39 041 5240119 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The First Ghetto - Venice, the Jews and Europe at Palazzo Ducale

The Venice Insider - Cat Bauer
Multimedia copper melting cast
(Venice, Italy) On March 29, 1516, the Venetian Senate decreed that "The Jews must all live together." Five hundred years later, Venice is commemorating the creation of the Jewish Ghetto, the very first time the word "ghetto" was used to signify a segregated part of a city.

Venetie MD by Jacopo de' Barbari (1500)
Where did the word come from? No one was certain, but in 1500, Jacopo de' Barbari provided Venice with an excellent birds-eye view map of the city. The zone that was later to become the Ghetto was labeled geto "iactus ramis."

Venice also has nearly 50 miles of ancient documents stored in the State Archive over at the Frari -- Venetians documented everything for centuries -- and research indicated that Geto was the area where the waste from the old copper smelter was dumped, which later morphed into the Ghetto Nuovo.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
The Geto before the Ghetto
The exhibition kicks off with sound effects and a cool multimedia smelting pot with crackling stones that burst into flames, leaving it up to your imagination to create the world that existed in that part of town before the Jews were shuffled off to "all live together" in the Ghetto.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Parochet - Classic damask green silk - second half of 16th century
In its heyday, Venice was a cosmopolitan city, a trade emporium that connected the eastern Mediterranean with Northern Europe, as well as a stopping point for pilgrims heading toward the Holy Land.

Venice had allowed Jews to enter the city as war refugees after they were expelled from Spain in 1492 -- the same time that Christopher Columbus set off to discover the New World -- and Portugal in 1496. They also implemented a deliberate strategy of welcoming other religious and national communities like Germans, Orthodox Greeks, Albanians, Persians and Turks, communities that were important for the republic's economic activities. Each of the foreign communities was assigned a zone in which to operate.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Gilt leather panel - late 16th-early 17th century
Outside the Ghetto, the Jews were a politically weak entity, but inside the walls, they were autonomous, with Jews from all over the world -- German and Italian, Levantine, Western and Portuguese -- creating their own world within the world of Venice.

The exhibition is divided into ten sections:
  •  Before the Ghetto
  • Cosmopolitan Venice
  • The Cosmopolitan Ghetto
  • Synagogues
  • Jewish Culture and the Role of Women
  • Trade in the 17th and 18th Century
  • Tales of the Ghetto. The Shadow of Shylock
  • Napoleon: the Opening of the Gates and Assimilation
  • Treves Room - Collecting & Collectors
  • The Twentieth Century
You regular readers will remember a while back when Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's newly-elected mayor, declared that he was going to sell off some artwork to raise cash, causing all sorts of uproar, one of the pieces being The Rabbi of Vitebsk (The Praying Jew) by Marc Chagall. Well, it has been more than a year since Brugnaro has been Venice's mayor, and he seems to have calmed down a bit. Now it seems a place has been found for the painting at the Venice, the Jews and Europe exhibition.

Marc Chagall
Rabbino N. 2
1914 – 1922
olio su tela
cm 104 x 84
Venezia, Ca’ Pesaro - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna
©Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Archivio Fotografico
Marc Chagall's life is like a 20th Century version of life in the Venice Ghetto. His parents were devote Hasidic Jews. When he was growing up in Russia, Jewish children were not allowed to attend regular Russian schools or universities; their movement inside the city was also restricted. So, his mother bribed the headmaster, and they let him in, where he discovered art, and grew up to become "the world's preeminent Jewish artist," traveling between St. Petersburg, Paris and Berlin.

In 1914, while visiting Vitebsk (now Belarus), where he was born, Chagall realized that the traditions he had grown up with were disappearing, and he wanted to document them. He paid a beggar to pose in his father's prayer clothes. He had intended to return to Paris, but was stuck in Russia until 1923 after World War I and the Russian Revolution broke out. Then, in 1923, he brought the painting with him to Paris and found out that much of the work he had left there had disappeared during the war.

So, before he left his studio, he made two more paintings of The Praying Jew after the original 1914 composition -- that is how serious he was about the record he wanted to leave. The original is now in the Kunstmuseum in Basel; the other 1923 painting is in the Art Institute in Chicago; the 1923 painting here in Venice is normally on display at Ca' Pesaro, but is now happily inside the Doge's Apartment at Palazzo Ducale as long as Venice, the Jews and Europe is running.

Go see the Chagall.

The Ghetto in Venice today - Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Ghetto in Venice today
Venice, Jews and Europe 1516 - 2016 is at the Doge's Palace inside the Doge's Apartments from June 19 until November 13, 2016.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Venetian Affair - the Book Comes Alive at Palazzo Pisani in Venice

The Venice Insier
Andrea di Robilant does A Venetian Affair at Palazzo Pisani
(Venice, Italy) A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant was first published in hardcover in 2003, based on ancestral letters written in secret code that Andrea's father found up in the attic of Palazzo Mocenigo. I remember when the English edition came out in Venice in 2004 because two different aristocrats gave it to me as a gift, tripping over each other to be the first to deliver it, a 21st Century version of the intriguing -- and comedic -- love story.

The Venice Insider
Soprano Liesl Odenweller
Since then, A Venetian Affair has been transformed into a show, with Andrea di Robilant himself reading the letters written by his ancestor, Andrea Memmo. The American soprano and long-time Venice resident, Liesl Odenweller, not only hits the high notes accompanied by Venice Music Project, a Baroque ensemble, she reads the letters that Giustiniana Wynn wrote to her lover.

The Venice Insider
Courtyard of Palazzo Pisani
I have seen the show twice before, but never at monumental Palazzo Pisani in Campo Santo Stefano, a Venetian palace built in 1614-15 -- the largest after Palazzo Ducale itself -- which is now the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music. It just so happened that Andrea Memmo's mother was part of the ancient Pisani family, so watching the show in Palazzo Pisani brought home what kind of imposing foundation Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of a British father and Greek-born Venetian mother, was up against when trying to marry into Venetian nobility.

The Venice Insider
Gianni De Luigi, Andrea di Robilant, Liesl Odenweller
This time A Venetian Affair had a little help from Venetian director Gianni De Luigi. I don't know whose idea it was, but I really liked that this time the lute from the Largo of Vivaldi's Concerto in D major, RV 93 accompanied the reading of Memmo's sexual fantasy about Giustiniana, which you can read below.

I wrote an extensive post two years ago about the experience when I saw it at San Giovanni Evangelista, so it's time for Flashback Summer a little early this year:

Perfect Evening in Venice - A Venetian Affair at Venice Music Project


The Venice Insider
A Venetian Affair at San Giovanni Evangelista

(Venice, Italy) If you have ever been in Venice when the spirits of the past make an appearance in the present, you know how wondrous it can be. On Friday, June 27, all the elements came together to create a magical evening when Andrea di Robilant, author of A Venetian Affair, told the story of his ancestor, Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) and his clandestine love affair with the alluring Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791).

The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista where the Venice Music Project is based was the venue. Interspersed perfectly between the story were Baroque melodies played by the Venetia Antiqua Ensemble on original instruments, with soprano Liesl Odenweller bringing alive arias that were composed during the same era.

The Venice Insider
Andrea di Robilant - Venice Music Project
Andrea Memmo was the oldest son of one of Venice's oldest, wealthiest and most powerful families -- he was Andrea di Robilant's great-great-great-great-great grandfather. In 1919, the author's grandfather, also named Andrea di Robilant, inherited Palazzo Mocenigo, one of Venice's most magnificent palaces. Andrea's father, Alvise, found a carton of letters up in the attic, and they turned out to be be love letters written by Andrea Memmo to Giustiniana Wynne -- in secret code. Father and son worked together and broke the code, but Andrea's father was murdered during the project, and Andrea carried on alone, resulting in the New York Times notable book,  A Venetian Affair - A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century.

Giustiniana Wynne was the illegitimate daughter (her parents later married) of a British father, Sir Richard Wynne, and Greek-born Venetian mother, Anna Gazini. Giustiniana was the oldest of their five children, and was raised solely by Anna after the death of Sir Richard.

Giustiniana met Andrea Memmo at Palazzo Balbi, the home of Joseph Smith, the British Consul and Canaletto patron, and the two fell passionately in love; she was not quite 18; he was 24. (Giustiniana called him Memmo, and I will, too, since there are an abundance of Andreas in this story.) When Giustiniana's mother, Anna, learned of the affair, she forbade it, wanting to preserve her daughter's reputation. Venetian society at the time dictated that the oldest son of a patrician family must marry into Venetian nobility.

But Memmo was head-over-heels in love, as was Giustiniana, as their letters reveal. To communicate, the young couple developed a written secret code, as well as a sign language, and bombarded each other with love letters delivered by a boy named Alvisetto. They dashed all over town, hoping for a glimpse of one another. Anyone familiar with Venice can picture the scene depicted in one of Memmo's letters:

Yesterday I tried desperately to see you. Before lunch the gondoliers could not serve me. After lunch I went looking for you in Campo Santo Stefano. Nothing. So I walked toward Piazza San Marco, and when I arrived at the bridge of San Moisè I ran into Lucrezia Pisani! I gave her my hand on the bridge, and then I saw you. I left her immediately and went looking for you everywhere. Finally I found you in the Piazza. I sent Alvisetto ahead to find out whether you were on your way to the opera or to the new play at the Teatro Sant'Angelo so that I could rush to get a box in time. Then I forged ahead and waited for you, filled with desire. Finally you arrived and I went up to my box so that I could contemplate you -- not only for the sheer pleasure I take in admiring you, but also in the hope of receiving a sign of acknowledgment as a form of consolation. But you did nothing of the sort. Instead you laughed continuously, made loud noises until the end of the show, for which I was both sorry and angry -- as you can well imagine. 

Venetia Antiqua Ensemble
The music performed between the intervals in the story moved the action along seamlessly. Pieces composed by Vivaldi, J.A. Hasse and Benedetto and Alessandro Marcello provided the soundtrack to the love story. Memmo desperately wanted to be with Giustiniana, and tried several schemes to make that happen. When the elderly John Smith's wife died, Memmo directed Giustiniana to seduce the old man in the hopes of making a marriage, thereby opening up the possibility for Giustiniana to be seen in the company of gentlemen -- since she would be a properly married woman. At first Giustiniana was outraged, then saw Memmo's logic, and made the attempt. She writes:

I've never seen Smith so sprightly. He made me walk with him all morning and climbed the stairs, skipping the steps to show his agility and strength. [The children] were playing in the garden at who could throw stones the furthest. And Memmo, would you believe it? Smith turned to me and said, "Do you want to see me throw a stone further than anyone else?" I thought he was kidding, but no: he asked [the children] to hand him two rocks and threw them toward the target. He didn't even reach it, so he blamed the stones, saying they were too light. He then threw more stones. By that time I was bursting with laughter and kept biting my lip.

My favorite letter was the young Memmo's sexual fantasy about his beloved:

As I lay in bed alone for so long I thought of the days when we will be together, comforting each other at night. This idea led to another and then to another and soon I was so fired up I could see you in bed with me. You wore that nightcap of yours I like so much, and a certain ribbon I gave you adorned your face so sweetly. You were so near to me and so seductive I took in your tender fragrance and felt your breath. You were in a deep sleep -- you even snored at times. You had kept me company all evening long with such grace that I really didn't have the heart to wake you up... but then a most fortunate little accident occurred just as my discretion was exhausting itself. You turned to me at the very moment in which you dreamed of being in my arms. Nature, perhaps encourage by habit, led you to embrace me. So there we were, next to each other, face to face and mouth to mouth! Your right leg was leaning on my left leg. Little by little the beak of the baby dove began to prick you so forcefully that in your sleep you moved your hand in such a way the thirsty little creature found the door wide open. Trembling from both fear and delight, it entered oh so gently into that little cage and after quenching its thirst it began to have some fun, flying about those spaces and trying to penetrate them as far as it could. It was so eager and made such a fuss that in the end you woke up.

It was not long before Memmo's scheme was found out -- Venice being the gossipy town that it is -- and Smith, furious, banished him from Palazzo Balbi. Undeterred, Memmo then plotted to marry Giustiniana secretly in the church, and the church was happy to oblige, eager to capture such a notable young nobleman. But when Giustiniana insisted that Memmo seriously consider what he would lose -- his entire life and career -- he reconsidered.

He next decided that he would marry Giustiniana legally, in front of the entire world -- all he needed to do was to change the law itself. He was not the only young man who wanted to move the oligarchy into modern times; there were other aristocrats in the same spot, and Memmo had the wealth and power to do it. He came very close to persuading enough nobility to join his cause until a document was found in the Archives revealing that Giustiniana's mother, Anna, had been deflowered by a Greek in her youth, and that was the end of that.

Andrea di Robilant and Liesl Odenweller
In the end, both Memmo and Giustiana married others, but remained lifelong friends; Giustiniana even went to Memmo's daughter's wedding. Memmo became governor of Padua and Ambassador to Constantinople; Giustiana married Count Orsini-Rosenberg, the Austrian Ambassador to Venice, and then became a respected writer. Although they have been gone for more than 200 hundred years, their great love story lives on.

Titian's Assumption at the Frari
Coda: As we left San Giovanni Evangelista and headed toward dinner, a chorus of angels filled the night air. The door to the Frari was wide open, and Titian's Assumption of the Virgin glowed as if it were lit by heaven itself. We entered the enormous basilica and learned it was a free concert -- a perfect coda to a perfect evening in mystical, magical Venice.

Click for Venice Music Project
Click for Andrea di Robilant
Click for Liesl Odenweller

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Better than a Photo - Ippolito Caffi at Museo Correr - Venice Museums by Moonlight

Venice Museums by Moonlight - inside Palazzo Ducale
(Venice, Italy) The Correr Museum and Palazzo Ducale are now open to the public until 11:00PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, an idea I think is fantastic. Visiting a museum at night is a magical experience. It is like a childhood adventure where statues come alive and phantoms from the past whisper secrets in your ear.

Venice: Carnival Evening by Ipolitto Caffi (1860)
One exhibit you can visit at the Museo Correr any time until November 22 is a celebration of the work of the landscape painter, Ippolito Caffi - Between Venice and the Orient. Caffi died 150 years ago when he lost his life on the sinking ship Re d'Italia during the Battle of Lissa in 1866, a battle in which the Austrian Empire fought Italy, who were trying to capture Venice, which was then under Austrian rule.

Venice: The Molo at Sunset by Ipolitto Caffi (1864)
Here's some backstory: Italy became a nation-state called the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, but Venice was not part of it. Venice was an independent republic from 697 until 1797 when Napoleon conquered her, and then gave her to Austria. In 1848-1849, Venice briefly overthrew her Austrian rulers, and Ippolito Caffi, a fierce Venetian patriot, was part of the revolution that created the Republic of San Marco, which existed for 17 months. The Veneto did not want to be part of Italy, or Austria, or any other country, they wanted their independence back (they still do:-). However, Austria reconquered Venice on August 28, 1849. 

Venice: Regatta on the Grand Canal by Ipolitto Caffi (before 1848-49)
Almost seventeen years later, on July 20, 1866, Caffi was on the ship Re d'Italia to document the Kingdom of Italy's battle with the Austrians upon whom they had declared war. The Re d'Italia was rammed by the Ezherzog Ferdinand Max, and sank, taking some 400 of her crew down with her, including the captain -- and including Ippolito Caffi.

Back in the days when wars were actually declared and when peace treaties were actually negotiated to end the bloodshed, the Armistice of Cormons was signed a few weeks later on August 12, 1866 between the Kingdom of Italy and the Austrian Empire.

On October 12, 1866, according to the Treaty of Vienna, the Austrian Empire ceded Venetia to the French Empire, who ceded it to the Kingdom of Italy. So, it is also the 150 year anniversary that Venice has been part of Italy -- less than the United States of America has been a republic -- who, by the way, had built the armored frigate, the Re d'Italia (which means "King of Italy") in New York City for the Italian Royal Navy.

Italy became a republic on June 2, 1946, just 70 years ago, when it voted to abolish the monarchy and elect its head of state.

Venice: Snow and Fog by Ipollito Caffi (1842)
Ippolito Caffi was not just a revolutionary, he was the most modern and original landscape artist of his time. Born in Belluno, but Venetian by choice, he traveled throughout Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean, his exquisite paintings immortalizing the exotic cities he visited, and the people who lived there.

Egypt: Caravan in the Desert by Ippolito Caffi (1843)
More than 150 paintings were donated to Venice by Caffi's widow, Virginia Massana, back in 1889, and are normally conserved at the depositories at Ca' Pesaro. The exhibition commemorates the double anniversary of the death of Caffi, and the annexation of Venice into Italy.

Ippolito Caffi - 1809 - 1866 - Between Venice to the Orient runs through November 22, 2016.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Venice Biennale is a Machine of Desire - Architecture 2016 - Reporting from the Front

Playing in Transolar Light Beams at Architecture Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Alejandro Aravena, the Director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, seems to be practically perfect: intelligent, creative, courageous, compassionate, articulate in several languages and easy on the eyes. He won this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture. The 48-year-old Chilean architect is here in Venice with his wife and kids, so in addition to curating the most prestigious architecture event in the world, he is also a family man.

I was chatting with a couple of female architects, who agreed that Aravena seemed to be a fine male specimen. One said, "There's got to be something wrong with him." I winked. "I'm sure he's human, but he is proof that if he can do it, they can all do it."

Paolo Baratta & Alejandro Aravena before Architecture Biennale Press Conference
Having a common theme for the Architecture Biennale and a Director who behaves like a Curator is an idea whose time has come. The title of this year's Biennale is REPORTING FROM THE FRONT. Aravena said that it's difficult to produce a quality-built environment. As soon as you step one millimeter beyond doing business as usual, you encounter a lot of resistance from the different forces at play, whether it be the situation itself, or greed, or the laziness of bureaucracy. It's like a battle, and this Biennale addresses the tools we can use to find solutions to the urgent problems facing the built environment today.

At the press conference on Thursday, Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, said that together we have taken a trip to bring architecture back to society. The main concern was the increasing divide between civilized society and architecture. This exhibition is dedicated to the discovery that architecture is a tool in the hands of all of us, and not just a tool in the hands of architects living on a holy mountain somewhere in the world at an unreachable height.

Architecture is the art by which we build our world. It is a tool like a Constitution is the tool to build our society, to organize our will and our destiny. Architecture is a tool to organize our common space.

Baratta said with this Architecture Biennale, we have taken a step forward in confirming the Biennale as a machine of desire that we want her to be. Rediscovering the desire for Art, as well as for Architecture, is the aim. The Biennale is not here to give recipes. It is here to provoke questions, to provoke demand, and to induce desire. The curator has to speak to our imagination, passion and mind, and the mind has to digest and develop consciousness about the problems. This seems to be a Biennale that speaks the language of urgency and hope, to acknowledge that we do possess tools to change the situation, and do not have to be prisoners of an imposed business-as-usual ideology. We have tools of giving hope to those that need it. 

Alejandro Aravena - Photo: Cat Bauer
Alejandro Aravena said that he said what he had to say out there, in the exhibition, and tried to do it in the simplest, clearest way without losing depth. More than the quantity of visitors, he is interested in the quality of the visit. He hopes that visitors gather knowledge while they travel through the exhibition.

As curator, he asked each participant in REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, "What is your battle?" He asked them to explain it in the simplest way. How did they plan to communicate their battle to the public? He said that he made some rules, and that some participants complied, and some didn't.

Aravena said that Biennale was only one step. It synthesizes all the information. But complaining is not enough; raising awareness is not enough; we must actually do something. We will be required to change business as usual. We must start with the problems of society, not just architecture.

The exhibition is aimed at three different groups of people:

1.  The practitioners -- the architects, etc.

2.  The decision makers -- the politicians, etc.

3.  The users -- the citizens.

Aravena hopes that after visiting the exhibition, the architects will go back to work with less excuses. He hopes that the decision makers will understand that we need to improve the quality of life, not just make a profit. And he hopes that the users will learn how to demand quality.

This is how the Architecture Biennale 2016 begins:


Here is Alejandro Aravena in his own words:

There were more than 500 people crammed into first Meeting on Architecture yesterday; the topic was INFRASTRUCTURE. It was fascinating to hear from the practitioners themselves about the challenges the world faces when it comes to building the environment, and some creative solutions they have found. Aravena asked, "Why should we care about your project?"

Very, very briefly, to sum up: Norman Foster spoke about building a drone port in Africa out of compressed earth, or sort of like a brick made out of mud. The drones could bring medical supplies and other necessities to people where no infrastructure exists at all, and the mud bricks were easy to make out of the existing environment.

Andrew Makin spoke about completing a freeway built by the apartheid government, also in Africa, that had been left dangling in the air due to a design error. By building a bridge linking a major city market to the community, it was like opening an artery, and allowed the native people go back to their normal lives, doing things like dispensing traditional medicine, cooking bovine heads (a delicacy), boiling and selling maize (corn), or sewing and selling religious garments.

Grupo EPM, from Columbia, spoke about how they used to be the murder capital of the world -- there were 50 thousand murders in 10 years -- but now have a 95% lower murder rate. They work for the mayor, and this was achieved by expanding, connecting and improving public space.

Rem Koolhaas said he had been to Nevada, and companies like Telsa and Amazon were building enormous structures out in the countryside where few human beings worked, and everything was automated. Should we continue to ignore this? We will need to establish a relationship with robots. Do robots need to play?

Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Settlements Program, said that we are growing our footprint with less planning than 20 years ago, and all sorts of spontaneous urbanization is springing up because NO ONE is in charge of public space, and private companies are doing whatever they want. Quality urbanization is a gated community these days; we are building interior walls, which is very sad.

Meetings on Architecture - Photo courtesy La Biennale
My biggest quibble, as illustrated by the photo above, is that there was not one woman up on the stage; there seems to be a dearth of female energy in the world of architecture in general. In fact, when the discussion was opened up to the audience, a female architect from Egypt commented that she disagreed with some of the points made, but that her voice was not being heard. Personally, I think adding more female energy to the world of architecture would be a positive step towards solving many of the problems that had been brought up, simply because women tend to look at the world from a Mother Nature point of view.

Paolo Baratta & Alejandro Aravena - Photo courtesy La Biennale
Aravena said that this was only the start of the conversation. After living in Venice for 18 years, and being isolated from what has been going on out there in the world, I came away thinking it is a conversation that is long overdue.

REPORTING FROM THE FRONT opened to the public on May 28 and runs through November 27. Go to Biennale for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Reporting from the Front
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alchemy Meets Politics - Sigmar Polke Exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice

Strahlen Sehen 5
Sigmar Polke, Strahlen Sehen, 2007
The Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection /
Winners of the Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen
Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
(Venice, Italy) The German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) fills the entire cavernous Palazzo Grassi with his mystical magical art, leaving his distinct fingerprints all over the decades from the 1960s through the 2000s.

The solo exhibition contains nearly 90 works from the Pinault Collection and other public and private collections, and is the first retrospective show in Italy dedicated to the artist who was known for not answering the phone or giving interviews. His obituary in the New York Times labeled him a "quixotic pop artist who used ordinary materials to create the extraordinary."

Die Schere (The Scissors)
Sigmar Polke, Die Schere, 1982
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Sigmar Polke was born in Oels, in the Central European region of Lower Silesia, which, after everything got divvied up after WWII, morphed into what is now Poland. He was the seventh out of eight kids, and fled with his family to Thuringia in 1945 when they tossed the Germans out after war.

Thuringia then fell under Communist rule, and off the refugee family went again, this time escaping to West Berlin, and settling in Dusseldorf, where the German artist grew up -- Polke would have been 20-years-old when the Berlin Wall was constructed by East Germany, and nearly 50 when the wall came down. Polke was based in Cologne from 1978 until he died on June 10, 2010. So, he had a front row seat in the battle between Capitalism and Communism.

Junge mit Zahnbürste (Boy with Toothbrush)
Sigmar Polke, Junge mit Zahnbürste, 1964
Kunsthaus NRW, Kornelimünster
Ph: Anne Gold
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke worked at a stained glass factory, and studied at the Dusseldorf State Art Academy. As the Cold War swirled around him, he hooked up with fellow East German artist Gerhard Richter, and in 1963 co-founded the movement "Capitalist Realism," which parodied western commercialism, while playing on the official "Socialist Realism" term imposed on artists in the east by the Soviets.

According to the exhibition catalogue, Richter (who set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist when his Abstraktes Bild sold for $44.52 million in February 2015) said, "We thought everything was so stupid and we refused to participate. That was the basis of our understanding."

Sigmar Polke, Alice im Wunderland, 1972
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke journeyed to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, like an alchemist, played with different substances to create his art, such as fruit juices and beeswax, or grains of meteorites and arsenic sprinkled over canvas covered with resin. He used painting, drawing, photography, Xerox, film and installation. He wondered about paint and pigment, and how different cultures used and created their colors.

IndianerMitAdler (Indian with Eagle)
Sigmar Polke, Indianer mit Adler, 1975
Pinault Collection
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Co-curator Guy Tosatto, Director of the Museum of Grenoble, and who knew Polke, says in the catalogue, 'Sigmar Polke never loses a certain light-heartedness, a mix of humor and casualness that saves him from becoming too serious, aware that art is not about definitive truths, but rather about an incessant metamorphosis, and one which turns out to be rather like life, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."' (That last bit is Tosatto quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth.)

Sigmar Polke, Axial Age, 2005-2007
Pinault Collection
Installation view in the exhibition “Mapping The Studio” at Punta della Dogana, 2009-2011
© Palazzo Grassi, ph: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
The exhibition opens with Axial Age (2005-2007) inside the atrium of Palazzo Grassi. Originally exhibited in the central pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, it refers to Karl Jasper's Axial Age theory. From Wikipedia:

Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today." These foundations were laid by individual thinkers within a framework of a changing social environment.

Sigmar Polke, Zirkusfiguren, 2005
Pinault Collection
Ph: Matteo De Fina
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
With all the political talk about building new walls these days, and millions of new refugees trying to find a home, wandering around Palazzo Grassi surrounded by the images created by Sigmar Polke uplifts the soul to another dimension, where the whole muddling mess down below on earth seems like a challenge to be surmounted with a nod and a wink.

Sigmar Polke runs through November 6, 2016. Go to Palazzo Grassi for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer