Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Melissa Conn Honored with Titian + Michelle Obama in Venice

Melissa Conn & St. Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas & Damian, Rocco & Sebastian by Titan
(Venice, Italy) Michelle Obama and the female contingent of her family were here in Venice on Friday, June 19, 2015, the same evening that Melissa Conn, Director of the Venice Office of Save Venice, was honored with a Titian that had been restored in her honor.

Saint Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas and Damian, Roch and Sebastian was one of Titian's earliest works, thought to be his first independent commission (1508-9). The great Venetian artist lied about his age, so we are not exactly sure how old Titian was when he painted it -- he was born about 1488, so around 20-years-old, which seems astonishing given the sophistication of the work. At that time Venice was worried about being stricken by the deadly plague, which was viewed as divine punishment, so not only was Saint Mark the Evangelist evoked, but also four other saints known for their abilities to ward off illness. The painting was originally executed for the Church of Santo Spirito in Isola, but transferred to the Madonna della Salute, one of Venice's most spectacular votive churches, in 1656.

Saint Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas and Damian, Roch and Sebastian by Titian (1508-09)
Saint Mark is the patron saint of Venice, of course. Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers; both were doctors and, more importantly, Christians -- Christians who worked for free -- "unmercenary physicians" -- during the time when the Emperor Diocletian was targeting Christians who did not comply with Roman religious practices, around the year 300. Diocletian was a conservative right-wing Roman who was determined to crush the expanding infidel, which, at that time, were Christians. Refusing to recant their faith, Cosmas and Damian were tortured: hung on a cross, stoned, shot with arrows and then beheaded.

Cosmas and Damian
Saint Sebastian lived around the same time as Cosmas and Damian. Sebastian was one of Emperor Diocletian's bodyguards -- the emperor obviously did not know Sebastian was actually a Christian. So when Diocletian would haul in someone who would refuse to sacrifice to the Roman gods, Sebastian would convert them to Christianity on the sly. When Diocletian found out one of his own guards was converting prisoners to Christianity, he had Sebastian shot full of arrows, which is how he is often portrayed in works of art. However, Sebastian did not die. He was rescued by Irene of Rome, who nursed him back to health. Sebastian then went straight back to a staircase where Diocletian was passing and condemned the emperor for targeting Christians, which did not go over too well with Diocletian --not only was Sebastian not dead, he had not learned to keep his mouth shut. Diocletian had Sebastian clubbed to death and thrown into a sewer. As the centuries went on, people would pray to Sebastian as a defense against the plague, which is why he is in Titian's painting with the doctors.

Roch and Sebastian
Saint Roch did not come along until about a thousand years later, around 1300. He was a French nobleman from Montpellier, the son of the governor, who gave up his worldly goods to tend to the sick. He came to Italy during the plague, and could heal the ill with just the sign of the cross or the touch of his hand. When he himself became ill, he went to the forest, where he was tended by a hunting dog who brought him bread (and eventually his owner). When he became well, Roch returned to incognito to Montpellier, where his uncle, now the governor, (not knowing who Roch was) threw him in prison for being a spy, where Roch died. But Roch, too, had become a popular figure invoked for deliverance from the plague -- even though he was not a proper saint. The Venetians brought Roch's body to Venice in 1485, where a church, hospital and confraternity were erected in his honor. Roch was not officially canonized until Pope Gregory XIV came along in 1590, so when Titan painted him in this painting around 1510, Roch was a saint-in-waiting. His body is here in Venice in the Church of San Rocco.

Melissa Conn Honored with Titian at Salute
Saint Mark Enthroned was restored "thanks to a contribution of David and Ellen Rosand in honor of Melissa Conn with an anonymous contribution in honor of David Rosand." David Rosand was a revered art historian who died last August, as well as the project director of Save Venice, Inc., an American organization that restores precious works here in Venice. Rosand's specialty was 16th-century Venetian art; Titian in particular.

That David and Ellen Rosand have honored Melissa Conn with the restoration of a Titian in her name illustrates the high esteem in which she is held not only within the organization, but within the city of Venice itself. Melissa herself selected which painting would be restored, which she said was a "tremendous responsibility." The powerful Saint Mark Enthroned was a wise choice -- a compelling votive painting inside a formidable votive church. With such illustrious saints watching Saint Mark's back, the freshly-restored painting should hold the Lord's attention for another thousand years.

First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in Venice
Meanwhile, Michelle Obama, daughters Maila and Sasha, and mother Marian, arrived in Venice after a trip out to the U.S. military base in nearby Vicenza. After visiting the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco, apparently they had to hole up in the Molina Stucky Hilton due to a glitch in the satellite signal that provides security for the First Lady. However, on Saturday morning (after a hearty breakfast of cereal:) they did manage to make it out to the Biennale International Contemporary Art Festival, where they met Joan Jonas, the artist of the award-winning United States Pavilion, and curator Paul Ha. Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, accompanied them across the bridge for an impromptu visit to the pavilions of Syria, Egypt and Poland. Michelle exclaimed that she thought the exhibition, "amazing." She said that a lot of her friends told her that she had to see the Venice Biennale, and that she was very happy to be here.

Joan Jonas with Michelle Obama & the gang at Biennale
Next it was out to Murano to visit the Cenedese glass factory, and lunch at B Restaurant (the former Vecchia Pescheria) where they enjoyed a fresh, healthy meal of local Venetian delights. Because of another satellite glitch, they were not able to go to the lace-making island of Burano, or the Cini Foundation, or the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but returned to the Molina Stucky Hilton.

Michelle Obama at Restaurant B
Also on Saturday, I saw a superyacht named Limitless in the lagoon, docked over by Giardini where Michelle and the gang were visiting La Biennale. Limitless was flying a large American flag and creating an extremely high profile. Curious, I googled the owner, who turned about to be Leslie Wexner of The Limited and Victoria's Secret fame, and the richest man in Ohio. One could spend hours reading about Les Wexner's activities, which are related to Israel, strong support for the war in Iraq, fund raising for Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign and long ties to Jeffrey Epstein -- in other words, he did not seem to be in the Barack Obama camp. Perhaps his superyacht just happened to be in the neighborhood...

Superyacht Limitless in Venice lagoon
Saturday night, June 20th, was also Art Night Venezia, a glorious night when many of Venice's museums and art galleries remain open late, and the town is filled with vibrant energy. Then, Michelle and the gang did manage slip out of the Stucky to take a night ride on the Grand Canal, and visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection after it had closed to the public, where they had a chance to view the superb Jackson and Charles Pollock exhibitions now on show.

Michelle Obama Leaving Venice
After sprinkling American goodwill all over Venice, on Sunday morning, Michelle and the gang hopped back on Air Force Two, which was parked out at Marco Polo Airport. Michelle Obama declared that she had fallen in love with Venice, and that she would be back soon with Barack. The energy she left behind was so dazzling... it gave me a new appreciation of what subtle power the First Lady of the United States of America can wield.

Here is one of my favorite Michelle Obama moments: the #GimmeFive dance challenge with Ellen DeGeneres. How great is it that we have a First Lady who can dance?

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog 

1 comment:

  1. Michelle Obama and the female contingent of her family were here in Venice on Friday, June 19, 2015, the same evening that Melissa Conn, Director of the Venice Office of Save Venice, was honored with a Titian that had been restored in her honor.