Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Guess who I ran into Today? All the Saints & All the Souls on the Island of San Michele, Venice, 2017

Micromega Arte e Cultura - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I do not usually go to San Michele, the island where Venice buries her dead, on October 31st. I usually go on November 1, All Saints Day. With astonishing synchronicity, most times I have run into Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, whom I first met up in her castle in Tyrol.

I have written about this phenomenon before, which you can read here:

Island of the Dead - San Michele, Venice - All the Saints and All the Souls


It is uncanny how often I run into Mary de Rachewiltz on All Saints Day on the Isola di San Michele, Venice's cemetery island. This year, I was far away from the tomb of her famous parents, Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, when Mary arrived in the afternoon -- usually I get there earlier, and so does she. I was in a completely different section of the cemetery at the tomb of my Venetian nonni trying to light a candle that the wind kept blowing out. After about ten attempts, I decided to go to the florist at the front of the island and buy a wind-resistant candle. I literally almost ran into Mary as she was heading in.

"Mary!" I cried. "I'm so happy to see you!"

"Cat Bauer!" she exclaimed. "I'm running into everybody today."


Now, we are in 2017. I had no plans to go to San Michele today, but I ended up in the general vicinity, and thought I might as well go a day early. Guess who was there? Yes! Mary de Rachewiltz! I said, Mary, you never come the day before All Saints Day, and neither do I. Yet, here we are both again, in the same place, at the same time. It is too much! Mary said something like, well, it is meant to be. We chatted, and caught up on some trials and tribulations, chuckling all the time. Mary is now 92-years-old, and is an Angel-on-Earth, completely in possession of all her clever wits. I really can't explain this phenomenon, but if I had gotten there 10 minutes later, I would have missed her.


Back in 2010, I wrote about how many people felt that Halloween did not have a place here in Italy, and how much I had enjoyed it when I lived in the States. Every year I see the influence grow stronger. This year, out on the Lido, they seemed to be embracing the festival, with little witches everywhere, and candy being handed out at all the shops. Hhhmm... Here's an excerpt from the old post; click the link to read the entire thing:

The Island of the Dead - Venice, Italy

 (ANSA) - Vatican City, October 29 - Halloween is pagan and against the spirit of Christianity, an influential Catholic Church group said Friday. Chiming in with the Vatican's annual warnings on the festival, the (Pope) John XXIII Association said: "Halloween was born as the perpetuation of a pagan cult which evolved over time and linked up with esoteric and occult practices". "We are faced with a sort of revival of neopaganism which, as such, is in open contrast with the spirit of Christianity". 

"Does our society really need all these messages exalting horror," asked the association's head, Giovanni Paolo Ramonda.

"At a time which should be devoted to the holy memory of our saints and souls, people unthinkingly set up 'noir' banquets, crime dinners and afternoons for children in macabre masks. "Everyone should be reminded that Halloween comes from an ancient pagan ritual in the British Isles practised by the Druids, the Celts' ferocious priestly caste".

The Northern League also disapproves:
The Northern League party, which jealously guards northern Italy's Celtic past, also came out against the feast this year, accusing it of being "inauthentic". "Halloween is not part of our identity," said the Northern League's mayor of the town of Calalzo di Cadore, Luca De Carlo.

Personally, speaking as a witch and a pagan, a self-declared Hindu (back when I was a teen) -- a Catholic and Protestant (with strong empathy for Jews, Muslim & Buddhists) -- not to mention the offspring of Freemasons -- as well as an "Angel With Teeth" in the New York City Village Halloween Parade -- I feel that Halloween is not something organic here in Venice, but is a sly attempt to penetrate the culture by outside forces. Good luck with that.

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

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

How Venice Handles Migrants Who Go Wrong: Through the Eyes of Children and "Fish of Peace"


Kids Swarm Palazzo Ducale for Pesce di Pace - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) What a great idea! Nadia De Lazzari, of the Pesce di Pace or "Fish of Peace" organization here in Venice, gave 501 sheets of paper in the shape of the earth to children on three different continents: Europe, Africa and America.



Fifteen hundred primary school children from Italian, Tunisian, Moroccan and American schools illustrated the globes divided into three equal parts with colorful messages of hope, joy, peace and friendship. On the back, they wrote messages to their peers in their own languages -- Italian, English, Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, and French -- which were translated into Italian by male inmates in prisons in Venice and Trento, many of them immigrants and refugees, with the hope that the childrens' words and images will help transform the prisoners into new men.  

"hi my name is Austin.
I live in Waco texas.
I drew what Chrismas looks like for us In texas"
And today kids from 25 schools in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia-Giulia swarmed into Palazzo Ducale to see their exhibition hanging inside the Doge's Palace, which will run through November 5. Have a look and listen to what all that inspiring kid energy sounds like on a mind-blowing field trip:

https://youtu.be/vEZuldqo3Ck


 
There were multicultural speakers: Imam Yahya Pallavicini, Rabbi Scialom Bahbout, Patriarch Francesco Moraglia, Tunisian Ambassador to Italy Moezeddine Sinaoui, and our own Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, to name a few.

In other parts of the world, refugees and migrants might seem like an abstract concept, but here in Italy it is a serious consideration. According to the BBC, last year, 171,000 migrants made the trip across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Italy. Almost 5,000 died at sea. With war, terrorism and poverty wracking many regions, people risk their lives to provide a better one for themselves and their families -- as did many immigrants from Europe to America during the World Wars. According to The Guardian, much of the chaos is due to the unrest in Libya.


There is also a beautiful book illustrated with the kids' artwork, with messages from different religious and governmental leaders (grownups) titled, 501 Disegni a Sei Mani per 500 anni Veneziani - Venezia, Tunisi, Rabat, Hewitt or "501 Drawings by Six Hands for 500 Years of Venetians - Venice, Tunisi, Rabat, Hewitt." The very first book I ever wrote when I was six-years-old was titled, Children of Other Lands, so this was right up my calle.


From Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic of Italy: "The 501 works in this publication are the fruit of an imagination and mind that is free of any kind of prejudice, coming from children from different countries and cultures. Drawings and messages of friendship that offer an amazing testimony of dialogue and reciprocal respect that these young children have wanted to give to the adult world, using colours."

"Hello my name is Gabriel
i'm in 3rd grade.
I lived in Mexico but I moved to Waco
My favrite color is Blue
My farite wepon is a sword"
From Francesco Moraglia, Patriarch of Venice: "'Make bridges, make bridges in a society that is used to making walls... Where there's a wall, hearts are closed. We need bridges, not walls!": these words by Pope Francis truly seem to be the most suitable to described the spirit and content of this highly appreciated initiative."


From Enrico Sbriglia, Regional Superintendent of the Penitentiary Administration (I wish I had the space to share his entire statement; he is like a poet -- no wonder the prisoners are participating in this project): "Drawings and words, symbols and memories, different languages and skin colours that express the plurality of the world and the thousand ways of smiling and playing, of embracing one's mother and waiting for one's father, of invoking the divine and relying on it -- they all create the web where we lay out our lives. We have to be grateful for the "Fish of Peace," and to the children from different countries who, together with prisoners from just as many different countries -- with the signs and words they are giving us -- remind us that, if we really want, hope and compassion will save the world."


Mohammed Sadiki, Mayor of Rabat, Morocco: "This friendship, which started at school, will help promote peace, solidarity, brotherhood and reciprocal respect between peoples all over the world. This book offers hope for the future and it will certainly be an example to us all."

From Scialom Bahbout, Chief Rabbi of Venice: "Children can be the real Teachers and show how one can live an honest life with simplicity and true faith."


From Abdelaaziz Aamri, a prisoner from the Kingdom of Morocco: "Dearest 'Angels,' for me it is a great honor to participate with you from afar in a project for peace in the world. With the wealth and light that you radiate, you are making space in the dark dominating the planet. We have the task of working hard to make the whole world understand the importance of brotherhood so that it becomes a place of living, co-existence, and reciprocal respect between cultures and religions."

Nadia De Lazzari and her Pesce di Pace are on Facebook.

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

Sunday, 1 October 2017

When Venice's Loot Came Back from France - Canova, Hayez & Cicognara at the Galleria Accademia

Horse of St. Mark's plaster copy - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.


In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in 1817, much of the plundered art has been gathered together in an outstanding exhibition entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice, curated by Paola Marini, Fernando Mazzocca and Roberto De Feo. The show offers not only a chance to see some exceptional works of art, but also an opportunity to learn some history about the tumultuous time.

One quibble with the exhibit is that although the history might be familiar to Europeans whose ancestors were used to their lives being disrupted at the will of emperors, kings and queens -- many of whom were related to one another -- those in the English-speaking world might feel a bit bewildered. The timeline is in both Italian and English, as are the descriptions of the art, but the excellent catalogue published by Marsilio/Electa is only in Italian. And at the time of this writing, there is no information about the exhibition on the Accademia's website in either Italian or English, so I'm going to attempt to guide you through it.

Self-portrait by Antonio Hayez - Photo courtesy Accademia
To greatly simplify a complex timeline, after Napoleon's conquest, Venice was put under Austrian domination from October 1797 until December 1805, when the Treaty of Pressburg thrust it again under the French. Napoleon created the Kingdom of Italy -- in addition to the one under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, in existence since 800AD -- titling himself the "Emperor of the French and King of Italy." The French scattered Venice's heritage willy-nilly, suppressing convents and parishes, and dispersing works of art, hauling much of it off to the Musée Napoleon in Paris -- aka the Louvre.

Museum headquarters for Napoleon's new Italian kingdom was established in Milan at the Pincoteca di Brera, the main building of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera.

During all this commotion, in 1807 a commission was set up in Venice to conserve works of art. Venice already had an Academy of Fine Arts, which had been founded on September 24, 1750. Napoleon changed the name of the Veneta Academia di Pittura, Scultura e Architettura to the Accademia Reale di Belle Arti, or the "royal academy of fine arts" and decreed that it be reorganized along the lines of the art academies in Milan and Bologna, creating three national academies in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. Weeks earlier, Alvise Almorò Pisani had been appointed president of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice.

The headquarters of the Academy was moved from the Fonteghetto della Farina, next to where Harry's Bar is now and where flour was sold, to its present location at Carità at the foot of the Accademia bridge, which had been the Scuola Grande della Carità and the Church of Santa Maria della Carità, but was one of the religious complexes that had been targeted by Napoleon and disbanded. Napoleon himself showed up in Venice in November 1807 and stayed through December to visit his handiwork.

Then Alvise Pisani, the president of the Academy, died on February 12, 1808, and one of the heroes of our story, Count Leopoldo Cicognara, a theoretician, scholar and historian of international fame, was appointed president. Cicognara was great friends with the neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova, who was considered the pre-eminent living artist, celebrated through all of Europe, and who had already been commissioned by Napoleon.


Rinaldo e Armida by Franceso Hayez (1812-13) Photo courtesy Accademia
The Academy decided to give its top students a three-year scholarship to study art in Rome under the tutelage of Canova. The talented young Venetian painter Francesco Hayez was one of the first winners. Canova and Cicognara were determined to cultivate Hayez into an artist who would renew Italian painting and bring Italy back to its ancient glory -- hence the name of the exhibition, Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - L'ultima gloria di Venezia.

Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and then the Habsburg Emperor Franz I of Austria stepped up to the plate.

Things moved swiftly after that. Emperor Franz I demanded that the Louvre give back the plundered artworks in his territories. Canova was instrumental in getting most of Venice's stuff returned, and wrote to Cicognara on October 2, 1815 that "I have the consolation of telling you that our Venetian paintings have been returned and are already being crated for Italy."

One of the next things the Emperor did was give Venice back her beloved horses, which arrived on December 13, 1815 in Piazza San Marco with much pomp and circumstance, to the joy of the Venetians.

Re-situating Ceremony - Horses on the Pronaos of St. Mark's Basilica by Vincenzo Chilone (1815) Photo: Cat Bauer
On March 22, 1816, six crates of art from Paris arrived at the Accademia di Belle Art, all but one piece in good condition. In April, Emperor Franz I arrived with his daughter, Marie Louise, for Holy Week, and to watch the prized Lion of San Marco, which had been damaged, be placed, fully restored, back up on its column in Piazza San Marco. The Accademia then put on a show so the public could view the returned artworks. When it was over, all the works with known original positions went back to their places, and the Academy kept the rest.

In August, the bequest of Girolamo Ascanio Molin (a renowned Venetian Senator, writer and historian, with a precious collection of assorted goodies -- but that's another story) arrived in the Accademia. Then the crafty Cicognara managed to transport Titian's Assunta, considered the most beautiful painting in the world, from the Frari Basilica to the Accademia.

When I heard this, I thought, What? I found one of the curators, Roberto De Feo, during the inauguration, and tried to have a conversation with him even though all of Venice seemed to be there, and we were constantly interrupted. De Feo said Cicognara had moved the painting to protect it from the "humidity." I said that after living in Venice for nearly 20 years, and writing about her culture, I didn't believe that story for one second. (Needless to say, the Assunta has since been placed back up on the high altar inside the Frari, where she belongs.)

Ideal Head of Helen by Canova (1811) Photo: Cat Bauer
In November, Lord Byron, the greatest living poet, showed up on the scene, and added some brilliance, romance, scandal and a lot of wild gossip to a city already throbbing with excitement. He would move into Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal along with his with 14 servants, two monkeys, a fox and two mastiff dogs. Ah, those were the days!  One of the rooms of the current exhibition is dedicated to Lord Byron, and includes Canova's sculpture of the Ideal Head of Helen, of which Byron wrote:

In this beloved marble view
Above the works and thoughts of Man
What nature could, but would not, do
And beauty and Canova can!

In June 1817, Hayez returned to Venice. Then, on August 10th, Count Cicognara inaugurated the first five rooms of the Gallerie dell'Accademia and the museum was born, while still maintaining its role as an art academy. It is this anniversary that we are celebrating today (give or take a month or two).

Polyhymnia by Canova
By this time, Emperor Franz I had married his fourth wife, Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, who was 24 years younger than he was, and he asked the Venetian provinces to pay a heavy contribution. Our wily Cicognara negotiated a deal where part of the tribute would include works by top artists and artisans in the Veneto, together with young students from the Accademia, for the new empress's rooms -- but only because he threw the magnificent statue of Polyhymnia created by Canova into the deal.

Before the works went off to Vienna, the Accademia exhibited them in the great hall, all dominated by Titian's Assunta -- which was there to ostensibly recover from the extreme humidity of the Frari at the much drier environment at the Accademia, just a couple of campi away.

The group of works were later divvied up by the heirs of the imperial family, but have been almost completely gathered together again for the first time in 200 years for the current exhibition (with the exception of Titian's Assunta:-) in a room dedicated to "The Tribute of the Venetian Provinces to the Court of Vienna."

Altogether there are more than 130 works displayed in ten thematic rooms:

1. The glorious and controversial return of the works of art requisitioned by Napoleon: the Horses of St. Mark and the Jupiter Aegis 
2. Cicognara - patron and promoter of the arts. Friendship and collaboration with Canova. Common trust in young Hayez
3. The Homage from the Venetian Provinces. An extraordinary collection of contemporary artworks for the Vienna court
4. The legacy of Giuseppe Bossi. The arrival of Leonardo and Raffaello's drawings in Venice
5. Masters and students of the Academy between Venice and Rome
6. Byron in Venice and the fascination for Helen by Canova. Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi and Giustina Renier Michiel, queens of intellectual salons
7. The myth of Canova - national glory and universal icon
8. Hayez, the true heir to Canova, creates Romanticism and leaves Venice for Milan
9. The antique molds in the collection of the Gallerie dell'Accademia
10. An interactive "hypertext" of the history of the Accademia
That is a brief summation of all the ultimate glories in store. There is much, much more to absorb when you visit the exhibition.
 
Practically every private international committee in town has also participated in this project: Venetian Heritage, Save Venice Inc., The Venice in Peril Fund, The Venice International Foundation, Friends of Venice Italy Inc. and the Comité Francais pour la Savegarde de Venice.

Canova, Hayez and Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice runs through April 2, 2018, so you've got six months to see it.  GOOD NEWS! The exhibition has been extended until July 8, 2018.

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