Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Peek Behind the Scenes - The Restoration of Carpaccio's Saint Ursula by Save Venice

Detail from Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) It was a great privilege to go behind the scenes and see up close the progress of the conservation of the much-loved Saint Ursula Cycle by Vittore Carpaccio inside the Galleria dell'Accademia -- a campaign by the American non-profit organization, Save Venice Inc.

Carpaccio (circa 1460-1525) was a young painter who came of age with the Saint Ursula Cycle. He created nine paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola, a devotional confraternity once located near the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo down in the Castello zone of Venice.

The Scuola of Sant'Orsola was founded on July 15, 1300. On November 26, 1488, it decided to decorate its headquarters. Enter Carpaccio, who was then about 25-30 years-old.

Saint Ursula Cycle - detail2 - Photo: Cat Bauer

What was happening in Venice around that time: 

In 1453, the Ottoman Turk Mehmed II had conquered Constantinople, turning it into Istanbul, destroying the over-1000-year-old Byzantine Empire and utterly transforming the order of the world. Some of the most horrific stories were about young mothers, virgins and nuns who were torn from their homes and debased.

The Ottomans were the archenemies of the aristocratic Venetian Loredan family, which was packed full of doges, admirals and captains, and known for their military feats, especially against the Ottomans. The Loredans were patrons of the Scuola of Sant'Orsola and probably commissioned the Saint Ursula paintings.

Saint Ursula Cycle detail - before restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer

Who was Saint Ursula?

There is no historic evidence that Saint Ursula ever existed, but people love her anyway. Her legend has many different variations, depending on the source. Carpaccio, too, created his own story line, mixing Venetian traditions with fantasy backdrops. The cycle is sort of like a Hollywood remake of an ancient story about a 4th century princess from Britain, but transported 1,000 years into the future to the time of the Venetian Renaissance.

According to legend, Saint Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king from Brittany who died in... let's say 383 AD. The princess Ursula was supposed to marry the son of a pagan king with the condition that he make a pilgrimage with her (and her 11,000 virgin ladies-in-waiting) to meet the pope and convert to Christianity. The prince agreed, and off they went to Rome. On her way back home, she and her entourage (which included the pope -- I am not clear why he was on the trip -- some say because he was smitten with Ursula and her virgins) passed through Cologne where they ran into Attila the Hun, who wanted to marry Ursula, who refused, so he chopped off everyone's heads -- except for Ursula, who was shot with an arrow.

What backs up that story is the Church of Saint Ursula in Cologne, built in the 12th century on top of a Roman graveyard, which is eerily decorated with thousands of bones.

Venice Carnival 2018 - La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua - Photo: Cat Bauer
Carpaccio and his wild imagination puts a whole different spin on the story by setting it in contemporary Renaissance Venice, full of festivals, visiting ambassadors and colorful ceremonies.

Included in the paintings are members of the Campagnie delle Calze, which were theatrical associations made up of noblemen that ran around Venice putting on events like masked watery processions on the canals (which Venice still does to this very day -- the opening of Carnival yesterday was entitled: La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua which took place on the Cannaregio Canal). Calza means "sock" in Italian, and the companies were known for their distinctive hosiery. I was riveted by the intricate embroidery of one young man's sock.

Detail - Socks - Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
The restoration is bringing the faded colors back to vivid life. To aid the CBC and Arlango restoration firms in their work, Save Venice bought an Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) so the restorers could peer beneath the painted surface and reveal Carpaccio's work methods. They raised the loot for the restoration with funds from The Thompson Family Foundation, Inc., Un Ballo in Maschera 2016, the dynamic duo of Thomas Schumacher and Matthew White, the California Chapter of Save Venice, The James R. Dougherty, Jr. Foundation and Dolce & Gabbana.

Behind the scenes - Carpaccio restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer
To further embellish an already mythic story, according to the Save Venice newsletter, the Saint Ursula Cycle is not only about the courageous saint, but is also thought to outline the complex politics of marriage in Venetian society in the 1490s. What sounds like a fascinating presentation: art historians Patricia Fortini Brown and Sarah Blake McHam will hold a session for the March 2018 Renaissance Society of America annual meeting in New Orleans on the theme Venetian Brides - No Real Choices: Carpaccio's Life of Saint Ursula in Context, joined by independent scholar Francesca Toffolo and Melissa Conn, the Venice Director of Save Venice. Now there's a lecture I would love to attend!

The restoration of the Saint Ursula Cycle is expected to be completed in 2019 when the nine paintings will be back at home in the gallery room inside the Accademia designed by the renowned Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa.

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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Venice in January - Real Life + "Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti at Ca' Pesaro"

Rialto Bridge Photo Cat Bauer
Rialto Bridge just before sunset - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) There is a beautiful pause here in Venice between the New Year and Carnevale. There is real life, provincial and serene, set against a backdrop of ancient architecture and kaleidoscope sunsets. Many people in town know each other, if not by name, at least by face. It is a village without cars that floats along the water, and it is safe.

There is golden sunlight, and there is mysterious fog. It is brisk and cold. There are children chasing balls in the campi, and dogs flying free.

Every morning I personally hand my trash to the street sweepers, hard-working angels who ring my bell, and holler, "Spazzino!" I tried to tip them at Christmas, but they would not accept, so I took the cash out of the envelopes, and just gave them the cards.

At this time of year, residents run into each other nearly every day. Kids travel alone on the vaporetti, which are stuffed full of locals, not tourists; the kids are connected to their parents by cell phones, and protected by the watchful eyes of the community. Venetians walk through the calli and campi; there is time for conversations, and room enough to stroll. In the background, winter tourists provide comic relief, rattling suitcases, clutching maps or trying hopelessly to navigate with their smartphones.

A Foggy Day in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
I am getting a refund from ACTV, the agency that runs the vaporetti, because I was charged when the machine over by San Marcuola debited my bank card but did not credit my vaporetto pass. It is a little victory -- in English, no less:

Dear Mrs. Bauer,
with reference to your enquiry of December 21st, 2017 we are sorry for the inconvenience in buying your pass at the automatic ticket dispenser located at San
We inform you that we checked the machine and stated the bad working of it on
December 1st, 2017.
For this reason your request of refund amounting to €37,00 has been accepted and
we will provide to credit the amount due with a bank transfer to the bank account number you supplied in your enquiry.
We apologize again and take this opportunity to extend our best regards.

That is real life.

Il tuffatore (The Diver) by Luciano Zarotti (1978)
Meanwhile, the inauguration today at Ca' Pesaro of Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti & Ca' Pesaro during 70s-80s drew an eclectic crowd.

Felicita Bevilacqua (1822-1899), the widow of General Giuseppe La Masa, left the monumental palace Ca' Pesaro -- now the International Gallery of Modern Art -- to the City of Venice in her will provided that it was used to enhance the education and careers of emerging artists who could not access large, international exhibitions. The Bevilacqua la Masa Foundation is still in existence today, and has the same mission, although its location has ambled around town. Luciano Zarotti, who was born in Venice in 1942, started his activity within the Opera Bevilacqua La Masa of Venice at the age of twenty-five. Now he is the star of the show.

It was interesting to note how the Pop artists of Europe and the US influenced the Venetian artist, and how the 1964 win of La Biennale's top prize, the Golden Lion, by American artist Robert Rauschenber impacted the art world. According to the Observer, a documentary examining the controversy entitled Americans in Venice: Robert Rauschenberg Rewrites the Rules is set for release in March.

The Sonnabend Collection - Photo: Cat Bauer
Ca' Pesaro keeps reinventing itself. Thanks to the Sonnabend collection, you can see works by the vanguard of Pop Art like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and many, many more.

Food art - Photo: Cat Bauer
The greatest triumph at the inauguration was the food, an assortment of divine nibbles -- there was even hot pasta e fagioli. The staff really outdid themselves, creating works of edible art that were almost -- but not quite -- too beautiful to eat!

Veneziano Pop - Luciano Zarotti e Ca' Pesaro negli anni '70-'80 runs through February 18. Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Euphoric Epiphany! Buona Befana! Happy 12th Day of Christmas in Venice 2018!

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto (1304-06)

(Venice, Italy) Today, Epiphany, is supposedly the last day of the holiday season. However, here in Venice, we will have only a short respite until Carnival, which comes early this year, starting in only three weeks, on January 27. If you want to see what the festivities will be, here is the official Carnival of Venice site.

The Epiphany celebrates when the Three Wise Men, or Magi, arrive to welcome the infant Jesus Christ, bringing him gifts. Giotto chose to depict the Star of Bethlehem as Halley's Comet, which he had seen over 700 years ago before he painted the fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Here is my post from last year about Venice's renowned Clock Tower, and the appearance by the Magi -- and the link to the Befana Regata.

Clock Tower in Venice - The Magi Appear! Epiphany 2017


Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco on Epiphany
(Venice, Italy) Today, the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn, appeared out on the Clock Tower here in Venice, followed by the Three Magi, who bowed and saluted to the Madonna and Child, something they only do twice a year-- today, the Epiphany, and again on Ascension Day.

Clock Face - Photo: Musei Civici
The Clock Tower, or Torre dell'Orologio, was inaugurated on February 1, 1499, more than 500 years ago. Rich with symbolism, the Venetians designed an astronomical clock, which moves through the signs of the Zodiac, as well as keeping time.

Photo: ReidsItaly
On the top of the tower are two enormous bronze statues known as the Moors, more than eight and a half feet tall (2.6 meters) -- one old, one young -- two Wild Men who swing a hammer to clang out the passage of time. The Moors are nude under their sheaths of vines, and are well-endowed.

Beneath the Moors on the top of the Clock Tower is the winged Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice, holding an open book. Originally, there was a statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneeling before the lion, but when Napoleon's soldiers invaded Venice in 1797, down it came.

Photo: Heather McDougal - Cabinet of Wonders Blog
Gabriel and the Wise Men used to come out every hour when the clock was first constructed, but they haven't done that for centuries. Now, they emerge just those two days a year, and if you are not there at the precise moment to witness it, it is over in a flash. Otherwise, the doors where they exit and enter show the hour in Roman numerals on the left, and every five minutes in Hindu-Arabic on the right.

Photo: Venezia Unica
Gabriel and the Three Magi came out today, bells clamoring throughout Piazza San Marco. For the rest of the year, they reside inside the clock; you can see them if you take the Clock Tower tour. I went on the tour many years ago when I wrote a piece about it back in 2008 as the Venice Insider for Ninemsn, and I thought it was fascinating. Back then, interesting, quirky people took the Clock Tower tour:

Cinderella Bells

Only a handful of people usually show up for the tour of the inner workings of the newly restored St Mark's Clock, which was first inaugurated on February 1, 1499 by Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Five hundred years ago, Venetians built an astronomical clock that had five planets which moved around the earth (only the sun and the moon remain), two Moors that struck the time two minutes before and after the hour, and three Magi that circled the Madonna. For half a millennium, a watchman actually lived with his family in the Clock Tower; the last one left in 1998. After almost a decade of arguing about restoration procedures, the clock was finally up and running again in 2006. Aga is the name of one vivacious and informative guide who does English tours. A visit to the clock tower also offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice.
Photo: Musei Civici
I have long become accustomed to telling time by the bells of Venice. I don't wear a watch; the bells tell me when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when I am running late, or ahead of schedule.

Giant Wild Men clanging an enormous bell... The Lion of San Marco.... The Madonna and Child... the Angel Gabriel and Three Magi circling... An astronomical clock that moves through the signs of the Zodiac.... constructed during the Renaissance in Venice... Things to ponder during the Epiphany.
From the Cambridge Dictionary:



uk /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ us /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ literary
a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you
a powerful religious experience

Of course, the Epiphany is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many, many times before:

Befana 2014 - Epiphany! Venice has got the Relics of St. Nick!

Happy Epiphany from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from Venice 2018 - Who was Saint Trovaso? + The Nicolotti and the Castellani

Campo entrance - Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Church of San Trovaso is so named because Venetians mashed the names of two saints together: the twin brothers, San Gervasio and San Protasio, patron saints of Milan. Gervasio and Protasio came from an aristocratic Milanese family in the first or second century -- some say during the time of Nero -- when being a Christian was a dangerous thing. The details are sketchy, but both their parents were also saints: their father was Saint Vitalis and their mother was Saint Valeria of Milan. First the father, then the mother, then the brothers were all martyred for their faith.

The Church of San Trovaso was originally founded in ancient times; some say way back in the 9th century. On record, it was rebuilt by the Barbarigo family in 1028, destroyed by fire in 1105 and rebuilt. More than 400 years later, in 1583, the church collapsed. Work began the next year on a design by Francesco Smeraldi, a pupil of Palladio, resulting in the church we see today.

Altar of Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Church of San Trovaso has two facades, and two main entrances, one on the canal side, and one on the campo side. Legend says this was to accommodate two warring factions of the population in Venice: the Nicolotti and the Castellani.

The headquarters of the Nicolotti were on the West side, based around the Church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli (Donald Sutherland's church in Don't Look Now). The Nicolotti were fishermen, and they wore black colors.

The Castellani were based in the East, down by Arsenale in Castello, and were workers that built Venice's ships. They wore red.

The bitter enemies were famous for their ferocious battles, fighting over bridges, and throwing each other into the canals. This went on for centuries, becoming more and more vicious, until the fighting was banned in 1705, and transformed into gymnastic competitions like the "Force of Hercules," where each side would try to build the tallest human pyramid.

Nativity scene - Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Church of San Trovaso was considered neutral territory; hence the two facades and two entrances. Enemies that pray together, stay together. Centuries later, in February 1848, when the Austrians ruled Venice, a red Castellani scarf and a black Nicolotti scarf were found together on the steps of the Madonna della Salute altar. On March 22, 1848, the short-lived comeback of the Venetian Republic began when the Venetians revolted against Austrian rule. 

Let's hope that the year 2018 finds everyone putting aside their differences to work together for the benefit of all Humankind.

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog