Monday, 5 January 2015

Controlled attempt at getting lost - Venice

On the ferry back from Burano I got talking to an old Italian who told me that to appreciate Venice you have to get lost in the streets. While I can understand the sentiment, a) most of the streets I've discovered thus far are not interesting enough to want to get lost in them, and b) I don't like the idea of giving up that level of control.


As a result, though I tried to explore the south island I don't think I was all that successful. It may have been that it was still rather early, but it's as likely that I was not wandering along the beaten path and so the streets simply weren't catering for tourists.

After some meandering (past empty shops with a wall of preserved vegetables) I got to the Ca' Rezzonico, an opulent palazzo that became run down before being revived as a museum to 18th century Venice.

Like the Ca d'Oro it has an opulent fa├žade on the Grand Canal that cannot be adequately viewed from this side of the canal. Back from the river is a courtyard, sun-drenched private square and little hedged garden.

Upstairs though is where the fun begins. The first room you walked into was the wow factor of the place, not only now, but also during the time it was inhabited. It was a double story room completely painted in trompe d'oeil.

Now, the ballroom stands relatively empty, with the exception of these unexpected items of furniture. These ones comprised part of a larger set that reappeared in other rooms of the Palazzo and were all in various states of preservation. They were very much an element of shock and surprise though, which in itself was an interesting reaction as we are so used to seeing such figures also posed as accessories in historic paintings. 


As an aside, Wikipedia tells me that this was the Palazzo where John Singer Sargent had his studio at one point, and which Cole Porter rented when he was residing in Venice in the 20s.

Whilst roaming around this museum I discovered something rather interesting. I don't know whether it is intentionally cutting corners or saving excessive costs or what, but many of the rooms here would have originally been papered with a gold-threaded brocade fabric. However in the 'restoration' while the affect is that, what the museum has actually done to produce this desired appearance is dyed the calico-esque fabric in the appropriate rich warm colour and then painted the gold pattern on. From a distance it's not obvious, but I'm one of those tourists to gets up close and personal to look at the detail.

As a museum on 18th Century Venice, it carried an interesting collection of art including religious paintings, an ivory inlaid writing desk, Murano glass chandeliers and ornaments, ceiling frescoes, depictions of the Venetian carnival



An original door with its Asian-inspired decorations. 

While it is a rather lovely building, there is something about it that feels cold and un-homely, aside from the fact that much of the building is marble and/or stone and so bloody freezing.

It may have something to do with the fact that though the rooms have been refurnished with age-appropriate furniture, the pieces are left neatly lined against the walls as opposed to being arranged in a homely manner providing any feel of people having actually lived here and used it.

Thinking about it later I realised that many of the historical houses I've visited in Italy have this feel, unlike those on the rest of the continent. I cannot pin point what exactly it is, but it was especially noticeable in comparison to the warmth and homeliness of the rooms I saw the next day.

Having viewed the canals of Venice for myself, I developed an interesting appreciation for the paintings of Canaletto and was pleased to see a number of his pieces in the gallery on the top floor.

Ca d'Oro, detail from the painting below. 

Upstairs was also a set of rooms set up as a chemist's shop.

Leaving this museum I wandered out in the sunshine and made my way to one of the few bridges that crosses the Grand canal,via coffee and cakes and lots of sunshine. In that regard I have indeed been lucky. When Mum was here exactly a year ago it seems Venice was filled with freezing fog. while it has been cold, particularly when out of the direct sunshine the air has been clear, the sky blue and the sun out.

Some more (minimal) meandering led me to the Museo Fortuny. I purposely steered clear of anything near San Marcos as I plan to go there tomorrow, but the internet had led me to believe that two of the streets in the area supposedly had antique shops on them. A thorough investigation revealed they did not, neither did a church square where at other times of the year there is an antique market. Venice is seemingly not the place for antiques.

Now to Museo Fortuny.

Being a fashion historian I know of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo through his intricately pleated dresses of the Art Nouveau age, dresses which have still kept their pleats 100 years later (These dresses are chemically pleated and the method and formula were things he took with him to his grave).


What I did not realise was that he like to dabble in a number of areas of the arts. He was a painter, stage lighting technician, set decorator and liked to designed and print his own patterns onto silks and velvets that he would then use in his fashion creations.


The museum was also hosting an exhibition on Marchesa Luisa Casati an eccentric Italian heiress who was prominent in the first half of the 20th Century. She was dressed by all the alternative designers of the early 20th Century and painted by names like Boldini.

While it was interesting to see the more modern stuff she'd inspired, like Galliano's Spring/Summer collection '98 for Dior, I found there weren't enough actual representations of her and her own achievements. There was even an expansive collection of photos of a modern model attempting to look like Luisa, a collection that almost rivalled the number of images of the actual Marchesa. The biography at the start mentioned heaps of names and events that I expected to see depicted or learn more about but this was missing.

It was also hard to tell where the Fortuny exhibition left off and Luisa's began as it wasn't in a separate room, it was interspersed amongst the existing pieces in Fortuny's workspace. And then there were pieces like these, stunning and important, but were they property of Fortuny, related to Luisa or just indicative of the age?

Still it was interesting and I am curious to learn a little more about the strange Marchesa Luisa Casati.

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