A Few Wonderful Days in Venice

One of the reasons we moved to Italy is that we would be able to take short trips all over Italy and nearby European countries without having to deal with an 11-hour plane ride and a 9-hour time difference. Covid-related travel restrictions have made those kinds of trips very difficult over the past couple of years. But now things are opening up again.

We have been to Venice many times but always want to go back. The city’s unique location on reclaimed islands in a lagoon, its storied history as a maritime republic, and its long tradition of nurturing artists, makes it a city you never get tired of. We felt particularly fortunate to be there at this moment, when things are slowly returning to normal but the tiny streets are not yet overwhelmed by crowds. There were a lot of tourists in Venice, but they were mostly independent travelers, families or small groups – not the big crowds of the pre-Covid era. And for the moment, at least, cruise ships are docking in more remote part of the lagoon, which means the waterways close to the historic center are once again safe for gondolas.

We stopped in to the basilica of San Marco, which was closed during our last visit (June 2020). The basilica suffered extensive water damage during an “acqua alta” (high water) event in 2019, and it still undergoing restoration. With a smaller number of visitors, it was possible to spend time admiring the mosaic floors (complete with peacocks) and the numerous ceiling mosaics.

The Ca’ d’Oro, on the Grand Canal, was the architectural inspiration for the home Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. The Ca d’Oro has a small art collection, including ancient statues and a St. Sebastian by Mantegna. On the day of our visit, the museum offered a free concert of Renaissance music, on period instruments.

The Palazzo Grimani was purchased by Antonio Grimani, who became a Doge in 1521, and was a private residence of the Grimani family until the 19th C, when it was acquired by the city of Venice. After extensive restoration, it was opened to the public in 2008. It is notable for ornamentation, including some very unusual frescoes of plants and animals.

The main gallery currently features works by contemporary artist Georg Baselitz – a juxtaposition of 16th C architecture and 21st C art which I think works very well.

Georg Baselitz, Archinto, Palazzo Grimani

The most important room artistically in the original Palazzo was the Tribuna, where the family displayed its impressive collection of classical sculpture. Many of these works had been dispersed among other public buildings in Venice, but in 2019, the original collection of classical sculptures was re-installed in the restored Tribuna.

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum was the American’s home for many years. The house and its art collection is now part of the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation.

Although I’m generally not much taken by 20th C art, I’ve always loved this museum, perhaps because of the obvious care with which she selected the paintings. She was so passionate about these pieces that I like them too.

The works that particularly struck me on this visit were two portraits: The Moon Woman by Jackson Pollock (1942) and a portrait of a young girl by Modigliani (1916); and two more abstract works: Paessaggio con Macchie Rosse (landscape with red spots) by Kandinsky (1913, Unitas by Piero Dorazio (1966).

And this untitled work in the sculpture garden sure looks like the Death Star.

Death star (?), Guggenheim

The Ca’ Rezzonico, seat of the Rezzonico family in the 17th C, is now a museum of 18th C life, complete with exuberant Rococo decoration.

Among the artworks, I especially liked this portrait by Rosalba Carriera and this unusual depiction of circus performers by Giandomenico Tiepolo.

The Ca’ Pesaro museum also has a small collection of 20th C art, including works by Chagall (Rabbi, 1914-22), Klimt (Giuditta 2, 1909), and Italian painter Alberto Donghi (Woman in a Cafe, 1931).

There was also art glass

Unfortunately, some of the rooms upstairs being prepared for an upcoming exhibition at the time of our visit, which meant that much of the museum’s wonderful collection of Japanese art was not available for viewing. Something for next time.

Not all of the great art in Venice is in museums – much of it is in churches.

Veronese in the church of San Sebastiano and in the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo:

Lorenzo Lotto in the church of San Giacomo dell’Orio, along with some columns “borrowed” from Constantinople in 1204:

Titian in the Basilica dei Frari (the artist’s depiction of the Assumption in the same church is more famous, but I like this one better).

Tiziano, Pala Pesaro, 1519-1526, Basilica dei Frari

The Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore has several works by Tintoretto, including this one depicting the collection of heavenly manna. The views from San Giorgio’s bell tower are some of the best in Venice.

There was also a special exhibit of art glass in a small exhibit space just behind the church.

We had never visited the island of Murano, just a few minutes across the lagoon by vaporetto (the city’s public boat transportation system). Venice held a dominant position on high quality glassmaking in Europe for several centuries. To protect its virtual monopoly, beginning in the 12th C the glassmakers were confined to Murano, which made it easier for the city to control import and exports and harder for the glassmakers to leave. Today, glassmakers can live wherever they like, but most of the city’s high quality glass production is still based here.

There is a very nice glass museum documenting the history of the glass industry and featuring pieces by noted Venetian artists. Note the “grass” outside the museum is also glass.

The island has two very old churches, which of course we stopped in to check out. The church of San Pietro Martire has an altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini (1488) and a Baptism of Christ attributed to Tintoretto

The Basilica of Santi Maria e Donato has a splendid mosaic of the Madonna, and spectacular mosaic floors, both dating to the 12th C (note the peacocks).

We were lucky to have good weather for most of our trip, with spectacular sunshine, which gave the photographer in our family (Ted) the opportunity to take some fantastic photos – particularly in the morning, when there weren’t that many people around.

But of course, Venice looks good pretty much any time of day.

And we didn’t forget to eat. We went to the Rialto Market one morning, just to marvel at the wonderful array of fish available. We snapped a photo of the little lagoon fish known as “gò”, which are the basis for the wonderful Risotto Buranello served only the island of Burano.

Also in Burano, we enjoyed moeche, little lagoon crabs.

That’s all from Venice for now – but we’ll be back!

For more photos, see here.