I had a free day in Venice today and I didn’t have a plan. It was extremely hot and humid and I wanted to stay out of the relentless sun. So I decided to meander towards the Accademia Bridge heading for the Venetian district of Dorsoduro.WHEN I said that I didn’t have a plan, I really didn’t. Well, I wanted to have a cappuccino and a pastry of some kind, but that was about it. So I stopped at a nice little cafe in Campo Santo Stefano, and sat down for a quick breakfast. Then I climbed over the newly restored Accademia Bridge and made a last minute left turn towards Salute and the Guggenheim. I noticed a palace on my left hand side advertising an exhibition by a German artist called ‘Forg’ I’d never heard of him and decided to take a look. Free to get in – that was a good start. A dark corridor took me towards the old water gate of the palace, typical circular pieces of glass, probably blown by hand, decorated the semi-circular windows that led onto the canal. The staircase to the exhibition was on my left, I climbed up to the Piano Nobile. The palace I was visiting was huge. On the first floor was a vast reception room stretching the length of the building from the Grand Canal at one end to the back street entrance I’d just entered, probably a distance of at least 150 meters. Unexpectedly I’d found myself in one of the largest private palaces on the Grand Canal. A palace owned by an aristocratic French family and only occasionally open to the public.
FOR ME the beauty of the palace, historic furnishings, painted ceilings and exceptional art collection far outshone the exhibition by ‘Forg’, whom I still had no idea about and frankly wasn’t inclined to discover. After all as I mentioned it was a very hot day and just like Alice, falling asleep on a river bank, I had no interest in falling down a rabbit hole of ‘Forg’. When I emerged into the baking sun an hour or so later I headed straight for the Centurion Palace Hotel where my favourite little Grand Canal terrace beckoned me. I’d already figured out that by 12 noon it would be in the shade – just perfect. Watching the buzzing boat activity on the Grand Canal was amusing; entertaining, bustling, and occasionally dangerous – a perfect spectator sport. There was a fantastic bronze sculpture by Bruno Catalano to admire too – a perfect metaphor for travel, now you see it, now you don’t. After a light lunch of mozzarella and tomato salad and the obligatory glass of prosecco, I decided to head back to my B & B for a little siesta. Important not to over do things in the heat…
ON THE WAY back I discovered St George’s Anglican Church, a British outpost in Venice for the last few hundred years – curious but of no great interest to me on this hottest of days. Then a few steps further on I was passing the Palazzo Cini and a poster of a famous painting caught my eye. It looked familiar but I couldn’t place it. Some serious squinting at the microscopic text revealed that the artist was none other than Botticelli. I’ve often admired his fantastic, detailed paintings in the Uffizi Museum in Florence. He worked in the 15th century and painted the most gorgeous, lush, idyllic scenes, including the Birth of Venus, where the goddess emerges from a clam shell, naked and voluptuous. I decided to pop into the Palazzo Cini and ask if, in fact, this Botticelli painting, the original, was here in Venice. I was told that yes, indeed, the painting was in Venice and for 10 euros I could see it on the Piano Nobile of this very building. So I paid and trotted up the work-of-art oval staircase delighted to be viewing a Botticelli painting in Venice.
THE BOTTICELLI CANVAS was large, about 2 metres from left to right and probably more than half a meter from top to bottom. I was viewing the painting with precisely zero other visitors. I was the only person, apart from staff, in the whole place. The painting depicted ‘The Judgement of Paris’ a famous Greek mythological subject, where Paris a handsome young man must choose from three exquisitely beautiful Greek goddesses. The goddesses are Hera, Aphrodite and Athena. The winner is given a golden apple. Paris chooses Aphrodite who promises Paris the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth, Helen of Troy. According to Greek legend, this decision by Paris, started The Trojan Wars. In the excitement of choosing Aphrodite, no-one gave much thought to the fact that Helen was already married to Menelaus, King of Troy – a man known for his military skill and determination to hang on to his wife.
HOWEVER I DIGRESS because this afternoon, in a Venetian Palace with a total of one (1) paying visitor, I was able to gaze at a Botticelli painting that I’d never seen before in real life. This is the sort of painting that in London, Paris or New York, would have a room to itself and security guards stationed at the entrance. Here in Venice there was nothing. Just a magnificent painting, nicely lit, hanging on a wall in an authentic historic palace. I managed to keep my nose a respectful three centimetres away from this 15th century masterpiece, probably painted around 1450. The brushwork was exquisite. The three goddesses each unique and exceptionally detailed, wearing different coloured gowns, intricate sandals, and often with flecks of gold decorating the hems and edges of their tunics. The figure of Paris had a note of humour to his face, a baffled, almost resigned look, as if he knew, that whatever his choice, things would not go well in the end.
MY LITTLE JAUNT in Venice today summed up perfectly my love for this exceptional city, stranded in time, between land and sea. Venice is a curious collection of art, history and architecture that has remained in tact, protected by the lagoon, marooned in its glory years. The palaces, alley ways, bridges and stones of Venice have seen generations come and go. They will continue to see people come and go, it is our job to respect and honour this exceptional city and ensure that we appreciate, nurture and embrace her future.
- For more articles on Venice, Italy and beyond – visit www.educated-traveller.com
- For exceptional tailor-made travel, unique itineraries, perfect journeys, for small groups, individuals or families, please visit: www.grand-tourist.com
- My favourite shady terrace in Venice belongs to the Sina Centurion Palace Hotel, after about 12 noon each day the terrace is cool and airy.
- Bruno Catalano (artist) is represented by Ravagnan Gallery. Catalano’s purposeful figures are the perfect metaphor for travel! www.ravagnangallery.com
- Published: 30th June 2019
- Updated: 9th July 2019