Venice – dressing up and Guardi’s painting “Il Parlatorio’……..

I’ve written before that There’s treasure around every corner in Venice and it’s absolutely true. Every courtyard, campo, chiesa and palazzo is filled with the memories, hopes and dreams of those that have gone before. Sometimes walking past the Church of San Zaccaria in Castello I think I can hear the young women in the convent, chatting and giggling. I imagine their story, placed in the convent, under the protection of the nuns, for their own good! Too pretty, too chatty, too kind, too social.

Next I think of Guardi’s superb painting ‘Il Parlatorio’ which shows Sunday visiting at the convent in the 1740s. There’s a screen that runs through the middle of the painting. In the foreground are the visitors, talking, strolling and playing. There’s a small puppet theatre for the children. There’s even a beggar in the corner. A lady in a fine dress appears to be showing off in the centre of the canvas. Some of the visitors are seated whilst others stand. In the far right a seated lady is nursing a baby. Is the child the illegitimate offspring of one of the nuns? Is that why she is in the convent?

Meanwhile the young women, the nuns or sisters, are behind the screen, eagerly looking out. They are well dressed, they look healthy. However they are not free. They are imprisoned in a religious institution. I remember reading that the convent or monastery at San Zaccaria was a very relaxed order. This usually meant that they’d take anyone into their care as long as there was a payment involved. I speculate about the women behind the screen. Whatever their circumstances they have had their freedom removed from them. I don’t know if this is a temporary situation or a permanent one. However I struggle to imagine the feelings that such imprisonment evokes.

Guardi's Parlatorio depicts the sisters (nuns) of San Zaccaria receiving visitors. Painted - 1746 Ca'Rezzonico, Venezia
Guardi’s Parlatorio depicts the sisters (nuns) of San Zaccaria receiving visitors. Painted – 1746 Ca’Rezzonico, Venezia

In the background, there is an open door, a person with a basket (perhaps a servant) is delivering gifts of food to a nun, who accepts the donations on the threshold of the convent. The nun is dressed in light, white clothing whilst the outsider is dressed in a dark robe. I wonder if Guardi is suggesting the godliness of the sister. Perhaps he’s expressing the irony and error of black and white, good and bad, light and dark. As with any good quality painting the viewer is free to dream and to create their own narrative. I feel a profound empathy with the young women behind the screen. I hope their stay there is a short one. I like to imagine them escaping their gilded cage, perhaps for Venice’s annual Carnival.

At the thought of Carnival I am immediately transported to a world of fabulous masks, intricate costumes, silk, lace and jewels. A world where a person’s identity is concealed. I dream that the women in the convent at San Zaccaria escaped at least once a year to enjoy the streets and campos of Venice, even if it was just for a few hours. After all in a Carnival costume and mask, with every inch of skin covered, one’s identity is completely concealed. Perhaps this highway woman from this year’s Carnival in Venice could be a former member of the convent, depicted in Guardi’s painting, possibly the woman in the lemon dress.

Venice Carnival – 2020

The richness of Venice and the density of the stories to be found here has influenced so many visitors, From Lord Byron to Robert Browning, John Ruskin to Ernest Hemingway, they all stopped in Venice to experience the unique history of this maritime republic marooned between land and sea. For me Venice is a rich treasure trove, to keep discovering, appreciating and understanding. A city of resilience and fortitude, a city of tremendous strength and endurance. A city for us to appreciate and respect.

To read more:


  • With special thanks to: La Venissiana a Venetian woman who writes beautifully about her place of birth:
Venice - there's treasure around every corner
Venice – there’s treasure around every corner
Venice Carnevale - Grand Tourist - Tetrarchs and Twins - February 2020
Venice Carnevale – Grand Tourist – Tetrarchs and Twins – February 2020
  • Enjoy!
  • 20th July 2020
  • 20th January 2021

3 thoughts on “Venice – dressing up and Guardi’s painting “Il Parlatorio’……..

  1. You’ve done it again, Janet. And you love for this enthralling and unique City shines clearly through, as always.
    Keep it up!
    With thanks for your inspirational enthusiasm,


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