Friday, January 17, 2014

Splendours of Venice

They gave the city the name Venetia as if to say Veni etiam – Come again!
Francesco Sansovino
Citta Noblisissima et Singolare - 1581
Just before Christmas I received an e-mail via a French arts website from my friend Sybil in Geneva.  The link provided was for an exhibition at Musée des Beaux Arts de MontréalSplendore a Venezia.  I had to admit ignorance of the event but it contained that magic word: Venezia! I am sure I've made it apparent on at the least one occasion here that Venice is a city I adore and the offer of a multidisciplinary exhibition so close to home that combined the art and the music of Venice from the Renaissance to the Baroque - well what more could a Venitiaphile (is that a word?) ask for?

The rich silk, linen and lead robes and stole of a Procurator and a Corno Ducale (Doge's crown) were the first, but far from the last,  splendours that greeted the viewer.  Not visible in this photo but behind the ducal finery was Titan's portrait of a sickly Doge Francesco Venier weighed down by the elaborate robes of state.

On Boxing Day we celebrated Linda and Yves' recent marriage with a celebratory champagne lunch at the Sofitel.  Afterwards it was a short walk over to the Beaux-Arts to take in the Venetian splendors - and splendors there were.  Even though it was late afternoon the crowds were still fairly heavy but we were able to take in a goodly portion of this marvelous show.  Paintings, clothing, musical instruments, incunabula, manuscripts, bronzes and artifacts trace 300 years of the musical and cultural history of the great Republic  Sixty-one collections from nine countries were combed for remarkable - and in many cases seldom seen - examples of the magnificence that was La Serenissima until its dissolution by that evil little Corsican Napoleon in 1797.   The exhibition was the work of Dr Hilliard Goldfarb, Associate Chief Curator and Curator of Old Masters at the Musée and reflected both his passion for and deep knowledge of the music and art of the period.

Splendore a Venezia:  Exhibition curator Dr Hillaird T. Goldfarb with a few of the wonderful treasures tracing the connections between music and art from the Renaissance to the Baroque in La Serenissima.  A right click on each of the paintings will give you a closer look at each one.
The Dogeressa Leaving the Palace - Giacomo FrancoSan Marco - Interior - CanalettoSan Marco - North Transept and Choir Tribune - CanalettoDoge Francesco Morosini is invested at San Marco - Alessandro PiazzaImage Map
A few days later I wrote him to both congratulate him and his team on a magnificent show and to ask a few questions.  In return I received two very kind e-mails answering my questions and mentioning how it had taken five years to bring this exhibition together - something you don't think about as you wander through a gallery.  He also gave me information about several of the caricatures by Anton Maria Zanetti that were on display including the existence of a catalogue from an show at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in 1969.  (I found a copy at AbeBooks and have it in hand now!)  As part of the preparation for exhibiting the Zanetti caricatures the conservators at the Musée did much needed restoration and preservation work as well as remounting.  They are the sort of tiny glories that I always find fascinating amongst the great works.

Anton Maria Zanetti's caricature of Antonio Maria Bernacchi
captures the good and the bad of the great male soprano. 
His voice had incredible power and beauty but Mary Grenville
observed: his person not so good, for he is as big as a Spanish friar.

Like Bernacchi Giustina Turcotti was known for her incredible vocal power and her ample girth. 
It is recorded that La Turcotti had trouble moving on stage and Zanetti's nude female figure
appears to be a less that flattering portrait of the Florentine diva.

In this caricature Zanetti suggests that the great mezzo Caffarelli (Gaetano
Majorano) single-handedly carried the fortunes of Teatro San Grisotomomo
on his shoulders.  The vain, pugnacious and arrogant singer probably
would not have challenged him to a duel on that view.

Dr Goldfarb also suggested that if I visited the show again that  he would be pleased to say hello.  So visit it again I did.  My neighbour Cathy and I headed down to Montreal on the morning train last Thursday.  Having forgotten how icy that wind can be as it comes cutting down from the mountain I decided to walk over to the Museum from Central Station.  You'd think five years of living at Peel and Sherbrooke would have taught me better!  I arrived at the Musée frozen but the appearance of my dear Christine, who I hadn't seen since we left Roma, soon warmed me up.  That and a glass of pinot grigio at our reunion celebration lunch - are we seeing a theme here?   The food at the Café des Beaux Arts is remarkably good, varied - I haven't seen, not that I would order it, Blood Pudding on any other menu - and the service very friendly.

Dale Chihuly's The Sun was part of a larger exhibition
earlier this year but is now in the Musée's permanent
collection. It was purchased through public donations.
I thought that on a day mid-week there would be less people but the exhibit proved to be as popular as it had been on December 26th.  Dr Goldfarb greeted us and apologized that the two large gilt galley lanterns were missing as they were being photographed before being shipped to the Portland Art Gallery.  Strangely it is the only other venue for the exhibition.  I would have thought other museums would have jumped at the opportunity of sharing this remarkable collection; however given the budget cuts that have affected most museums these days it is not all that surprising.

As a sidebar it was interesting to see that through individual donations and public subscription the Musée has acquired Dale Chihuly's The Sun, which had been featured in a major exhibition of his work earlier this year.

Fortunately I was able to spend a bit more time than previously taking in the whole exhibition and particularly the collection of instruments on display:  an archlute in kingwood, ivory and ebony made in 1654; a beautiful theorbo in ivory and ebony from the late 1600s; a military drum bearing St Mark's lion along with Turkish instruments captured a war booty but put into ceremonial use; and a sinuous, strange-looking bass cornetto or serpent that certainly lived up to its name.  The craftsmanship in the stringed instruments was remarkable - elaborately carved sound holes, detailed scrimshaw and delicate inlay. 

This theorbo was crafted in Venice somewhere between
1630-1640.  The ivory scrimshaw and intricately carved
sound hole make it as beautiful to look at as it is to hear. 

This bass cornett or serpent is curved so the finger
holes were within reach of the player.  It dates
from the 16th c. and is leather covered wood.

This archlute is a stunning mixture of kingwood,
ivory, spruce, willow and ebony.  Created by
Christoph Koch in 1654, the extended pegboard gives
it a wider bass range than the regular lute.
The spruce and animal skin drum on the left was used in the 1600s to rally the brave fighting men of the Most Serene Republic in their military endeavours.  The Naqqarah (kettle drum) and Zil (finger cymbals) were trophies of their victories over their Ottoman foes but were often used in the parades and processions that were part of the rituals of state.
And of course no exhibition on the glory that was Venice would be complete without the works of Giovanni Antonio Canal ditto Canaletto.  He is well represented in both paintings and drawings.  Particularly delightful is the pen and ink drawing that is annotated:  I Gian Antonio Canal made this drawing of musicians singing at the ducal church of San Marco in Venice at the age of sixty-eight without eyeglasses, in the year 1766.

The Feast of San Rocco: once again Canaletto captures a Venice filled with life.  August 16 was a major holiday in Venice and the Doge paid a state visit to hear mass at the Church and venerated the Saint's relics.  He was entertained at the Scuolo and viewed the only fixed art exhibition in the city.  And like today's visitors he marvelled at the Tintoretto murals and ceiling.
Even with a second viewing when I look over the beautifully illustrated catalogue I realize that there were things that, like the city itself, deserved a third, fourth even a fifth viewing.  And of course looking at all those splendours only made me long even more to experience them in my beloved Serenissima once more.

January 17:  1893: The Citizen's Committee of Public Safety, led by Lorrin A. Thurston, overthrows the government of Queen Liliuokalani of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Anonymous said...

Seems I'm going to miss the show but let me know next time you're heading for Venice and I'm coming along.


Ur-spo said...

I read the history of Venice and what a marvelous place it was. I suppose it is not worthwhile to visit now; has it turned into a Disneyland as it were?

Willym said...

Spo - there are still corners of Venice that are not thronging with tourists (said he as a tourist himself) and day trippers. And some of the other islands - San Michele, Torcello even Burrano are wonderful. Venice is always "worth the detour!"

Ur-spo said...

someday - Lord willing - i just may.