Well this is it, my final image from my project to reveal a different aspect of Venice for each day of the last year. I didn’t save the best ’til last, but I did save one that is unmistakably Venetian. I’ve enjoyed the journey as I’ve learnt so much more about the city from my attempts to identify the subject matter of an exposure that had visual appeal at the time, but about which I knew nothing more.
Thank you to those who have followed my journey, my sharing of trivia, stories and personal reflections.
When I studied creativity I learned about the use of random inputs; a technique developed by Edward de Bono and this project has seen a lot of that. Given a random image what could you find to write about? Where will your imagination take you?
In my case it has taken me to new levels of understanding of this amazing city, I hope it has you too.
So I bid adieu to La Serenissima. Or arrivederci may be more appropriate.
Wedged into a corner where the Basilica San Marco adjoins the Palazzo Ducale is a compact piece of sculpture that were it not for its colouring would probably garner little attention, yet it has great significance as both art and history.
It depicts four identical men, with embracing pairs facing in different directions, making it a suitable choice for its corner siting. It’s also made of porphyry, a highly durable stone, which is lucky given the knocks that such a corner will accrue.
As a piece of art, it marks a transition from the classical style seen in many Roman and Greek antiquities; the poised and highly muscular statuary that inspired the Renaissance, to something simpler and more stylised.
Its historical significance is more apparent when you know that the subject matter is the Tetrarchs; tetrarchy being a Greek word meaning the rule of four, and these particular individual were the rulers of the Roman Empire at the end of the third century. The empire had grown so large at that point that attacks were coming on multiple fronts, a problem which Diocletian addressed by splitting the empire in half; appointing an emperor and deputy for the West Empire (operating from Milan and other western cities) and the East Empire (from Antioch, Nicomedia etc). Although reunited shortly afterwards by Constantine the Great, these would become the templates for the Carolingian and Byzantine Empires.
What is the statue doing in Venice on a Byzantine inspired basilica? It was looted during the Fourth Crusade. Unfortunately the crusaders were a little careless and left the heel of one of the tetrarchs behind. It’s now in a museum in Istanbul.
In amongst all the gushing about the architecture, history and food that I experienced in Venice, I have over the last 12 months posted some pieces that were critical of aspects of Italian life; corruption, brutal policing, mindless bureaucracy, and organised crime for example.
Yet in any love affair we are able to overlook the imperfections of the object of our heart’s desire.
For the first time visitor to the city, emerging into the daylight from the shaded interior of the railway station is a dramatic experience. The open space before you seems full of light, accentuated by the white stonework around you and the sparkling green waters of the Grand Canal.
Then your eye is grabbed by a small church on the opposite side of the Canalazzo, small in stature but also in name for this is San Simeon Piccolo (the little Saint Simon; distinguishing it from another Saint Simon nearby).
Visually the church punches above its weight, its four classical column drawing the eye upwards to a bright green dome, the verdigris of its copper matching the hue of the waters below.
Personally I like it, but it seems I’m out of step with the views of more notable individuals:
One of the ugliest churches in Venice or elsewhere. Its black dome, like an unusual species of gasometer, is the admiration of modern Italian architects.
Ruskin (Clearly before the dome achieved its present verdant colour)
I have seen churches without domes before, but I’ve never, until now, seen a dome without a church.
At the risk of causing greater offence, I took advantage of the recent rain to double the impact of that dome.
It’s the feature that makes the city unique; the lagoon water that has shaped the city, its culture, its cuisine and more.
Perhaps water is a misleading term, for the fluid that constitutes the lagoon is more than just H2O with a smattering of sea salt.
The rivers that feed into the basin bring the run off from agricultural land; 70% of the drainage basin that empties into the lagoon is used for the livestock or agricultural farming with the result that the lagoon fills up with herbicides and pesticides.
Add in the industrial pollution from businesses along the coast and you find a build up of hydrocarbons and heavy metals.
The disruption of natural elements caused by this chemical soup has allowed the development of algal blooms as a result of the elevated nutrient levels.
Then there are hormonal pollutants, oxygen deficiencies, and toxins building up in the natural storage facility provided by the lagoon’s sediments.
Water doesn’t begin to cover it.
The human beasts of burden who enable the city to function are not to be underestimated. The speed that they can achieve with their wheeled barrows (shouting “Attenzione” at all who might impede their progress) perhaps makes it look like an easy job, but a great deal of physical strength is required to drag them up the steps of the 400 plus bridges, and control their descent down the other side.
Then there’s the constant loading and unloading that must place enormous strains upon their backs. I hope it pays well.
The musical notation in this display case of antique musical instruments troubled me. A non musician might not spot that this isn’t standard notation (crotchets, quavers, minims etc on a five-lined stave) – it is neumatic notation, a form that dates back to the 9th Century and one that I associate with the plainsong chants of monks and clergy from that era.
As the five-line version that we use today originated in Italy in the 14th Century, I saw the work here as a fake. Surely plainsong manuscripts would have been handwritten as they preceded the printing press?
A little research soon put me right. Neumatic notation continued in use, particularly in the Eastern Roman Empire, and Byzantine and Greek Orthodox music feature this style even today.
Given Venice’s history as a bridge between East and West it’s no surprise to find printed neumes here after all.
I stand corrected.