War and Pieces

Art and War may seem like strange bedfellows at first, but on consideration there are many great art works that have drawn their inspiration from war in virtually every artistic medium.  The Hindu god Vishnu is both creator and destroyer of worlds, and the ancient Greeks appointed Athena goddess of the arts and victory in war.

There has been a lot of interest in the fate of art during times of war of late.  George Clooney’s film The Monuments Men is a fairly lightweight attempt to dramatise the work of those who sought to prevent major cultural artefacts falling into Nazi hands.  (Give me Burt Lancaster in The Train for a bit of grittier art rescue).

There there’s been the revelations about Cornelius Gurlit, the German whose father was one of Hitler’s art dealers and who amassed a collection worth over $1 billion at today’s prices.  The trouble is the work was frequently looted or sold under duress, so there are considerable efforts to restore it to its rightful owners of their descendants.

_MG_1910I was reminded of this when I visited the photography exhibition at Tre Oci on Giudecca, for the permanent exhibits show the preparations made to protect much of Venice’s artistic heritage from damage.

The Giant’s Staircase at the Doge’s Palace was covered in sandbags and bolstered beneath with many more._MG_1781

The bronze well heads were removed to safe keeping, and great conical defences built over them._MG_1778-Edit

Panels from the ceilings inside the Palazzo were removed leaving gilt frames showcasing bare roof timbers.

The whole of the facade of St Mark’s Basilica was covered with an enormous wall of sandbags and supporting timber.  Statues were dismantled and removed.

Venetians had suffered before you see.  When Napoleon had taken the city in the 19th Century, he looted many works of art and placed others in storage in what is now Accademia, the great repository of works by Bellini, Tintoretto, Carpaccio and more, pending its removal.  Luckily he handed Venice to the Austrians shortly afterwards, leaving much of the booty in one place and inadvertently creating a great collection.

Come the Great War, Austria were the enemy and all those preparations were aimed at preventing damage from Austrian bombers.  In over 42 air raids, some 1000 bombs were dropped on Venice.  Cultural vandalism or bad strategy?  The Italian fleet were based at Arsenale in the city.

The defences around St Marks were effective, but at the other end of the grand canal, on 17th October 1915, a bomb intended for the train station destroyed the roof of Santa Maria di Nazareth (better known as Scalzi), and with it the incredible ceiling fresco painted by Tiepolo.   Surviving fragments are on display at Accademia, and serve to demonstrate the scale of the loss.

Meanwhile the aforementioned Mr Clooney, and the bride that he wed in this city, campaign to have the Elgin Marbles repatriated from the British Museum back to Athens.  Ironically one of the original reasons for their removal was to protect them from further damage; the Ottomans who ruled Athens at the time having used the Parthenon as a munitions store, which exploded under fire from…


Now who has the moral high ground?




Foster Care

I felt sure I’d written about The Sage before, but a quick search of old posts suggests that this curvaceous beauty has been restricted to supporting roles so the spotlight is long overdue.

I love visiting this building; as often as not there’s good reason for that as I’ve seen some fantastic performances there over the years, but the amazing building always plays her part.  She’s 10 years old now yet still impresses me every time I see her, prompting J and I to speculate on how long it will be before she begins to tire in the same way that the Sidney Opera House has done.  There’s no sign yet.

Foster and Partners were the lead architects responsible for her design, the multi award-winning architects who have produced a few favourites from these pages; the Millennium Bridge (Thames not Tyne), the Hydro in Glasgow, as well as some that have escaped my lens; Wembley Stadium,  the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court at the British Museum, and the Gherkin (more properly 30 St Mary Axe).

There’s so much to love about The Sage beyond her great sweeping curves, and for me it comes down to the care taken over the details as much as the dramatic impact she has on the Gateshead skyline.  Glass and steel architecture is nothing new (see my recent blog from Canary Wharf) but the reflective surfaces here face skyward and converse with the heavens.  On grey days, she is clad in silver, but when skies are blue she too adopts an azure aspect.  Throw in some clouds and she is patterned with rectangles of white.  I’m sure she would look impressive with any sort of chromed finish, but her chameleon skin gives her additional charm.

The three great windows resemble the sails of the Tall Ships that have moored along this same stretch of water that she now oversees; another nice touch but there is still more.  The multiple layers of white floors that comprise the interior may be reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim, but it doesn’t diminish their serenity.  The wood panelling within the main hall is stunning, but look above you and the spaces between resemble piano keys.  Perfect for the region’s premier concert hall.

There is something calm and welcoming about the main concourse, and I believe the quantity of light that floods the space and bounces from the white surfaces must contribute to this, but even the flooring helps.  Shiny and black, and flecked with reflective flakes and chips it too sends photons skyward once again.  Would we have complained if there were carpet beneath our feet?  Probably not, but that attention to detail just adds to the effect.

I could go on singing her praises (though I might not be invited to do so from any of her stages) but I think you should visit and discover more of her secrets.

APW_9211Even the breakfasts are worth the trip!APW_9212


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