This morning’s first activities could only happen in modern Europe. We had to return our much loved French Renault and take a taxi to Kehl in Germany to hire a German Audi because tomorrow we want to drive the car to Aachen in Germany and leave it there. There is no agreement between France and Germany in relation to sharing hire car drop off destinations so that’s what we had to do! I do recall in the past hiring a car in France and dropping it off at the Rome airport. Perhaps France and Italy have a deal or else it was a problem with Enterprise, our hire car company in Strasbourg France. Who knows? It means at least that I could drive on the German autobahn in a German Audi and that was fun (mostly) since it was a five on the floor manual vehicle. We had some anxious moments trying to start in 3rd gear while my head got around a manual wrong side of the road driving experience in a large unfamiliar German town!
That solved we got away from the big city of Strasbourg/Kehl for a while and drove the autobahn to the gorgeous university town of churches, Speyer, again not far from the Rhine. In fact we crossed the Rhine at least three times in the course of today. Speyer’s imperial cathedral is a world heritage site and was in some periods the central cathedral of the Holy Roman Emperor although today it does not have a Archbishop’s seat. It is an unusual Romanesque style with however four towers and a central dome, not of course all built at once. Inside it is remarkable for its austerity and size. No stained glass at all and only a series of very well preserved frescoes from the C19th high above the nave. The statuary is very minimalist and the vast area of the apse and sanctuary is divided into two modern communion tables with moveable chairs and much space. The ceilings and walls are otherwise unpainted and unadorned. The massive cathedral sits in the midst of a beautiful treed parkland.
There are many other churches in Speyer, each one quite historic and spectacular in their own way. In addition the major part of the town has retained its “old town” feel with brightly painted wooden homes and some very impressive classical stone architecture. Speyer rightly attracts many tourists and getting a park was a challenge.
After lunch we completed the very short autobahn run to another University and huge industrial city of Heidelberg to see the impressive Renaissance ruined schloss or castle, resplendent in red stone and high on an unpronounceable hill above the beautiful bridge across the Neckar river and looking out over the beautiful houses of Heidelberg’s old town. The Castle has a complex history, belonging mostly to Hohenstauffen rulers including Frederick 11 and suffering from the same problem of often being in conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor and therefore having powerful enemies who kept attacking the castle and eventually disabling it. It sits in glorious and still formidable disarray and the height of its keep from wall to the bottom of the dungeon is dizzying and not for those with vertigo. The Schloss is a rich treasure and it is good to see it being well maintained. A funicular railway connects it to the town and is very popular.
The weather was again kind to us and we had another very happy day in the Rhineland.
Strasbourg in Alsace, now in France..for many years in Germany, is a stately and gracious city with wide streets, effective trams and very polite drivers …even with those who drive the wrong way in one way streets and occasionally hesitate in the midst of quite heavy traffic! Our “Couvent Franciscan” hotel is not, as we imagined an out of town quiet retreat but a mid-town hotel right in the thick of things. So this morning after brekky we were able to walk quite easily from our hotel room directly to the bridge over the river Ill (that’s capital I as in eye and two “ls” as in lake), a tributary of the Rhine and directly three blocks further to the old town (where we found a wonderful Lalique shop) and of course to Strasbourg Cathedral.
The Church of Notre Dame de Strasbourg is currently celebrating its millennial year, being created in 1015 with of course many additions since. This is really one of the world’s “great” cathedrals. I hate to use that word ever since being told in year 7 that it is a pretty ordinary adjective and surely I could think of something more explicit! But “great” this Gothic cathedral is as well as monstrous in a photograph defying sense. What ecclesiastical grandeur can compare with Strasbourg?…well certainly of course the other wonderful French Gothic cathedrals (Chartres, Amiens, Rouen, Rheims, Notre Dame de Paris; of course St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London, Lincoln? Seville?Cologne?.St Patricks New York?.not many more I think.
The stained glass is exquisite..high, everywhere, complete; the decoration and statuary subdued (during the Reformation a great many statues and other decoration was destroyed); It’s astronomical clock incomparable! The external bulk and complexity defies our little iPhone photographic skills. It was a privilege to be quietly in this sacred space this morning.
We had a a wander in old town Strasbourg then came back to town and took off in the Renault Capture for the Rhineland towns of Colmar in France and Freiburg in Germany. Colmar is to Strasbourg what Olinda is to Melbourne. About 90kms by easy freeway to a picture perfect town with a wonderful market and lots of unusual shops as well as all the normal tourist stuff.
But art lovers come to Colmar for one reason only…the Isenheim altar piece in the Unterlinden Museum. Somehow this C16th masterpiece by an artist known as Grunewald (actual name Mathis Gotthart Nithard and a sculptor named Nicolas de Hagenau. It is a complex work physically with three levels of openings. Currently Underlinden Museum is closed for renovation so the Isenheim altarpiece is on display in the local ancient Dominican monastery church which has its own stained glass quiet beauty. I am sure greater art critics than I can explain the popularity of this altarpiece. To me the resurrection scene does not ring true and the connection made between St Anthony and St Paul and Christ is not helpful. Nevertheless there is a richness in the colour and drama of the whole display that is compelling and I saw people quite moved to sit and look at the crucifixion depiction in particular
After a simple lunch we drove the short distance from Colmar across the mighty Rhine with its cruiser boats busy, into Germany to the Minster city of Freiburg. Everything is an anticlimax after Strasbourg but Freiburg Minster has its own charm with its deep red stone, high towers, and again some impressive stained glass; the flying buttresses with their fleeing “demons” are exciting and as in Strasbourg folk seem to love just sitting in these vast worship spaces, overwhelmed by the sense of ancient piety, scope and strength of architecture and exquisite beauty of the glasswork in the windows.
The journey home to Strasbourg was even quicker owing to the superior German highway engineering on their side of the Rhine. It was a very quiet and happy day in beautiful sunshine.
We had only a morning to wander the relatively quiet and ordered streets of Basel in Switzerland after the tourist chaos, blistering sun and sheer noise of Florence. The contrast was quite remarkable. Virtually no tourists, a cool 23 degrees, a much more homogeneous and “older” society, (vast numbers of European tourists are under 40) and the sort of architecture that makes you feel like you have landed in Disneyland with everything manicured, everything sweet, chocolate and cherries everywhere and everything carefully painted and finished.
Our soul goal was to visit the Basel Cathedral and honour Erasmus, whose tomb is found there. Erasmus has always been a hero of mine and his “In Praise of Folly” should be compulsory reading for all Christians. His achievement of editing and having published an accurate copy of the Greek New Testament kick started Luther and Tyndale and in a way made the Reformation possible by providing authority and trust in the text of God’s Word written. After the cathedral will visit we wandered the streets of Basel and had a carefully negotiated lunch, as Switzerland will only deal in Swiss Francs or Euro notes, not coins so we had to judge our Euro costs to the closet Euro note!
We then travelled the short distance by train from Basel to Strasbourg through flat well cropped fields, picked up a hire car, a Renault Capture in Strasbourg and spent far too much time working out where to park it cheaply as our hotel has no serious car park.
Today, as a final attempt to see the Renaissance through Florentine eyes we ventured just down the street from our hotel to San Lorenzo church, the parish church of the Medici family which also contains as an ‘add on’ the extraordinary tombs of the Medici leaders.
The church itself is another huge classical Renaissance effort, Gothic in general style, with an unfinished front in spite of the Medici “wealth” (which like modern governments was often an illusion..artists were often commissioned, delivered, and then not paid…princes often paid debts with borrowed money only to have to go into debt again when their own debts were required of them. There is evidence that the Medicis were not so much patrons of Renassance art as encouragers and supporters but did not actually have the money to commission.
All this fits with the chapels which, although in part richly decorated, some would say garishly decorated, were never finished. In fact the beautifully inlaid polished stone floors were not completed until Medici descendants paid for them in the late C20th. Whatever happened to the Medici wealth seems to be unknown but it disappeared as did most of the quite famous jewellery. In addition the exorbitant decoration of walls with inlaid polished stone and and oversized tombs themselves in the Capella dei Principe have all been stripped of their greater than life-size images except two of them.
The other sad part of these Medici chapels, and the museum set up to attract fee-paying tourists is the rather horrific cabinet after cabinet of expensive pure silver monstrances, pyxes and other reliquaries holding bits of mouldy bones and other doubtful historical oddities. They seem to reflect in my mind a complete rejection of the simple moral simplicities of the Gospel and an objective visitor in my view can only come away from these chapels with a sense, if not of horror, at least a sense of the complete inappropriateness of the attempted elevation of Medici significance and power in some future arena when “first shall be last and the last shall be last”. There is more meaning to be found I think in the much smaller “New Sacristy” which contains Michelangelo sculptures in memory of the Duke of Urbino, grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the simple tomb of Lorenzo the Magnificent himself.
As to the church of San Lorenzo it is one of the earliest and in a way, most straightforward of Florence’s Renaissance churches. The decoration is subdued, mainly massive early devotional works of art. The side chapels are also subdued and the central altar is beautifully marbled but not excessive. Donatello’s bronze pulpits in the nave are not excessive and the only major fresco is a large work by Bronzino depicting the martyrdom of St Lawrence. A striking painting by C20th Pietro Annigoni showing a young Jesus in his father’s workshop is certainly one of the best things I have seen in Florence.
The marbled highly polished altar in San Lorenzo church.
We left Florence in mid-afternoon with the temperature again rising to 34 degrees and the unrelenting humidity and crowds still swelling.
Our journey took us by super-fast frecciarosso train from Florence through Bologna to Milan with a quick change of trains to an inter-city express through the tranquil lake district of Lakes Maggiore and Com0 into the still snow-clad alps and mountain towns of northern Italy through the Simplon Pass and down through a very long tunnel into the wooden chalets and red shuttered dwellings of Switzerland. We travelled through Berne at 10.00pm and arrived at Basel at 1o.45pm and happy to see our hotel and be asleep by midnight after quite a long day!
This morning we woke to a perfect Summer day, not to hot just fresh and perfect..our last full day in Florence.
After brekky we set our sites on the Bargello, Florence’s National Museum of Applied Arts and Sculpture. Built as the Palazzo of the City Official in the late C15th the building later became a prison for 300 years before being returned to its true status on the Piazza della Signora in the C19th.
Some of the world’s most amazing sculptures are here including Michelangelo’s Bacchus and Madonna and Child with young John the Baptist, David – Apollo and a bust of Brutus. Among many major works by Cellini the Museum includes Narcissus, Ganymede,Danae and her Son Perseus, and the base of the real Perseus. The actual huge bronze of Perseus holding the head of the Hydra he had cut off takes pride of place on a copy of the base in the Piazza Signora. Reading Cellini’s biography on the plane on the way to Europe it seems that Perseus occupied Celini’s mind for just about all of the last nine years of his life. Perhaps the star of this collection is the fine Mannerist bronze of Mercury by Giambologna.
On the second floor are many examples of Donatello’s sculptural genius including his rather effete or even androgynous bronze David, and a second marble David. Here also is Donatello’s original St George, the one on the exterior of the Orsanmichele Church being a copyThe third floor was closed but we still had plenty of choice with rooms full of maiolica, small bronzes and mediaeval artworks.
After lunch we tracked out to the massive Santa Croce church which contains the tombs of Michelangelo (by Vasari), Galileo, Machiavelli and Bruni along with a giant memorial to Da Vinci and of course many hundreds of tombs of lesser known Italians. Once again the size and scope of this vast edifice defies iPhone photography. The Renaissance Church has a Neo-Gothic facade and campanile both of which were added in the mid C19th, resulting in a very complex architectural structure with a great many chapels, cloisters and a colonnaded verandah by Brunelleschi. The very high Gothic Sanctuary is completely covered in frescoes as are nearly all the other chapels. The Capella Bardi next to the Sanctuary has frescoes by Giotto , somewhat damaged but an excellent fresco of friends comforting the dying St Francis.
The “Chapter House” alongside the church which was severely flooded in 1966 now again holds the significant crucifix by Cimabue which has been restored but still shows signs of damage. It is probably the first painting of the crucifixion which shows the “human” Christ as opposed to the regal glory of Byzantine representations of Christ.
Standing alongside this vast church is Brunelleschi’s domed chapel (the Capella de’ Pazzi) with “perfect” classical proportions, and simple decoration of glazed roundels of the apostles by C15th sculptor Robbia. This was a chapel of significant peace and reflection.
Beneath the church is a basement area which includes an excellent historical survey of the 1966 flood and the restoration work which followed. The five meter deep flood was in fact the fifth and not the deepest flood of the Fiume River since the C14tth. The church is one of the lowest-lying areas of Florence. The vast crypt area of the Church now contains an elegant modern worship centre with modern furniture. This area appears to be the “worshipping heart” of the church.
Finally further halls attached to the Church contain additional frescoes including an impressive fresco of the Last Supper by Taddeo (14th) still in an excellent state of preservation.
There appears to be no end to the artistic treasures of Florence..even walking to the above we came across the Dante study centre office which is now housed in a disused convent but the first two rooms of offices you come to are alive with Renaissance scriptural frescoes. Scratch a wall in Florence and you will find a fresco!
We woke to our first cooler day since we came to Italy with the temperature around 30 degrees. The papers here are saying 2015 is shaping to be southern Europe’s hottest summer for 30 years so we picked it! After a slow start as both of us had a restless night with noisy neighbours we mooched off to the southern end of Florence again to track down the Brancacci Chapel.
On the way we visited the Orsanmichele Church in the Via de Calzaioli which was formerly a grain market but in the C14th was converted to a Church. The arcades of the former market were bricked up but in 14 niches around the exterior sculptors were commissioned by guilds of the day to add some class to the external appearance. Donatello, Verrochio and Ghiberti were among those who contributed sculptures. The internal appearance is simple with some impressive stained glass and an elaborate high altar with works by C14th and C16th artists.
The Brancacci Chapel is part of the Carmelite convent church of Santa Maria del Carmine in a working class and residential area of Florence south of the Pitti Palace. Entry into the large church is not permitted but the Capella Brancacci chapel which is open to visitors and is frescoed largely by Massachio, having been begun by Masolino and in the way of these things finished off by Filipino Lippi. The major frescoes tell a complicated story of the life of Peter following the resurrection but the sequence is not coherent although the frescoes have been well preserved .
The major interest is two facing relatively small panels of Adam and Eve on the edge of the chapel, On the right hand side facing the altar is a healthy and happy pair of humans but a bit edgy about the tempting offering coming between them in the form of a serpent. The facing panel on the left has Adam and Eve leaving the garden in complete despair having earned God’s displeasure by their disobedience. Their powerfully graphic expression of sorrow and anguish was unique in its day and it is said that both Da Vinci and Michelangelo came to see these frescoes and to learn from Massachio’s technique. They still have great power to communicate after all this time but they are certainly overwhelmed by the surrounding Peter frescoes.
In the afternoon we walked the streets and lanes of Florence along the Fiume River and into the high end shopping centre of the Via De’ Tourabuoni which would give 5th Avenue New York more than a run for its money. There were some seriously amazing shops including a porcelain shop with its own internal rooms and garden, more like a palace than a shop. It was siesta time so two vast churches were passed over…San Trinita and a huge church next to the equally huge Palazzo Strozzi. Each floor of this vast palace is about 3 times the height of a normal floor in a building. One church which was open was the even larger Church of St Maria Novella with its own equally large frescoed Chapter House and other now museum buildings. The original Romanesque church was doubled in size by Alberti with a Gothic addition and contains two frescoed Strozzi chapels and many other impressive chapels and paintings. Massachio’s fading but still impressive Trinity is here with its carefully hidden Holy Spirit dove looking a bit like the Father’s collar!
This was a long walking day for us and we were happy to seek refuge in the air conditioned comfort of our room.
Sunday 26th July What a privilege to wake up in Florence and be very quickly surrounded by the some of the central icons of European Renaissance culture. Our hotel is just two blocks from the peaceful convent of San Marco which is where we began today. The convent, eventually taken over by Dominicans, became the home of the Black Friars amongst whom was numbered Girolama Savaronola, a reformer who transformed the lives of many in Florence and indeed the life of Florence itself until his opponents seized their opportunity and had him arrested and burnt at the stake, like so many reformers in Western Europe.
The Convent also is the final resting place of Giovanni Pico della Mirand0la, the creative and thoughtful Renaissance linguist, writer, theologian and thinker who so deeply influenced John Colet, Erasmus and Thomas More. We sat and prayed in the early morning quiet of the Convent church which had a beautiful pipe organ being quietly played. Very few people were present and those who were became very quiet and respectul. Angelico’s painting of “the Three Marys at the Cross” is a thoughtful aid to reflection The whole Convent is a place of reflection. The wonderful library has many ancient codici and illuminated manuscripts beautifully displayed and the rooms of the monks are all open to view on the second floor. Each simple room has a window and a wonderful Gospel fresco by Fra Angelico. The light was difficult and the photos won’t work very well but again there was a spirit of peace about the place. Some of the cells including Cosimo Medici’s had two rooms so there was obviously a pecking order.
Fra Angelico’s frescoes and amazing paintings are on display throughout the convent and they include “the musical angels” which surround the “Madonna della Stella painting. They are too small to photograph but each angel plays a different instrument. Angelico’s faith shines through his paintings. Like Giotto his work is characterised by simplicity and feeling and the New Testament characters come to meet you as you study them. The convent also has a simple labyrinth reflection garden which invites prayer and thought.
This place would have been enough for one day but we moved on down the Via Cavour which eventually turns into the Via Martell so without expecting it one looks left and is confronted by the shining green and marble height and bulk of Brunelleschi’s amazing Duomo. In the past we have approached this extraordinary cathedral from the Piazza della Signoria with all the amazing statuary and the iconic Palazzo Vecchio so one is “warmed up” to greatness. But to come across the Cathedral sharply as “the next building in the street” literally takes your breath away.
We entered the throng of downtown Florence shopping which was less chaotic and more ordered than Rome and not quite as hot; Ann enjoyed some retail therapy and Richard also replaced the belt he bought in the market in Florence in 1998 and is still wearing. We continued on across the Ponte Vecchio through the milling crowd of photographers, had a simple lunch and launched ourselves almost unwillingly on the ponderous looking might of the Pitti Palace which contains seven museums and the Boboli Gardens. Today we simply “did” the Palatine (late Renaissance and C17-C18th galleries and the royal apartments which were originally Medici appartments, stolen by Napoleon and finally returned to the Lorraine Hapsburg rulers for their final make over (although Napoleon’s bathroom has been retained!) Again we were simply overwhelmed (and exhausted!) by the number of amazingly decorated rooms in which the many hundreds of paintings are displayed including a special display of the work of the Florentine artist Carlo Dolci.
Inevitably we were drawn to the iconic work of Raphael, but a vast collection of Renaissance and succeeding painters was represented…Rubens, Tiziano, Velasquez, Corregio, Tintoretto, Van Dyke and many other wonderful paintings by artists we were not very well acquainted with. The furnishings of the Royal apartments including amazingly huge vases and extraordinarily ornate Baroque tables and chairs and bedroom arrangements are spectacular. We saw the stretch of the immaculately manicured Boboli gardens through the windows and hope to come back and enjoy them before we leave.
On the way home we were up-sold two of the largest ice-creams you could ever imagine which cost a small fortune and which I think have put us off gelato for the rest of our lives. That was not a good decision!
Saturday 26th July This morning we vacated our lovely tiny Venice boudoir, walked the tangled lanes back to the water-bus and floated down the gorgeous Grand Canal for the last time past palaces like the Ca d’Or and hotels like the Casino which has been there since the C17th.
We travelled first class in air conditioned comfort (for the first and only time on this trip) on the streamlined Freccia train from Venice to Florence stopping only at Venice mainland, Padua and Bologna. The only downside of training around Italy is that much of the journey is underground because their very fast trains go through the mountains and hills not over them.
Our hotel Giglio, again tiny and well hidden on one floor of a large building is well situated just a few blocks from the Duomo and we were greeted in Florence by the rare experience of light rain and a much cooler than expected day although still with high humidity. We were in Florence in the early afternoon and took the opportunity to find a laundromat and catch up with our washing.
There is so much to see in Europe’s real cultural capital (Malta doesn’t stand a chance really) so we will have to choose carefully. Our room looks out in two directions on treed gardens and we have our own Romeo and Juliet balcony so it is tres romantique! One of the joys of travelling especially by train is meeting up with many people from every nation under the sun. We travelled to day in the same section with two New Zealand women who have spent their lives since they were teenagers in Sacramento California.
I have been reading more of Ruskin’s view that art is only of value when it enlightens the human Spirit and gives glory and honour to Providence and has no value at all when it is simply the artist taking delight in his/her own skills. Writing at the time of the Indian mutiny I can understand his intense hatred of all things Indian in Art but I fear he has allowed his theory to be overrun by cultural bias. I am sure Ruskin wouldn’t get an invite to open any galleries if he was alive today although even in the 1850’s he seemed aware that his views would not be favourably received especially along with his very precise delineation of what is and is not good and intelligent design..(used in a sense very differently from Dembski, Behe and co!)
Tonight after a very indifferent and highly expensive meal in St Mark’s Square we are sitting writing our blog and emails in the foyer of the hotel because, as with Greece, the only decent wifi in the hotel is near the modem on the front desk in the foyer. Tomorrow it will be 35 degrees again so our one day of cool is over and out as am I! Cheerio for now!
Herewith Ann beside one of the local trains in which we toured to Mantua and Vicenza with but mostly without air con.
Venice turned on a perfect day for us today with a beautiful ocean breeze and slightly cooler temperatures than we have had for two weeks…a pleasant 33 degrees!
We went first this morning to the Accademia crossing one of only three bridges over the Grand Canal into the Veneto District to find the distinguished classical gallery with its very impressive collection of late mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque art laid out in large rooms with reasonably good English explanations. All the normal suspects were there including many paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Lotto, and all the Bellinis! Many of the paintings are so massive in scope that they take up whole walls of the gallery. Only one Mantegna and the one Piero della Francesca was on loan elsewhere.
The Veneto side of the Grand Canal has a lot of high end modern art galleries and some very swank hotels which make poor old Hotel Georgio look very down in the mouth. Murano glass is everywhere and some very impressive installations by many new artists including Korean artists.
Paintings which I liked in the Accademia included Giorgione’s controversial La Tempesta, controversial largely because no-one seems to be able to provide any sensible explanation for its images. I also liked Lotto’s Young Gentleman in his Studies and some of the architectural perspective drawings of Pietro Gaspuri. Tintoretto’s Creation of the Animals, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel also made an impact.
After lunch we wandered along the Veneto side of the Grand Canal laneways across many canals (but no gondolas) and eventually came to the wide steps of the massive Salute church and sat there waiting for siesta to be over for it to open. There was much to see with on the Grand Canal with water taxis, water buses, gondolas, touring boats and private launches all vying for space and seemingly no rules regarding left or right side of the canal!
The Salute eventually opened and was a subdued, classical styled church with a large central area under the dome and a separate area under a different area for prayers. A ring of Old Testament prophets high above looked down on proceedings and there were some large paintings but in the main the decoration was subdued.
Venice on a pleasant warm day must have few equals. There is no city quite like it and we will be sad to leave. There is enough to explore in this city to fill many months not just the three days we have given it. Tomorrow we train to Florence for our final four days in Italy. It has been a privileged and amazing experience.
Ann was in shopper’s paradise this morning wandering the narrow lanes of mostly clothing and fashion shops and Richard did not miss out finding mouth-watering ancient book shops and not one but two stamp shops including one actually making a living in St Mark’s piazza. The extraordinary paper/leather/book shops are a frustration because the vast majority of all the beautiful leather bound volumes are of course in Italian.
We found our way quite easily to the waterfront and the amazing views from the island across the mouth of the Grand Canal to the Salute church. The slightly lower temperatures and the sea breeze made walking much more comfortable. St Mark’s, surely just about the most distinctive of the world’s Christian cathedrals looked fantastic as ever but like many building icons is undergoing partial restoration getting in the way of that perfect photo.
Richard actually waited in the queue for just the third time in his life to get into the Doge’s Palace (the first time was the The Tower of London and the second was the Musee D’Orsay in Paris). Over the years we have already seen some extraordinary palaces in St Petersburg, Versailles, The Schonbrun, Charlottenburg, The Alhambra and the Vatican and we are looking forward to Buckingham Palace on this trip. The Doge of Venice’s Palace is right up there and much of the detail is on the ceilings of some of the largest Council and meeting rooms in Europe. Photography fails to grasp the magnitude of some of these paintings and moulded and painted ceilings and the complexity of the subject matter which mixes up Christian, classical and Venetian history is not for the faint hearted. Paintings by Tintoretto, Tiziano, Veronese, Carpaccio and many other Venetian artists adorn the walls of these amazing rooms with subject matter too difficult to master in one visit.
The ground floor includes collections of the original columns and capitals of the first palace long gone, and up front and personal they are simply huge. The actual state rooms just keep getting larger and larger until the massive Council room where all the Italian nobles of the day gathered once or twice a year to keep an eye on the Doge and perhaps elect a new one (over 2000 of them in one sitting and a Council room to match and paintings to match. As in Mantua the palace is surrounded by cultivated gardens of peaceful shade, this time added to by the many canals passing through and around the palace. The weaponry and armoury rooms complete with knights in full armour on horseback, crossbows, every conceivable sword and pistol and a multi barrel shotgun were actually quite a shock to see the brutality and power of some of the weaponry.
Contrasting this magnificence, power and brutality was the quite exciting journey through the dreary passage ways of the prison including the tiny bridge of sighs inside the palace where allegedly the prisoners sighed with horror contemplating their very imminent abode in the Doge’s dungeons.
The ticket includes the Correr Palace and Art Gallery with its elegant Hapsburg Baroque rooms and amazing art gallery of Venetian art (Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Veronese, late mediaeval and the extraordianary sculpture skills of Canova as well as non Venetian artists including a large Bellini collection and many others and in addition a massive classical archaeological museum and extraordinary numismatic collection; The palace itself is a masterpiece of refinement contrasting with the sheer brutal power of the Doge’s Palace. Curiously the New Zealand biennale exhibit of seeing the world upside down from their point of view was still on show in the final amazing room of the Correr making a sharp contrast between painted mythological surrounds and the latest in technological whizbangery.
The guide books say three hours for the Doge’s little house; We were there for close to six and hardly touched the wonders of the two museums. Venice, like Italy, like Europe, needs a lifetime of study to remind yourself, to misquote Eliot, seeing that in our end is our beginning and we find ourselves back at the beginning seeing things for the first time and asking the same age old questions….
Ignore the following: Richard feeling emotionally moved by Venice:
What started the ancients thinking about more than food, shelter and sex? what caused them to look out and up and to see gods in rivers, clouds, mountains, forests and seas? what mystery is there in the world’s languages, separated by geographical isolation and causing so much distrust and misunderstanding? why must humans seek to dominate, hurt and kill and destroy one another just for power and wealth; how can artists see the beauty in what they create without asking about the justice or lack of wisdom in the actions they depict? how could these Renaissance men and women discover so much in the new world, trade so cleverly with the old world, find ways to examine by telescope and microscope the hidden world and the universe world but not puzzle out how to simply love one another and care for one another?
How could Christian men and women read or hear God’s word in scripture and paint it in magnificent art and yet ignore its quite simple and basic teaching …a tree is known by its fruit, love one another, care for the poor and the stranger and the foreigner, my thoughts are higher than your thoughts says the Lord; if you seek me with all your heart you will find me…
Keats knew beauty was truth and truth beauty, Yeats knew the centre somehow could not hold, Goethe knew that there is lust for power and knowledge greater than man that can destroy man, Shakespeare knew we walked on a stage before a particular audience..I feel the riddle of Venice that has encouraged many to write..but in the end there is,
as Lewis and MacDonald have written, a deeper magic and a deeper longing, a calling from a place we belong to and have not arrived at yet.
One problem with the Doge’s art and power is that most would admit that the art displays the power of Venice rather than the power and love of the Son of God so often depicted, and that maybe the seat of the human problem. But enough philosophy for now..knowledge puffs up says St Paul and I think he was right to challenge the Athenians about their unknown God. St Paul above all in Romans called for unity in the emerging church he was called to help found. We surely need to heed his call today and also his reminder in chapter 2 that you are without excuse Oh man who judges for the one who judges practises these things but what can be known about God is clear to all people. Here ends today’s lesson according to Richard.
Coda: In this Tintoretto painting in the Doge’s Palace the Doge is shown acknowledging faith …but is the Doge’s Palace really about the power of the Doge rather than the power and love of God?