Mortimer Menpes.

Venice online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryMortimer MenpesVenice → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


LIBRARY OF

ARCHITECTURE AND

ALLIED ARTS



Gift of

The Heirs
of

R. Germain Hubby, A. I. A,



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

BEAUTIFUL BOOKS

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR

PRICE 20s. NET EACH

JAPAN

WORLD'S CHILDREN

WORLD PICTURES

VENICE

BRITTANY

THE THAMES

A. & C. BLACK . 4 SOHO SQUARE . LONDON



VENICE



CROSSING THE PIAZZA







: BY MORTIMER MENPES :
TEXT BY DOROTHY MENPES
PUBLISHED BY ADAM AND
CHARLES BLACK LONDON W




Published May 1 904
Reprinted 1 906, 1912



CONTENTS

PAGE

ARRIVAL AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS .... 3

HISTORY ..... ... 17

A GLIMPSE INTO BOHEMIA ... 39

ARCHITECTURE ........ 55

ST. MARK'S 77

PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE ..... 91

STREETS, SHOPS, AND COURTYARDS . . . 125

THE ISLANDS OF THE LAGOON . . . . .149

SOCIAL UPS AND DOWNS . . . . . .173

GONDOLAS AND GONDOLIERS . 193



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

1. Crossing the Piazza ...... Frontispiece

FACING PAGE

2. Grand Canal, showing Tower of St. Geremia . . 2

3. A Pink Palace 4

4. Palazzo Pisani ........ 6

5. The Salute at Sunset . . . . 8

6. A Ruined Palazzo . . . . . . . 12

7. Palazzi on the Canal . . . . . . 14

8. Giudecca 16

9. San Giorgio Maggiore . .... 20

10. Off the Giudecca .... 22

11. St. Maria delle Misericordia . . . . . 26

12. The Custom House and Church of Santa Maria della

Salute .... .... 28

13. At Chioggia . . . . 30

14. Church of San Geremia ...... 32

15. The Bridge of Sighs and Straw Bridge ... 34

16. On the Grand Canal. . . .36

17. The Bridge of Sighs 38

1 8. Palace in a By-Canal 42

19. The Orange Door . . .... 44

20. An Unfrequented Canal ...... 50

21. St. Mark's Basin 52

22. Hotel Danieli 54

vii



List of Illustrations

FACING PAGE

23. Porta della Carta 56

24. Grand Canal looking towards the Dogana . . . 58

25. A Famous Palazzo ....... 60

26. Entrance to the Grand Canal .... 62

27. Panorama seen from St. Mark's Basin ... 64

28. The Dogana and Salute ...... 66

29. Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni ..... 68

30. Santa Maria della Salute 72

31. Palazzo Mengaldo .... 74

32. Ospedale Civile ... . 76

33. St. Mark's ....... 78

34. Palazzo Danieli ....... 80

35. Francesca 82

36. St. Mark's Piazza ..... .86

37. Scuola di San Marco ...... 88

38. A Quiet Waterway . ... 90

39. Canal Priuli . ... . 94
J40. Osmarin Canal ... .... 98

41. A Sotto Portico . ". . . . . 102

42. A Narrow Canal . . .... 108

43. Bridge near the Palazzo Labia . . . . .110

44. The House with the Blue Door . . . 112

45. Canal in Giudecca Island . . . . . .114

46. The Orange Sail . . . . . .118

47. A Quiet Rio .... ... 120

48. Humble Quarters 122

49. Rio di San Marina . . . . . . .124

50. A Squero or Boat-building Yard . . . .126

51. The Weekly Wash .128

52. A Back Street 130

53. The Wooden Spoon Seller . . . . .138

viii



List of Illustrations

FACING PAGE

54-. Work Girls

55. Chioggia Fish Market

56. Chioggia .

57. In Murano

58. Mrs Eden's Garden in Venice .

59. Timber Boats from the Shores of the Adriatic 1 62

60. By a Squero or Boat-building Yard . 16*

61. In a Side Street, Chioggia 166

62. Santa Maria della Salute . ^8

63. Rio e Chiesa degli Ognissanti . 174

64. A Campiello . .176

65. Fishing Boats from Chioggia . 178

66. A Woman of the People . .180

67. Chioggia .

68. The Fish Market . 19

69. Midday on the Lagoon . .196

70. A Traghetto .... . . 20

71. Marietta 204

72. Bambino .... 208

73. A Squero or Boat-building Yard in Venice 212

74. Under the Midday Sun 214

75. The Rialto 218



ARRIVAL AND FIRST
IMPRESSIONS



GRAND CANAL, SHOWING TOWER OF ST. GEREMIA



ARRIVAL AND FIRST
IMPRESSIONS

THERE is no city more written about, more painted,
and more misrepresented, than Venice. Students,
poets, and painters have combined in reproducing
her many charms. Usually, however, Venice is
described in a hurried, careless way : the subject
is seldom gone deeply into, and studied as it should
be, before attempting to compile a book. It is
only one who has been there, and observed the life
and characteristics of the people for years, who
can gain any true perception of their character.
Those who have not been to Venice must needs
know by heart her attractions, which have been so
persistently thrust before the public ; but unless
half a dozen really excellent books have been read
concerning her, the city of their imaginations must
be a theatrical Venice, unreal and altogether false.
Normally one feels that the last word about

3



4 VENICE

Venice has been said the last chord struck upon
her keyboard, the last harmony brought out.
But this is by no means the case. There are
chords still to be struck, and harmonies still to be
brought out: her charm can never be exhausted.
The last chord struck, no matter how poorly
executed it may be, goes on vibrating in our ears,
and all unconsciously we are listening for another.
How strange this is 1 Why should it be so ?
What other cities impress us in the same way?
Oxford perhaps, and Rome certainly. These are
the only two which come to my mind at the
moment. They are the cities of the soul, round
which endless romantic histories cling, endless dear
and glorious associations. Perhaps the reason why
one never tires of books on Venice, or of pictures of
Venice, is that they none of them fulfil one's desires
and expectations they never express just what
one feels about her there is always something
left unsaid, something uninterpreted ; and one is
always waiting for that. It is impossible to ex-
press all one feels with regard to Venice. One
feels one's own incompetence terribly. Try as
you may, you can only give one day, one hour,
one aspect of sea and sky, only the four seasons,
not all the myriad changes between ; only four



A PINK PALACE



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 5

times of the day dawn, mid-day, twilight, and
night not the thousand melting changes, not the
continual variations. It is not a panorama, not
a magnificent view permanent before one's gaze.
The cloud forms will never be quite the same as
you see them at a certain moment ; the water will
never be again of that particular shade of green ;
the reflection of a pink palace, with the black
barge at its base laden with golden fruit, will
never again be thrown upon the water quite in
that same way ; there will not always be that
warm golden light bathing sea and sky and
palace ; that particular pearly-grey mist in the
early morning will never recur, never quite that
deep blue-black of night with the orange lights
and the steely water.

When one lives in Venice one becomes absol-
utely in sympathy with the place. One feels her
beautiful colour; but it is quite another story
when one comes to reproduce it. Words cannot
describe nor brush portray it. Thousands have
attempted to paint Venice ; but few have suc-
ceeded. The Venetians themselves, loving their
country, painted her continually; but even they
could only give one aspect of her. The pictures
of Venice by Venetian masters are chiefly of her



6 VENICE

pomp and glory, her State functions and her water
fetes. However, one finds marvellous glimpses of
landscape work in some of the great masterpieces
sweeps of sky above the heads of some of the
Madonnas, skies in which one can feel the shimmer
of light so characteristic of Venice, the blending
of the tones and the flaming glory of the sunset
sky. Turner, too, caught the radiant, shimmering,
bright and opalescent qualities of the lagoon
scenery ; but even his palette could not cope with
the ever-changing colour.

One must be either hot or cold with regard to
Venice. You cannot be lukewarm. The magic
of her spell begins to work upon you immediately
you arrive. Most of us imagine what the place
will be like before we reach it. We people it
in our dreams, and visualise it for ourselves
canals, palaces, streets, the general appearance of
things. This imaginary city has no foundations
save those which are supplied by pictures and
stories.

One's first impressions are always those which
one remembers longest, and one's first impressions
of Venice are surpassingly beautiful. In the train,
arriving, you catch glimpses of flashes of light in
the darkness, more strangely fantastic than any-



PALAZZO PISANI



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 7

thing you could imagine ; you traverse a long
causeway stretching over the lagoon ; you see the
water on either side of you, jet black, stretching
on indefinitely ; the train seems to float on air ;
you cannot see the bridge nothing but sky and
water. You arrive at a large terminal station, and
step into the gondola which is to take you into
Venice. Into most cities one arrives in a whirl
and shriek of engines amid smoke and bustle ;
but Venice is different. One arrives in a
gondola. The water is of a clear pale green ;
the banks are scrubby grass and mud. One
watches the silver prow of the gondola as it shoots
forward, the sea air blowing keen and salt. You
realise that you are in a wide canal, and that there
are buildings on either side of you, looming up
white and gaunt, with here and there a lantern
glimmering at their base. It is strange to see a
city rising thus out of the sea. Venice seems
double : one sees it in the substance and in the
reflections on the water.

After gliding along for some time you turn up
narrow water lanes, devious and branching, running
by low stonework, very complicated in their turn-
ings. There are doors with water creeping up
their steps, striped posts looking like spectres, and



8 VENICE

arches everywhere. Strange figures, like phantoms
in a dream, appear in the gloom ; black gondolas,
like funeral biers, lie silently at the base of the
houses ; and the water laps dully at the steps. The
silence of the waterways is deathlike after the rush
and noise of a long journey ; each shape that passes
looks ghostly in the dim light ; it is like a city of
eternal sleep, a city of death. What a perfect
background it would make for melodrama or
for tragedy ! No crime or intrigue could be
too terrible to happen within those unfathomable
shadows ! A brigand might pass within that
heavy half-opened oak door silently and unnoticed.
A corpse with a stiletto buried in its breast might
be gliding by in that black gondola. One would
be quite surprised and somewhat shocked on lift-
ing the felce to discover a fat and florid tradesman
returning from supper with a friend. Venice is
not a fitting background for such a sordid every-
day scene. She is much better suited to the
romances of Maturin, Lewis, and Ann Radcliffe ;
to the Great Bandit, the stories of the Three
Inquisitors, the Council of Ten, masked spies, and
pitfalls.

In the daytime one recognises Venice as the
Venice of Canaletto, of Bonington, and of Wild.



THE SALUTK AT SUNSET



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 9

There is that same vague, luminous atmosphere,
full of rays and mists ; the coming and going
of gondolas or galiots ; the landing-place of the
Piazzetta, with its Gothic lanterns ornamented
by figures of the saints, fixed on poles and sunk
into the sea ; the vermilion facade of the Ducal
Palace, lozenged with white and rose marble, its
massive pillai-s supporting a gallery of small
columns. With all this one has been familiar
through the pictures of the masters whom I have
mentioned ; but the real Venice is still more
beautiful, still more wonderful, still more fantastic.
If you climb up on any height and look down
upon the lagoon, you will see a sight never to be
forgotten. You will imagine that it is a dream
which has taken shape, a vision of fairy-land. The
sea is dotted with craft of all kinds. There is a
continuous movement of boats gondolas, sailing
vessels, and steam-boats pouring forth volumes
of black smoke and making a disturbance on
the peaceful lagoon. The water is limpid, the
light radiant; a row of stakes on the lagoon
marks the channels which are navigable for ships.
There is the island of San Giorgio, with its red
steeple, its white basilica, surrounded by a girdle

of boats, and looking like a sheet of burnished

IA



10 VENICE

silver. There is the Giudecca, a maritime suburb
of Venice, turning towards the city a row of houses
and towards the sea a belt of gardens ; it has two
churches, Santa Maria and the Redentore. There
is San Clemate, at the back of the Giudecca, a
place of penitence and of detention for priests
under discipline ; Poreglia, where the vessels are
quarantined ; and the little island of St. Peter,
almost invisible in the distance. The only black
cupola is that of St. Simeon the Less. Those of
the other churches are silvery. The clouds and
the islands seem to mingle one with the other, and
are as baffling as the mirage in a desert. On a
fine day in Venice there is a certain brilliant
crystalline clearness sharpening every outline ;
every tower and dome stands out sharp and clear
against the sky, making the colours burn. There
is colour everywhere : even the islands in the
distance are blue and distinct. There is colour
in the groups that saunter by, in the sapphire
water, and in the cloudless heavens. The air is
warm and still; the streets are full of people,
walking and loitering at the doors of the shops ;
sunbeams dance on the rippling water; spring is
everywhere. As evening comes on the colours
grow richer and deeper ; scarlet clouds float across



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 11

the amber sky ; the canal takes on the hues of the
upper air, and is a rippling mass of liquid topaz
and molten gold, in rapid succession changing
from gold to orange, and from orange to deepest
crimson. In the soft hazy light, against the rose
tone of the sky, the cupolas of the islands and the
palaces seem to float, shimmering with the hues
of mother-of-pearl, mysterious, dream-like, not like
solid stone. The soft lap of the water breaks
the silence ; the vaporous mists float upwards.
Across the light drifts a line of fishing boats, their
great brown sails set. A streak of flame-colour
strikes on the windows of Venice, a flush of orange
and rose. Then in a second the sun is gone, and a
brief space of doubt ensues, when day hangs trem-
bling in the balance; then night settles on the
lagoon. A hundred bells ring out over the city,
clashing and clamouring together in one brazen
peal. Soon the peal subsides. The evening
breeze springs up mild and sweet from the sea,
and the soft and mellow cry of " Stali 1 Ah Stali ! "
is heard everywhere. It is the hour when all that
is poor and unlovely melts into ethereal beauty.
The water is a deep blue-black, save for rippling
trails of light from the lamps, which shine like
golden stars from the prows of the gondolas. The



12 VENICE

moon rises, nearly full, and is veiled by hazy
clouds; the outlines of the bell towers of the
palaces are pale and delicate in the soft light.
The stillness of the water streets is soothing, and
the prattle of the city falls gently on the ears.

No matter how prosaic or how unimpressionable
one may be, one soon grows into sympathy with
the atmosphere of Venice. It is almost impossible
to avoid becoming sentimental as one floats in
one's gondola at night, with the twinkling stars
above and the twinkling splashes below. One
almost unconsciously builds romances round the
palaces tottering to decay. Venice is always
ready to charm and allure you. It is hard to
believe that somewhere there is a working, active,
busy life going on. But indeed no one in Venice
seems to be in earnest. It is as if the present
time does not count, as if it were but an echo of
what passed long years ago. People work without
aim or energy, and when they suffer it seems as
if they were but mumming. A sweetness and
a docility steal into one's soul, and one feels
that one can do nothing but drift on for ever
in this pleasant idleness. Harsh voices become
modulated ; cross-grained, querulous natures are
sweetened ; even the flat-faced, spectacled tourists,



A RUINED PALAZXO



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 13

when they step from the railway station into a
gondola and glide into the mystic water city,
alive with a myriad glistening lights, develop
unconsciously, and despite themselves, into delight-
ful people.

On the day when I arrived in Venice, as I was
wandering down a lane beyond the Canareggio
Canal, I found myself in the Jewish part of the
city. It is a fetid and pestilential place. There is
about it nothing pleasant, or wholesome, or attrac-
tive. The stonework is cracked and rotten. The
houses, streaked with dirt, bend over into the
water with the weight of years. Most of them
are nine stories high, grimy and dirty, and speckled
with green spots. There is not a straight line
anywhere, and not a whole pane of glass paper
is the substitute. Now and then one sees a patch
of plaster on a house ; but for the most part the
plaster has fallen away, revealing the crumbly red
bricks beneath. It gives one a sickening feeling
this terrible poverty, solitude, and neglect. Every-
thing is strange, sullen, mysterious. Men and
women with curved noses and eyes set like burning
coals in their pale faces glide noiselessly along
with furtive glances. The children are half naked,
and play about on benches in the streets. I have



14 VENICE

seen poverty-stricken Jewish quarters before, but
never anything so sad as this. The sordidness
and terrible despair of it make one's heart ache.
There are no green fields and trees to alleviate the
misery of the people. Yet, I suppose, the con-
dition of the Jew was worse in the old days.
Certainly the injustices and insults which once
were prevalent do not occur now. The Christian
to-day is on more or less friendly terms with the
Jew. They meet one another on the exchange ;
they talk together, and partake of each other's
hospitality.

The Christian may despise the Jew ; but he has
the grace to keep the feeling to himself, for the
Jew possesses a great part of the trade of the city,
and in money matters has ever the upper hand.
He is educated, intellectual, patriotic, and calls
himself a Venetian. If he is rich he lives in a
fine new house on the Grand Canal and is owner
of other houses. An instinct of the poorer class
of Jews in Venice is to set up pawnshops and
lend money to tradesmen in times of necessity.
The Jews are decidedly useful. In the old days
they were driven into exile; but they were soon
called back. They were made to wear a yellow
badge, distinguishing them from Christians. They



PALAZZJ ON THE CANAL



ARRIVAL FIRST IMPRESSIONS 15

were not allowed to buy houses or lands, or to
exercise any trade or profession excepting that
of medicine. They were given a dwelling-place
in the dirtiest, unhealthiest part of the city,
and called it a Ghetto, meaning a congregation.
It was walled in. The gates were kept by
Christian guards, who were paid by the Jews,
and opened the doors at dawn, closing them at
sunset. The Jews were not allowed to emerge
on holidays or feast days, and two barges full of
armed men watched them night and day. A
special magistracy had charge of their affairs.
Their dead were buried in the sand on the sea-
shore. Thither the baser of the Venetians made it
a habit to go on Mondays in September, to dance
and make merry on the graves. The Jews were
made to pay tribute to Venice every third year.

In spite of all hardships and deprivations, they
flourished. As the Christians became poor, the
Jews waxed rich. They were not again expelled
from the city. They were never disturbed in their
Ghetto by actual ill-treatment and violence, ex-
cepting on one occasion, when a charge was brought
against them of child murder. So the Jews lived
peacefully in their own quarter until, with the
advent of modern civilisation, their prison walls



16 VENICE

crumbled away, and some of them went forth
from the Ghetto and fixed their habitations in
different parts of the city. Many Jewish families,
however, cling to the spot made sacred for them
by so much suffering and humiliation. Even to
this day, although the Jews are distributed every-
where throughout the length and breadth of
Venice, never a Christian comes to dwell in the
Ghetto. Very many Jews still live there. Some
of the women are handsome, with Oriental grace,
delicate, sensitive, highly bred. The only time
when the Ghetto has at all a picturesque appear-
ance is the autumn. Then the air is filled with
white floating particles, feathers of geese, which
seem to be plucked by the whole force of the
populace. You see on every doorstep groups of
Hebrew youths plucking geese, and on looking
into the interior you will observe strings of the
birds suspended from the rafters, while an odour
of roast goose greets your nostrils wherever you
may go.



GIUDECCA



HISTORY



HISTORY

WITH her pomp and pageantry, her wealth of
art, her learned academies, her schools of paint-
ing, and her sumptuous style, Venice at the prime
of her life was great, dazzling, splendid. Her
navy was supreme. Her nobles were the richest
in Europe. This opulence and this pride led to
her downfall. She was unable to resist the temp-
tation of building herself an empire on the main-
land, thereby causing jealousy among the other
Italian States. Rome became fearful of her own
safety, and, with the intention of crushing the
Republic, formed the League of Cambray. Rome
did not achieve her object ; but Venice was
weakened by the blow, and misfortune after
misfortune fell upon her. The passage round
the Cape of Good Hope was discovered ; which
took commercial trade with the East out of her
hands, and left her no longer the mart of Europe.

19



20 VENICE

Then came the great battles with the Turk, in
which both blood and money of Venice flowed
in vain. Europe was either powerless or too
indifferent to help. Gradually the strength of
Venice was broken. She declined and sank.
Still, the rigidity and the power of endurance of
the Venetian constitution were marvellous. She
kept a semblance of life long after the heart had
ceased to beat. The constitution of the State was
the most elaborate imaginable, and not easily
brought to nothing. Nevertheless, although there
were occasional flashes of the old brilliancy of
Venice, her day was over. The last of her Doges
yielded the State to Napoleon without a blow.
Laying the ducal biretta on the table, he called
to his servants, " Take it away : I shall not use it
more."

When the first refugees came from the mainland
and started life on the islands of the Archipelago,
the mud-banks of Torcello and Rivoalto, they
little thought that they were founding a city
which was to be the admiration of the whole
world, that her navy would ride supreme in all
known waters, that Venice was to be the pride
of the Adriatic. When those early people, the
Veneti, from whom the Venetians take their name,



SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE



HISTORY 21

drove in their first stakes and built their wattled
walls, they could not have foretold that this was
to be the greatest of mediaeval republics, the
centre of the commerce of Europe. Nature
helped Venice handsomely. Had the channels
been deeper, men-of-war might have entered and
conquered the city. Had the waves been stronger,
the airy structure that we know as Venice would
have been supplanted by the ordinary commercial
seaport. Had there been no tide, for sanitary
reasons the city would have been uninhabitable.
Had the tide risen any higher than it rose, there
would have been no water entrances to the palaces,
the by-canals would have been filled up, and the
character of the place spoiled.

One's imagination is inclined to run riot in
Venice. One gilds, and romances, and fills the
city with pomp and pageantry, ornamenting the
canals with State barges, the piazza with noble
men and fair women, and the Ducal Palace with
illustrious Doges. But far more interesting is it
to see Venice as she really is, in her own simple
strength. Think of the more rugged Venice, that
city built by strong and patient men against such
terrible odds, and in so wild and solitary a spot.
In order to gain some idea of Venice as she was in



22 VENICE

those early days, it is well to go out in a gondola
at low tide, when the canal is a plain of seaweed.
As your gondola makes its way down a narrow
channel, you have some conception of the diffi-
culties with which the founders of Venice had to
contend. To the narrow strips of land, long ridges
guarding the lagoon from the sea, ill sheltered from
the waves, the few hundred stragglers came. Their
capital, Padua, had been destroyed by the northern


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryMortimer MenpesVenice → online text (page 1 of 11)