Friday 8 November 2013

Venice - leaving the best until last

Unintentionally. We'd had in mind spending the morning re-visiting the Correr, where the Technical Dept wanted to look at the full-length senatorial portraits in order to compare them with the Lazzarini picture of Carlo Ruzzini which is still in  the loggia at Via Fucini. The one which we informally call 'Crazy Ern', after the  
 inscription that appears behind him on the representation of a bit of decorative terracing. And I think TD had also tracked down that the Correr has a terracotta bust of Carlo, as well, which was exciting news, given that Ruzzini portraits of any kind are few and far between. That was the intention at any rate - until the moment when the lizard-like ticket seller on the door casually mentioned an entry price of 32 euros for two.

"How much?!?"  We'd been thinking merely of coming in for a look, not buying the contents.

"32 euros",he repeated, "and you also get free entry to the Doge's Palace"
"Not interesting", we told him, "we've already seen the Doge's Palace". 
"Oh, well, in that case, you can get in here for free if you show me your tickets from the Palace."
"From 2006? I doubt I could lay my hands on them, after all this time..."

He shrugged, to indicate we had no choice, and we turned and walked out, to demonstrate that we did.

Which left us standing in the sunshine in the Piazza, with time on our hands. TD suggested we strike out, yet again, for Madonna dell'Orto (which, in our repeated failure to get there, was starting to assume the character of Mrs Ramsay's lighthouse), and so, not particularly concentrating, we did. And found ourselves ten minutes later completely off course, and in Campo San Stefano, close to the Accademia Bridge. Which prompted another on-the-hoof change of plan, and a decision instead to pass by the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, which I knew I knew how to get to, and which I also knew was open - relatively unusually - that morning. Little did we know quite what a gem the place is!

A fine entrance screen, which leads into the small piazza behind, with the church to the left and the Scuola to the right.The lower hall of the Scuola is pleasant enough, but largely unremarkable, and then, a right turn and another, and before you opens the most perfect staircase in the World. Designed in 1498 by Codussi, it plays astonishing tricks with perspective, with a barely discernible horizontal entasis on the treads, and a gentle and imperceptible tapering outwards of the staircase walls - the top tread is apparently 70 centimetres wider than the lowest one - and the effect is of a grand staircase stretching effortlessy way off into the distance. While, in fact, it occupies only the space of a moderately sized room,  it somehow achieves the grandeur of the most splendid neo-classical baroque staircases to be found in palaces the length and breadth of Europe. Quite, quite remarkable.

The Scuola was empty, apart from us - not even a lumpy custodian in sight, and we sat for ages in the upper Sala, taking in the pictures and the proportions and the atmosphere. Thick layers of silence. Dust motes playing in the rays of sunlight which penetrated the curtains pulled imperfectly across the bulls-eye windows above the large canvases which lined the north and south walls. We stayed for hours, footsteps echoing heavily across the richly polished marble; and nobody to object as we sat in the governors' chairs in the Sala d'Albergho, and explored the intricate and intriguing carvings on the chapter stalls - the result of some febrile sixteenth century imagination.

The church also, we had to ourselves. It was unlocked especially for us to enter, and we locked it behind us again as we left. A charming combination of early gothic, merged with some later neo-classical....some parts of it in perfect condition, and recently restored, and in other places, damp plaster peeling horribly from the walls, and in serious need of attention. The repairs seemed to be a work in progress, but it was unclear whether the restoration would prevail before the structure gave way entirely.

We'd spent so long at the Scuola that we risked being too late for lunch anywhere - and certainly, when we tried at La Zucca we were smilingly turned away, on the basis that the kitchen was already closed. Which, frankly, given the style of the place, seemed a little precious.  Rejecting two further hostelries which we passed en route towards the station, we dived into a third and hit paydirt. Full of large and loud italians, only a minute after we sat down, a couple of gondolieri came in and occupied a table together in the inner room; this was clearly the venetian equivalent of white-van-man territory, which, as any fule no, is always where the best food is to be found. And the rule held good, as we feasted on perfect gnocchi al salmone, washed down with a half litre of a slightly frizzante Soave.

And, after that, we did indeed finally make it to Madonna dell'Orto. Famous for its Tintorettos, in fact the gems there are a beautiful panel by Cima da Castignione, and a Titian (in need of a good clean) on the apocryphal Book of Tobit. (Note to self, concerning Tintoretto: it is not possible for anybody to have covered in one lifetime the acres - and acres - of dreary canvas which are confidently attributed to Tintoretto, all over Venice, and beyond. Has nobody every counted it up, and done the maths? If they have, I think we should be told, and if they haven't, they should...)

And thence, thoroughly satisfied, back to San Julian, and a well-earned evening at rest.


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