Wednesday 22 July 2020

II - First night movement: Allegro più ch'è possible

At night the face of Venice is transformed: she prepares and presents new enchanting beauties.

The first night of that visit to Venice, I went for a walk without Lorenzetti.  Although all of Venice lay before me - magically transformed as if for a carnival outing by the great black cape it wore - there was only one possible choice for my steps: towards the Piazzetta, to sit beneath the lion of St Mark atop his column.  I had spent the last hour of my very first night in Venice here, as well as many others on my subsequent trips.

More than any other spot in the city, it was here that I felt most directly in touch with all my past visits.  It was here that I sat on the cold and uncomfortable steps at the base of the column, looking out through the darkness to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, thinking about all the occasions I had sat and looked and thought in just this way.  There were few people about, so it was easy to map past onto present.  Nothing seemed to have changed as I contemplated Palladio’s bold, almost shocking design for the church’s facade of a low, squat pediment pierced through by a second, higher pediment.

But there were changes.  Even San Giorgio Maggiore was different, though not because of any visible alterations to its design.  Since last visiting Venice I had read several books on Palladio’s architecture.  As a result, I was aware now not only of the lonely splendour of San Giorgio Maggiore but also saw for the first time the echoing forms of San Zitelle and II Redentore on the nearby Giudecca, two other churches designed by Palladio.  Where before I saw only an isolated masterpiece, I was forced by my newly gained perspective to see the start of a series of works, themselves part of a larger body of Palladian-inspired architecture throughout Europe, particularly in Britain.  Cultural ramifications spread out in all directions.  My original vision had been corrupted by knowledge.

Another change: when I looked up, I saw to my astonishment an empty capital - the lion had gone, presumably to be re-gilded.  Once again, my memories had been dashed against reality.  I got up and wandered along the Molo; I gazed across at Santa Maria della Salute.  Floodlit like some huge, baroque spaceship about to lift off, aided by its magnificent setting across the canal which here attained its widest extent, it seemed the only possible conclusion to the complex architectural discourse of the Grand Canal, a full stop in stone.

I joined the few strollers taking their passeggiata along the Riva degli Schiavoni, a waterfront which always surprises by its unvenetian breadth.  I stopped briefly before the Church of the Pietà, undistinguished in appearance, but once the centre of Antonio Vivaldi’s music-making, and thus the home of perhaps the most Venetian music ever written.  Beyond it lay a funfair, eerie in its stillness and silence, and eerie in the grotesque silhouettes its attractions formed against the distant San Giorgio Maggiore.

I turned back towards my hotel, tired from my day’s walking, and from the new and old sights which had pressed in on me.  It is all too possible to suffer from an overdose of experience.  The Piazza San Marco was illuminated by a harsh, other-worldly glare; as I crossed it, somebody was letting off very loud firecrackers which echoed around the square’s impassive stone faces.

Walks with Lorenzetti

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