La Serenissima and serenella

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Close your eyes for a moment and let an azure-lidded fantasy flood your mind. hqdefaultIf you could pick one place on Earth where you could return at least for one moment, where would you go….to Rome, Florence, your home or maybe other places? I take myself to Venice. DSC04476Venice is an absolutely amazing place to visit. Even the most sceptical of travellers can’t help but fall prey to its charms. It’s a strange one really as it can be bustling with a lot of tourists in some parts of it and then just a few minutes walk away and you’ll find yourself exploring quiet, hidden streets – devoid of the throngs of tourists.

Without hesitation, Serenissima with the air perfumed with intoxicating fragrance is always worth it!

DSC04135Today I take a trip down memory lane by sharing my Easter trip to Venice.  “Everything that can be said and written about Venice has been said and written.” The author of these words was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1786 no less. Anyway, I am going on here to tell my story. I will write myself into well-being  🙂DSC04919Serenissimo’ was a Byzantine title, bestowed upon the Doge and the Signoria at first, then extended to the entire Republic of Venice.

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Venice. The Piazza San Marco Looking East Towards the Basilica. Date: c. 1730

‘Most Serene’ was an honorary appellate and an indicator of sovereignty. But there is another reason why Venice has continued carrying this nickname, which has become legendary, just as the city itself, through the centuries.DSC04373From the outside, Venice looked like a peaceful place, spared from the turmoil affecting so many other cities. The choice to focus on maritime trade brought prosperity, and the establishment of an oligarchic, liberal republic laid the foundation for a solid state, universally accepted by its citizens, who, no matter their class, seemed to get along well, united by the devotion for the territory they lived in. Even when dealing with foreign policy affairs, Venice often tried to avoid conflict and disputes, preferring mediation and peace.

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Venice: A Regatta on the Grand Canal  c.1733-4

On these bases, Venice could well be described as ‘serene’, so much so that it was able to survive for three centuries its political, military and commercial decline, caused by Turkish expansion and the discovery of the Americas. Diplomacy, wealth, justice and prosperity, the main aspects of the history of Venice, have indeed made it ‘Serenissima. Even when dealing with foreign policy affairs, Venice often tried to avoid conflict and disputes, preferring mediation and peace. On these bases, Venice could well be described as ‘serene’, so much so that it was able to survive for three centuries its political, military and commercial decline, caused by Turkish expansion and the discovery of the Americas. Diplomacy, wealth, justice and prosperity, the main aspects of the history of Venice, have indeed made it ‘Serenissima. Venice has been an inspiration  …for… many famous’s writers, artists and musicians …

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Return of the Bucintoro to the Molo on Ascension Day, painted 1729–32

Of all the artists who’ve glorified Venice in the paint, Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697-1768) – better known as Canaletto – probably knew and loved her best. From early on, he was favoured by the English aristocracy, many of whom commissioned works directly from him while they were on the Grand Tour, or bought his paintings, drawings and prints from British agents or Venetian publishers whenever they were unable to travel to the Continent. We know that he was born in Venice in October 1697, that his father was a well-known painter of theatrical scenery, and that his earliest training consisted of designing theatre sets with his father. The latter fact may account, in part, for the strain of theatricality that runs throughout Canaletto’s work and that became quite pronounced in some of his later paintings – although seldom at the expense of the overall accuracy of the views depicted.

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Rome The Forum with the Temple of Castor and Pollux – Bernardo Bellotto Canaletto

In 1719 he went to Rome for further study but returned to Venice in 1720 to begin his career as an artist. Success came rather quickly. His views of Venice caught on – not among the local art lovers, who tended to look down on his efforts, but among the high-ranking “tourists,” especially those from England, who wanted them as souvenirs of their visit.

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London Somerset House Canaletto

Sales declined, however, shortly after 1740, and so in 1746, he went off to London. He remained there – except for a brief trip to Venice in 1751 – until 1755, painting and selling views of that city and of the country houses of the British aristocracy. His final years were spent in his home city, where he died in 1768, honoured rather belatedly by his colleagues and with no possessions beyond a few paintings, a little cash, and a small piece of property. Close your eyes for the second moment please imagine the sea, ship, sun. DSCF8316Here’s the story: in 2008 a wreck was discovered off the coast of East Africa.http-hypebeast.comimage201704damien-hirst-treasures-from-the-wreck-of-the-unbelievable-1

 

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It was the remains of a sunken ship called the Apistos, means ‘Untrustworthy’ as well as ‘Unbelievable’ in ancient Greek, which was laden with treasures from across the ancient world. The ship and its precious cargo belonged to the vastly wealthy Cif Amotan II, a collector who was transporting the artefacts to a specially built temple. Instead, they languished for centuries at the bottom of the ocean, suffering various kinds of sea-change, collecting multiple encrustations of coral, barnacles and shells. Please wake up we are travelling by Serenella boat to visit Palazzo Grassi in Venice, see the Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’  🙂  We are travelling by Serenella boat to visit Palazzo Grassi in Venice, see the Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’  🙂DSC04957It is the first major solo exhibition dedicated to Damien Hirst in Italy since the 2004 retrospective at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (“The Agony and Ecstasy”) and presented at Palazzo Grassi.DSC04401-1It is the first major solo exhibition dedicated to Damien Hirst in Italy since 2004. The exhibition is displayed across 5,000 square meters of museum space. Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ has been almost ten years in the making. I don’t want to mention about cost.damien-hirst-treasures-from-the-wreck-of-the-unbelievable-palazzo-grassi-designboom-1800He turns ancient history on its head and gives a nod to the way fake news and post-truth culture has us second guessing everything.It is made up entirely of rusty knives and spoons, ancient tablets and crumbling, coral-covered statues that were “salvaged” from the wreckage of a historic fake ship: The Unbelievable. The statues take inspiration from real artefacts in museums and historical sites across the globe.

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While many of the sculptures are made of bronze and marble, aluminium, polyester and fibreglass are all used to recreate damage from the sea.

Some of the ‘artifacts’ are accompanied by ‘salvage’ videos from the archaeologist’s expedition to the underwater shipwreck, adding another layer of confusion to the fakery. Love it or hate it. DSCF8219-1I find marble painted to look like leather or polished to look like vinyl, jade carved to look like barnacles, malachite carved to look like skin, and everywhere bronze gilded or roughened or recoloured and refashioned. DSCF8186-1The figures — mostly human forms, though a whole menagerie of animals real and mythological features too, including a gold unicorn’s head at the seaward prow of the Dogana building — echo every phase of cultures past, from Renaissance to Buddhist, classical to pre-Columbian.DSCF8179-1There is Mercury, there is also Mickey Mouse.

eeeIf the narrative has a presiding deity it would be Medusa, the blood from whose severed head, you will remember, was believed by the ancients to have turned into the coral.DSCF8233-1I find also conservation story: the bust-up relic recovered from the wreck, then a restored cleaner version, and finally the smooth “copy” often made from ancient originals. DSCF8194 Thera is freestanding museum vitrines, with orderly shelves of ancient implements, nuggets, coins, weird natural wonders — all of course specially created, and in astonishing detail. But before all this, filling the entire central courtyard as one enters the Palazzo Grassi, is the biggest, most gobsmacking piece yet. Some 18 metres high, towering right up the four storeys of the building, is a mighty headless figure — recognisably William Blake’s “Ghost of a Flea”, with its talons instead of toes and its scaly back.

There is awe-inspiring craftsmanship on display here: some of the marble carving, done by a single quarry in Carrara, is superb. The attention to detail is almost obsessive, all objects are oversized, overcoloured, overemphasised. Definitely, Damien Hirst’s new show in Venice is causing controversy.

DSCF8215It’s very easy to say, I could have done that after someone’s done it. But he did it. You didn’t. It didn’t exist until someone did it. Few artists have attacked him for using their ideas. John LeKay said the skulls were his idea. John Armleder … was doing spot paintings. And some say Walter Robinson did the spin paintings first. Hirst’s tribute was: “Fuck ’em all!” In 2006 he said  “Lucky for me, when I went to art school we were a generation where we didn’t have any shame about stealing other people’s ideas. You call it a tribute”. Hirst’s exhibition makes you question the fakeness and reality of what you’re seeing, and why we go to museums at all. Believe or not; is he lying or is he telling the truth or everything he says is false or is neither true nor false, maybe this is something between true or lie. Just moment if is both true and false, then is only false. But then, it is not true. Since initially was true and is now not true ………what means maybe it is a Liar’s paradox.DSCF8211-1 To seek, to get lost, to go beyond. This is why I visited Venice.DSC05110To push beyond the horizon line, to hit new horizons.  Return to Glasgow – inspired, renewed.

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A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Take a photograph and

share the secret dream of someday living

Ella

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About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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