Later the municipality of Venice fixed the memorial tablet to the wall of the palace. The quotation, from the poet, cut under his name, runs thus:—
Open my heart and you will see Graved inside of it, Italy.
The tablet is a graceful recognition of the devotion of Browning and his wife to their adopted country. Did the authorities, I wonder, know that Browning's love of their city led him always to wear on his watch-chain a coin struck by Manin in 1848 commemorating the overthrow of Austrian power in Venice?
The Rezzonico was built by Longhena, the architect of the Salute. Carlo Rezzonico, afterwards Pope Clement XIII, lived here. The Emperor Joseph II stayed here. So much for fact. I like far more to remember the Christmas dinner eaten here—only, alas, in fancy, yet with all the illusion of fact—by Browning and a Scandinavian dramatist named Ibsen, brought together for the purpose by the assiduous Mr. Gosse, as related with such skill and mischief by Mr. Max Beerbohm.
Next the Rezzonico is the commonplace Nani; then a tiny calle; and then an antiquity store, one of the three adjoining palaces of the great Giustiniani family, in the second of which once lived Richard Wagner.
But first a word as to the Giustiniani's great feat, in the twelfth century, of giving every male member to the Republic. It happened that in 1171 nearly all the Venetians in Constantinople were massacred. An expedition was quickly despatched to demand satisfaction for such a deed, but, while anchored at Scio, the plague broke out and practically demolished this too, among those who perished being the Giustiniani to a man. In order that the family might persist, the sole surviving son, a monk named Niccolo, was temporarily released from his vows to be espoused to the daughter of the Doge, Vitale Michiel. Sufficient sons having been born to them, the father returned to his monastery and the mother sought a convent for herself.
In the first of the three Giustiniani palaces Mr. Howells, moving from the Casa Falier across the way, wrote his Venetian Life. In the next Wagner wrote part of Tristan and Isolda.
Needing solitude for this task, the composer came to Venice in the autumn of 1858, and put up first at Danieli's. Needing a more private abode he came here. From his Autobiography I take the story. "I heard that one of the three Giustiniani palaces, situated not far from the Palazzo Foscari, was at present very little patronized by visitors, on account of its situation, which in the winter is somewhat unfavourable. I found some very spacious and imposing apartments there, all of which they told me would remain uninhabited. I here engaged a large stately room with a spacious bedroom adjoining. I had my luggage quickly transferred there, and on the evening of the 30th August I said to myself, 'At last I am living in Venice.'
"My leading idea was that I could work here undisturbed. I immediately wrote to Zuerich asking for my Erard 'Grand' and my bed to be sent on to me, as, with regard to the latter, I felt that I should find out what cold meant in Venice. In addition to this, the grey-washed walls of my large room soon annoyed me, as they were so little suited to the ceiling, which was covered with a fresco which I thought was rather tasteful. I decided to have the walls of the large room covered with hangings of a dark-red shade, even if they were of quite common quality. This immediately caused much trouble; but it seemed to me that it was well worth surmounting, when I gazed down from my balcony with growing satisfaction on the wonderful canal, and said to myself that here I would complete Tristan."
The composer's life was very simple. "I worked," he says, "till two o'clock, then I got into the gondola that was always in waiting, and was taken along the solemn Grand Canal to the bright Piazzetta, the peculiar charm of which always had a cheerful effect on me. After this I made for my restaurant in the Piazza San Marco, and when I had finished my meal I walked alone or with Karl along the Riva to the Giardini Pubblici, the only pleasure-ground in Venice where there are any trees, and at nightfall I came back in the gondola down the canal, then more sombre and silent, till I reached the spot where I could see my solitary lamp shining from the night-shrouded facade of the old Palazzo Giustiniani.
"After I had worked a little longer Karl, heralded by the swish of the gondola, would come in regularly at eight o'clock for a few hours chat over our tea. Very rarely did I vary this routine by a visit to one of the theatres. When I did, I preferred the performances at the Camploi Theatre, where Goldoni's pieces were very well played; but I seldom went to the opera, and when I did go it was merely out of curiosity. More frequently, when bad weather deprived us of our walk, we patronized the popular drama at the Malibran Theatre, where the performances were given in the daytime. The admission cost us six kreutzers. The audiences were excellent, the majority being in their shirt-sleeves, and the pieces given were generally of the ultra-melodramatic type. However, one day to my great astonishment and intense delight I saw there Le Baruffe Chioggiote, the grotesque comedy that had appealed so strongly to Goethe in his days at this very theatre. So true to nature was this performance that it surpassed anything of the kind I have ever witnessed."
Wagner's impressions of Venice, where, some twenty-four years later, he was to end his anxious and marvellous life, seem to me so interesting that I quote a little more: "There was little else that attracted my attention in the oppressed and degenerate life of the Venetian people, and the only impression I derived from the exquisite ruin of this wonderful city as far as human interest is concerned was that of a watering-place kept up for the benefit of visitors. Strangely enough, it was the thoroughly German element of good military music, to which so much attention is paid in the Austrian army, that brought me into touch with public life in Venice. The conductors in the two Austrian regiments quartered there began playing overtures of mine, Rienzi and Tannhaeuser for instance, and invited me to attend their practices in their barracks. There I also met the whole staff of officers, and was treated by them with great respect. These bands played on alternate evenings amid brilliant illuminations in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, whose acoustic properties for this class of production were really excellent. I was often suddenly startled towards the end of my meal by the sound of my own overtures; then as I sat at the restaurant window giving myself up to impressions of the music, I did not know which dazzled me most, the incomparable Piazza magnificently illuminated and filled with countless numbers of moving people, or the music that seemed to be borne away in rustling glory to the winds. Only one thing was wanting that might certainly have been expected from an Italian audience: the people were gathered round the band in thousands listening most intently, but no two hands ever forgot themselves so far as to applaud, as the least sign of approbation of Austrian military music would have been looked upon as treason to the Italian Fatherland. All public life in Venice also suffered by this extraordinary rift between the general public and the authorities; this was peculiarly apparent in the relations of the population to the Austrian officers, who floated about publicly in Venice like oil on water. The populace, too, behaved with no less reserve, or one might even say hostility, to the clergy, who were for the most part of Italian origin. I saw a procession of clerics in their vestments passing along the Piazza San Marco accompanied by the people with unconcealed derision.
"It was very difficult for Ritter to induce me to interrupt my daily arrangements even to visit a gallery or a church, though, whenever we had to pass through the town, the exceedingly varied architectonic peculiarities and beauties always delighted me afresh. But the frequent gondola trips towards the Lido constituted my chief enjoyment during practically the whole of my stay in Venice. It was more especially on our homeward journeys at sunset that I was always over-powered by unique impressions. During the first part of our stay in the September of that year we saw on one of these occasions the marvellous apparition of the great comet, which at that time was at its highest brilliancy, and was generally said to portend an imminent catastrophe.
"The singing of a popular choral society, trained by an official of the Venetian arsenal, seemed like a real lagoon idyll. They generally sang only three-part naturally harmonized folk-songs. It was new to me not to hear the higher voice rise above the compass of the alto, that is to say, without touching the soprano, thereby imparting to the sound of the chorus a manly youthfulness hitherto unknown to me. On fine evenings they glided down the Grand Canal in a large illuminated gondola, stopping before a few palaces as if to serenade (when requested and paid for doing so, be it understood), and generally attracted a number of other gondolas in their wake.
"During one sleepless night, when I felt impelled to go out on to my balcony in the small hours, I heard for the first time the famous old folk-song of the gondolieri. I seemed to hear the first call, in the stillness of the night, proceeding from the Rialto, about a mile away like a rough lament, and answered in the same tone from a yet further distance in another direction. This melancholy dialogue, which was repeated at longer intervals, affected me so much that I could not fix the very simple musical component parts in my memory. However on a subsequent occasion I was told that this folk-song was of great poetic interest. As I was returning home late one night on the gloomy canal, the moon appeared suddenly and illuminated the marvellous palaces and the tall figure of my gondolier towering above the stern of the gondola, slowly moving his huge sweep. Suddenly he uttered a deep wail, not unlike the cry of an animal; the cry gradually gained in strength, and formed itself, after a long-drawn 'Oh!' into the simple musical exclamation 'Venezia!' This was followed by other sounds of which I have no distinct recollection, as I was so much moved at the time. Such were the impressions that to me appeared the most characteristic of Venice during my stay there, and they remained with me until the completion of the second act of Tristan, and possibly even suggested to me the long-drawn wail of the shepherd's horn at the beginning of the third act."
Later we shall see the palace where Wagner died, which also is on the Grand Canal.
Now comes the great and splendid Foscari Palace, once also a Giustiniani home and once also the lodging of a king of France—Henry III, certain of whose sumptuous Venetian experiences we saw depicted on the walls of the Doges' Palace. The Foscari is very splendid with its golden borders to the windows, its rich reliefs and pretty effects of red brickwork, and more than most it brings to mind the lost aristocratic glories of Venice. To-day it is a commercial school, with a courtyard at the back full of weeds. The fine lamp at its corner must give as useful a light as any in Venice.
THE GRAND CANAL. III: FROM THE RIO FOSCARI TO S. SIMEONE, LOOKING TO THE LEFT
Napoleon s'amuse—Paul Veronese—The Layard collection—The Palazzo Papadopoli—The Rialto Bridge—The keystone—Carpaccio—The "Uncle" of Venice—Modern painting—English artists in Venice—The Civic Museum—Pictures and curiosities—Carnival costumes—Carpaccio and Ruskin—Historical scenes—A pleasant garden.
The big palace on the other side of the Rio Foscari, next the shabby brown, deserted house which might be made so desirable with its view down the Canal, is the Balbi, and it has the distinction that Napoleon stood in one of its windows to see a Grand Canal regatta, the races in which ended at this point. Next it is the Angaran, and then a nice little place with lions guarding the terrace gate, at the corner of the Rio della Frescada, one of the prettiest of the side canals. Next we come to another large and solid but very dull house, the Civran (afterwards Grimani); then the forsaken Dandolo, and we are at the steamboat station of S. Toma, where the passengers for the Frari and S. Rocco land.
Hereabouts the houses are very uninteresting. Two more and a traghetto and the Rio S. Toma; then the Palazzo Giustiniani, a rich Venetian red, with a glimpse of a courtyard; then the ugliest building in the canal, also red, like the back of a block of flats; and after passing the pretty little Gothic Tiepolo palace with blue posts with yellow bands, and the larger Palazzo Tiepolo adjoining it, we are at the fine fifteenth-century Pisani Moretta, with a double row of rich Gothic windows. Here once hung Veronese's "Family of Darius," now No. 294 in our National Gallery, and, according to Ruskin, "the most precious" of the painter's works. The story goes that Veronese being driven to make use of the Pisani villa at Este as a temporary home, painted the picture while there and left it behind him with a message that he hoped it would pay for his board and lodging. The Pisani family sold it to the National Gallery in 1857.
The next palace is the hideous Barbarigo della Terrazza, with a better facade on the Rio S. Polo: now a mosaic company's head-quarters, but once famous for its splendours, which included seventeen Titians, now in Russia; and then the Rio S. Polo and the red Capello Palace where the late Sir Henry Layard made his home and gathered about him those pictures which now, like the Darius, belong to our National Gallery. Next it is the Vendramin, with yellow posts and porphyry enrichment, and then the desolate dirty Querini, and the Bernardo, once a splendid palace but now offices, with its Gothic arches filled with glass. The Rio della Madonnetta here intervenes; then two Dona palaces, the first dating from the twelfth century. A traghetto is here and a pretty calle, and soon we come to one of the palaces which are shown to visitors, the Papadopoli, once the Coccina-Tiepolo, with blue posts and in the spring a Judas-tree red in the garden.
My advice to those who visit such palaces as are shown to the public is not to go alone. The rigours of ceremonial can be tempered to a party, and the efficient and discreet French major-domo is less formidable to several visitors than to one. The principal attraction of the Papadopoli Palace is two carnival pictures by Tiepolo; but the visitor is also shown room after room, sumptuous and unliveable in, with signed photographs of crowned heads on ormolu tables.
The Rio dei Meloni, where is the Palazzo Albrizzi to which Byron used to resort as a lion, runs by the Papadopoli. At the other corner is the Businello, a nice solid building with two rows of round window-arches. Then the tall decayed Rampinelli and, followed by a calle, the Ramo Barzizza, and next the Mengaldo, with a very choice doorway and arches, now a statuary store; then the yellow Avogadro, now an antiquity dealer's and tenements, with a fondamenta; then a new building, and we reach the fine red palace adjoining the Casa Petrarca, with its ramping garden.
These two palaces, which have a sottoportico beneath them leading to S. Silvestro, stand on the site of the palace of the Patriarchs of Grado, who had supreme ecclesiastical power here until the fifteenth century, when the Patriarchate of Venice was founded with a residence near S. Pietro in Castello.
From this point a fondamenta runs all the way to the Rialto bridge. The buildings are not of any particular interest, until we come to the last one, with the two arches under it and the fine relief of a lion on the facade: once the head-quarters of the tithe collectors.
People have come mostly to speak of the Rialto as though it was the bridge only. But it is the district, of which the bridge is the centre. No longer do wealthy shipowners and merchants foregather hereabouts; for none exist. Venice has ceased to fetch and carry for the world, and all her energies are now confined within her own borders. Enough to live and be as happy as may be!
In beauty the Rialto falls far short of most of the bridges of Venice. Its hard angle superimposed on the great arch is unpleasing to the eye accustomed in this city to easy fluid curves. Seen from immediately below, the arch is noble; from any greater distance it is lost in the over-structure, angle and curve conflicting.
Ruskin is very enthusiastic over the conceit which placed the Spirito Santo on the keystone of the bridge, the flight, as he thinks, producing an effect of lightness. He is pleased too with the two angels, and especially that one on the right, whose foot is placed with horizontal firmness. On each side of the bridge is a shrine.
Before this stone bridge was built in 1588 by Antonio da Ponte it had wooden predecessors. Carpaccio's Santa Croce picture in the Accademia shows us what the immediate forerunner of the present bridge was like. It had a drawbridge in the middle to prevent pursuit that way during brawls.
The first palace beyond the bridge, now a decaying congeries of offices, has very rich decorative stone work, foliation and festoons. It was once the head-quarters of the Camerlenghi, the procurators-fiscal of Venice. Then come the long fruit and vegetable markets, and then the new fish market, one of the most successful of new Venetian buildings, with its springing arches below and its loggia above and its iron lamp at the right corner and bronze fisherman at the left.
A fondamenta runs right away from the Rialto bridge to a point just beyond the new fish market, with some nice houses on it, over shops, the one on the left of the fish market having very charming windows. The first palace of any importance is the dull red one on the other side of the Calle dei Botteri, the Dona. Then a decayed palace and the Calle del Campanile where the fondamenta ends. Here is the very attractive Palazzo Morosini, or Brandolin, which dates from the fourteenth century. Next is a dull house, and then a small one with little lions on the balustrades, and then the Rio S. Cassiano. Next is a tiny and very ancient palace with an inscription stating that the Venetian painter Favretto worked there; then a calle, and the great pawnshop of Venice, once the Palazzo Corner della Regina, is before us, with a number of its own boats inside the handsome blue municipal posts with S. Mark's lion on each. The Queen of Cyprus was born here; other proud and commanding Corners were splendid here; and now it is a pawnshop!
The Calle della Regina, two rather nice, neglected houses (the little pink one quite charming), and we come to the Rio Pesaro and the splendid Palazzo Pesaro, one of the great works of Longhena. Note its fluted pillars and rich stonework. This palace we may enter, for it is now the Tate Gallery of Venice, housing, below, a changing exhibition of contemporary art, and, above, a permanent collection, to which additions are constantly being made, of modern Italian painting. Foreign artists are admitted too, and my eyes were gladdened by Mr. Nicholson's "Nancy," a landscape by Mr. E.A. Walton, a melon-seller by Mr. Brangwyn, a lady in pink by Mr. Lavery, and a fisherman by Mr. Cayley Robinson. A number of Whistler's Venetian etchings may also be seen here, and much characteristic work by Mr. Pennell. Here too are the "Burghers of Calais" and the "Thinker" of Rodin, while a nude by Fantin Latour should be sought for. One of the most interesting pictures so far as subject goes represents the bridge of boats to the Redentore on a recent All Souls' day.
I have been absolutely alone in this building, save for the custodians. The Venetian can live very easily without picture galleries, ancient or modern.
The Rio della Pergola washes the other side of the Pesaro palace, and then come two or three houses, once Foscarini homes, given up to antiquity dealers, and then the florid white stone facade of the church of S. Stae (or S. Eustachio) with a delightful little Venetian-red annex on the left. There is a campo and steamboat station here too. The next palace has pretty little Gothic windows, and then a small brown house stands in its garden on the site of a burnt Contarini palace. A good red brick fifteenth-century palace, now a wine store, is next, and then the Tron, now an institution, with a garden and well-head seen through the open door. Great scenes have been witnessed in this building, for the Trons were a famous and powerful Venetian family, supplying more than one Doge, and here in 1775 was entertained the Emperor Joseph II.
Then the Rio Tron and then the Palazzo Battagia, with two rich coats of arms in relief, which is also by Longhena, but I hope that it was not he who placed the columns on the roof. The tiny Calle del Megio, and we reach the venerable piece of decay which once was the granary of the Venetian Republic—one of the most dignified and attractive buildings on the canal, with its old brick and coping of pointed arches. The Rio del Megio divides the granary from the old Fondaco dei Turchi, once, after a long and distinguished life as a palace, the head-quarters of the Turks in Venice, and now, admirably restored, the civic museum.
It is necessary to visit the collections preserved here, but I cannot promise any feelings of exultation among them. The Museo Civico might be so interesting and is so depressing. Baedeker is joyful over the "excellent illustrative guide (1909), 1 franc," but though it may have existed in 1909 there is no longer any trace of it, nor could I obtain the reason why. Since none of the exhibits have descriptive labels (not even the pictures), and since the only custodians are apparently retired and utterly dejected gondoliers, the visitor's spirits steadily fall.
One enters to some fine well-heads and other sculpture, not very different from the stock-in-trade of the ordinary dealer in antiquity who has filched a palace. On the next floor is a library; but I found the entrance barred. On the next is a series of rooms, the museum proper. In the first are weapons, banners, and so forth. In the second is a vast huddle of pictures, mostly bad copies, but patience may discover here and there an original by a good hand not at its best. I noticed a Tiepolo sketch that had much of his fine free way in it, and a few typical Longhis. For the rest one imagines that some very indifferent churches have been looted.
Follow four rooms of miscellaneous articles: weapons, ropes, a rather fascinating white leather suit in a case, and so forth. Then a room of coins and medals and ducats of the Doges right away from 1279. Then two rooms (VIII and IX) which are more human, containing costumes, laces, fans, the death masks of two Doges in their caps, a fine wooden balustrade from a fifteenth-century palace, a set of marionettes with all their strings, a Vivarini Madonna on an easel.
Then some stairs and a set of eighteenth-century rooms with curiously real carnival costumes in them, like Longhi's pictures come to life, and a painting or two by Guardi, including what purports to be his own portrait. Then a Chinese room, and a Goldoni room with first editions of the little man's plays, his portrait, and other relics. This series undoubtedly brings Venice of the eighteenth-century very vividly before one.
Returning to Room X in the main sequence we find wood-carving and pottery. In Room XI, just inside the door on the left, is a noble gondola prow in iron, richly wrought, which one would like to see on a boat once more. Room XII has glass and porcelain; Room XIII has ivories and caskets; and Room XIV has illuminated manuscripts, in one of which, No. 158, is a very attractive tiny little Annunciation; and so we come again to the pictures, in Rooms XV and XVI of which the second contains the pick. But there is little to cause the heart to beat any faster.
A quaint and ugly but fascinating thing, attributed to Carpaccio and said to represent two courtesans at home, is the most memorable. Why it should not equally represent two ladies of unimpeachable character, I cannot see. Ruskin went beyond everything in his praises, in St. Mark's Rest, of this picture. He suggests that it is the best picture in the world. But read his amazing words. "I know," he says, "no other which unites every nameable quality of painter's art in so intense a degree—breadth with tenderness, brilliancy with quietness, decision with minuteness, colour with light and shade: all that is faithfullest in Holland, fancifullest in Venice, severest in Florence, naturalest in England. Whatever de Hooghe could do in shade, Van Eyck in detail, Giorgione in mass, Titian in colour, Bewick and Landseer in animal life, is here at once; and I know no other picture in the world which can be compared with it."
In the same room is a figure of Christ mourned by two little angels, ascribed to Giovanni Bellini, but bearing Durer's monogram.
On the stairs are historical Venetian scenes of fires, fights, and ceremonials which we shall find in more abundance at the Querini Stampalia. The top floor is given to Canova, Canaletto, Guardi, and Tiepolo, and is very rich in their drawings and studies. In Canova I find it impossible to be much interested, but the pencil work of the others is often exquisite. From some of Canaletto's exact architectural drawings the Venice of his day could be reconstructed almost stone by stone.
Before leaving the Museo Civico let me warn the reader that it is by no means easy of access except in a gondola. Two steamboat stations pretend to deposit you there, but neither does so: S. Stae, from which it is a tortuous walk, and S. Marcuola, on the other side of the Canal, which means a ferry boat.
There is a calle and a traghetto next the museum, and then a disreputable but picturesque brown house with a fondamenta, and then the home of the Teodoro Correr who formed the nucleus of the museum which we have just seen and left it to Venice. His house is now deserted and miserable. A police station comes next; then a decayed house; and then the Palazzo Giovanelli, boarded up and forlorn, but not the one which contains the famous Giorgione. And here, at the nice garden on the other side of the Rio S. Giovanni Decollato, I think, we may cease to identify the buildings, for nothing else is important.
Beyond S. Simeone, however, at the corner of the Rio della Croce, is a large and shady garden belonging to the Papadopoli family which may be visited on application. It is a very pleasant place.
THE GRAND CANAL. IV: FROM THE STATION TO THE MOCENIGO PALACE, LOOKING TO THE LEFT
The Scalzi—The Labia Palace—The missing cicerone—Tiepolo and Cleopatra—S. Marcuola and Titian—A maker of oars—The death of Wagner—Frescoes on palaces—The Ca' d'Oro—Baron Franchetti—S. Sebastian—The Palazzo Michiel dalle Colonne—A merry tapestry—A cardinal's nursery—The Palazzo Lion—The Fondaco dei Tedeschi—Canova, Titian, and Byron.
Beginning at the Railway Station and going towards the Ducal Palace, the first building is the church of the Scalzi, by the iron bridge. The church is a very ornate structure famous for its marbles and reliefs, which counterfeit drapery and take the place of altar pictures; but these are an acquired taste. On the ceiling the brave Tiepolo has sprawled a vigorous illustration of the spiriting away of the house of the Virgin to Loreto, near Ancona.
Next come a row of shops, and, at the corner, the Lido hotels' motor-launch office, and then several negligible decayed palaces. The first of any importance is the tall seventeenth-century incomplete Flangini with Michael Angelesque figures over the door. Then the Scuola dei Morti with its memento mori on the wall, and then S. Geremia: outside, a fine mass of yellow brick with a commanding campanile; inside, all Palladian coolness. Against the church a little house has been built, and at the corner of the Grand Canal and the Cannaregio is the figure of the Virgin. The great palace a little way down the canal which branches off here—the Cannaregio—is the Labia, interesting chiefly as containing the masterpiece of Tiepolo, unless one agrees with Symonds that his picture of S. Agnes in SS. Apostoli is his greatest effort. So far as I am concerned, Tiepolo painted largely in vain. I can admire the firm decision of his drawing and his skill in composition, but I can never lose the feeling that his right place is the wall of a restaurant or a theater curtain. Still, since at the Palazzo Labia we find him decorating a banqueting hall with a secular subject, all is well.
But first to get in, for the Labia, once so sumptuous, is now the home of a hundred poor families, and the daughter of the concierge whose duty it is to display the frescoes prefers play to work. For twenty minutes I waited in the gloomy, deserted hall while her father shuffles off in one direction and her mother in another, both calling "Emma!" "Emma!" with increasing degrees of fury. Small boys and girls joined in the hunt until the neighbourhood had no other sound. At last the little slovenly Emma was discovered, and having been well rated she fetched the key and led me up the grand staircase. Tiepolo chose two scenes from the life of Cleopatra, and there is no doubt that he could draw. In one the voluptuous queen is dissolving a pearl in a goblet of wine; in the other she and her infatuated Roman are about to embark in a splendid galley. The model for the wanton queen is said to have been a gondolier's daughter named Cristina in whom the painter found all the graces that his brush required.
The frescoes, still in fair preservation, are masterly and aristocratic; but they have left on my mind no impressions that it is a pleasure to revive. Brilliant execution is not enough.
Crossing the mouth of the Cannaregio we come to the Querini Palace, now yellow, plain, and ugly. A little campiello, a tiny ugly house and a calle, and we are opposite the Palazzo Contarini, or Lobbia, with brown poles on which a silver heart glistens. It is a huge place, now in part empty, with a pretty cable design at the corner. Next, a shady green garden and an attractive little house with a tiny roof loggia and terrace; then a yellow stucco house with a little portico under it, and then the Palazzo Gritti, now decayed and commonplace. A little house with a dog in relief on it and a pretty colonnade and fondamenta, and then the Palazzo Martinengo, or Mandelli, with that very rare thing in Venice, a public clock on the roof, and a garden.
And so we reach the shabby S. Marcuola, her campo, traghetto, and steamer station. S. Marcuola, whose facade, having never been finished, is most ragged and miserable, is a poor man's church, visited by strangers for its early Titian and a "Last Supper" by Tintoretto. The Titian, which is dark and grimy, is quite pleasing, the infant Christ, who stands between S. Andrew and S. Catherine on a little pedestal, being very real and Venetian. There are, however, who deny Titian's authorship; Mr. Ricketts, for example, gives the picture to Francesco Vecellio, the painter's son. Tintoretto's "Last Supper," on the left of the high altar, is more convivial than is usual: there is plenty of food; a woman and children are coming in; a dog begs; Judas is noticeable. Opposite this picture is a rather interesting dark canvas blending seraphim and Italian architecture. Beside the church is the shop of a maker of oars, who may be seen very conscientiously running his eye along a new one.
A neat and smiling little house comes next, with blue and white posts and an inscription stating that it was once the home of the architect Pellegrino Orefice; then a little house with pretty windows, now an "antichita"; then the Rio di S. Marcuola; and after a small and ugly little house with a courtyard that might be made very attractive, we come to the rich crumbling red wall of the garden of the Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, which is notable as architecture, being one of the works of Pietro Lombardi, in 1481, and also as having once housed the noble Loredan family who produced more than one Doge. Many years later the Duchesse de Berry lived here; and, more interesting still, here died Richard Wagner.
We have seen Wagner's earlier residence in Venice, in 1858-59; to this palace he came in the autumn of 1882, an old and feeble man. He was well enough to conduct a private performance of his Symphony in C at the Liceo Martello on Christmas Eve. He died quietly on the February 13th following, and was buried at Bayreuth. In D'Annunzio's Venetian novel Il Fuoco, called, in its English translation, The Flame of Life, is most curiously woven the personality of Wagner, his ideals and theories, and his life and death in this city. It was D'Annunzio who composed the tablet on the wall.
The palace has an imposing but forbidding facade, and a new kind of lion peers over the balcony. On the facade is the motto "Non nobis, Domine." Another garden spreads before the new wing on the right, and a fine acacia-tree is over the gateway. Next is the Palazzo Marcello, and here too the Duchesse de Berry lived for a while. The next, with the little prophet's chamber on the facade and a fine Gothic window and balcony, is the fifteenth-century Erizzo. Then the Piovene, with fluted window pillars and marble decorations; then the Emo, another antiquity shop, with a fine view down the canal from its balcony. A traghetto is here, and then the Palazzo Molin, now a business house, and the Rio della Maddalena. The palace adjoining the Rio is the Barbaro, with an ancient relief on it representing little people being blessed by the Madonna; and then the Barbarigo, with remains of frescoes still to be seen, of which one of a goat and infant is pretty. It was the custom once to decorate all facades in this way, but these are now almost the only ones that remain.
Now comes a very poor series of houses to the next rio, the Rio di Noale, the last being the Gussoni, or Grimani, with a nice courtyard seen through the door. It was once decorated with frescoes by Tintoretto. Looking along the Rio di Noale we see the Misericordia, and only a few yards up on the left is the Palazzo Giovanelli where Giorgione's "Tempest" may be seen. At the other corner is the pretty little Palazzo Lezze with a terrace and much greenery, and then the massive but commonplace Boldu palace, adjoining a decayed building on whose fondamenta are piled gondola coverings belonging to the traghetto. A fine carved column is at the corner of the calle, and next it the Palazzo Bonhomo, with two arches of a colonnade, a shrine and fondamenta. Then a nice house with a tumbled garden, and in spring purple wistaria and red Judas-trees, and then the Rio S. Felice and the immense but unimpressive Palazzo Fontana, built possibly by no less an architect than the great Sansovino. A massive head is over the door, and Pope Clement XIII was born here. A little green garden adjoins—the Giardinetto Infantile—and next is a boarded-up dolls' house, and next the Miani or Palazzo Coletti, with two busts on it, and then the lovely Ca' d'Oro, that exquisite riot of Gothic richness.
The history of the Ca' d'Oro—or golden house, so called from the prevalence of gold in its ornamentation—is melancholy. It was built by the two Bons, or Buons, of the Doges' Palace for Pietro Contarini in 1425. It passed through various hands, always, one imagines, declining in condition, until at the end of the eighteenth century it was a dramatic academy, and in the middle of the last century the dancer Taglioni lived in it and not only made it squalid but sold certain of its treasures. Of its famous internal marble staircase, for example, no trace remains. Then, after probably more careless tenants, came Baron Franchetti with his wealth and zeal to restore such of its glories as he might, and although no haste is being employed, the good work continues. The palace is not open, but an obliging custodian is pleased to grow enthusiastic to visitors. Slowly but painstakingly the reconstruction proceeds. Painted ceilings are being put back, mosaic floors are being pieced together, cornices are taking the place of terrible papering and boarding: enough of all of the old having remained for the scheme to be faithfully completed. Stepping warily over the crazy floors of these vast rooms, one does not envy Taglioni when the Tramontana blew. She would have to dance then, if ever, or be cold indeed.
The facade of the Ca' d'Oro is of course its greatest possession. Venice has nothing more satisfyingly ornate: richness without floridity. But let no one think to know all its beauty until he has penetrated to the little chapel and stood before Mantegna's S. Sebastian, that great simple work of art by an intellectual master. This noble painting, possibly the last from his brush, was found in Mantegna's studio after his death. Notice the smoking candle-wick at the foot, and the motto which says that everything that is not of God is as smoke evanescent.
A steamboat station for passengers going towards the Rialto is opposite the Ca' d'Oro calle. Then comes the garden of the Palazzo Pesaro, now the Paraguay consulate; then the Sagredo, an extremely ancient Gothic building with a beautiful window and balcony, now badly served by paint and stucco and shutters; and then another traghetto at the Campo S. Sofia, with a vine ramping over its shelter. Stucco again injures the Palazzo Foscari, which has a pretty relief of the Madonna and Child; then we come to a calle and the Ca' d'Oro steamboat station for passengers going towards the railway.
An ugly yellow building comes next, and then the fine dingy Palazzo Michiel dalle Colonne with brown posts and ten columns, now the property of Count Antonio Dona dalle Rose, who permits visitors to see it in his absence. It is the first palace since we left the Scalzi that looks as if it were in rightful hands. The principal attraction is its tapestry, some of which is most charming, particularly a pattern of plump and impish cherubs among vines and grapes, which the cicerone boldly attributes to Rubens, but Baedeker to one of his pupils. Whoever the designer, he had an agreeable and robust fancy and a sure hand. The palace seems to have more rooms than its walls can contain, all possessing costly accessories and no real beauty. The bedroom of Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo is shown: his elaborate cradle with a stork presiding over it, surely a case of trop de zele; pretty yellow painted furniture; and a few pictures, including a fine horseback portrait by Moretto, a Cima, a Giovanni Bellini, and the usual Longhis. But it is the riotous little spirits of the vintage that remain in the mind.
After the Michiel dalle Colonne is a little newish house and the Gothic Palazzo Michiel da Brusa with blue posts with yellow stripes, rather overweighted with balconies but having nice ironwork; and then the comfortable-looking Mangilli Valmarana with blue posts with red and white tops, and the Rio dei SS. Apostoli with a view of the campanile along it. Next a dull white building with flush windows, and next that the fine and ancient Palazzo da Mosto. This house has many old sculptured slabs worked into the facade, and it seems a great pity that it should so have fallen from its proper state. An ugly modern iron balcony has been set beneath its Gothic windows. Adjoining is a house which also has pretty Gothic windows, and then the dull and neglected Palazzo Mocenigo, with brown posts. Then comes the Rio S. Gio. Crisostomo, and next it a house newly faced, and then the fascinating remains of the twelfth-century Palazzo Lion, consisting of an exposed staircase and a very attractive courtyard with round and pointed arches. It is now a rookery. Washing is hung in the loggia at the top, and ragged children lean from the windows.
Next, a pretty little house which might be made very liveable in, facing the fruit market, and then the hideous modern Sernagiotto, dating from 1847 and therefore more than negligible. A green little house with a sottoportico under it, and then a little red brick prison and the ugly Civran palace is reached. Next, the Perducci, now a busy statuary store, and next it the Ca Ruzzini, all spick and span, and the Rio dell'Olio o del Fontego, through which come the fruit barges from Malamocco. And now we touch very interesting history again, for the next great building, with the motor-boats before it, now the central Post Office, is the very Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the head-quarters of German merchants in Venice, on whose walls Giorgione and Titian painted the famous frescoes and in which Tintoretto held a sinecure post. Giorgion's frescoes faced the Canal; Titian's the Rialto.
And so we reach the Rialto bridge, on this side of which are no shrines, but a lion is on the keystone, and on each side is a holy man. After the Rialto bridge there is nothing of any moment for many yards, save a house with a high narrow archway which may be seen in Mr. Morley's picture, until we reach Sansovino's Palazzo Manin, now the Bank of Italy, a fine building and the home of the last Doge. The three steamboat stations hereabouts are for passengers for the Riva and Lido, for Mestre, and for the railway station, respectively. The palace next the Ponte Manin, over the Rio San Salvatore, is the Bembo, with very fine windows. Then the Calle Bembo, and then various offices on the fondamenta, under chiefly red facades. At the next calle is a traghetto and then the Palazzo Loredan, a Byzantine building of the eleventh or twelfth century, since restored. It has lovely arches. This and the next palace, the Farsetti, now form the Town Hall of Venice: hence the splendid blue posts and golden lions. In the vestibule are posted up the notices of engagements, with full particulars of the contracting parties—the celibi and the nubili. It was in the Farsetti that Canova acquired his earliest knowledge of sculpture, for he was allowed as a boy to copy the casts collected there.
Another calle, the Cavalli, and then a comfortable-looking house with a roof garden and green and yellow posts, opposite which the fondamenta comes to an end. Fenimore Cooper, the novelist of the Red Man, made this palace his home for a while. The pretty little Palazzo Valmarana comes next, and then the gigantic, sombre Grimani with its stone as dark as a Bath or Bloomsbury mansion, which now is Venice's Court of Appeal. The architect was the famous Michele Sammicheli who also designed the Lido's forts. Then the Rio di S. Luca and the Palazzo Contarini, with rich blue posts with white rings, very striking, and two reliefs of horses on the facade. Next a very tiny pretty little Tron Palace; then a second Tron, and then the dreary Martinengo, now the Bank of Naples. In its heyday Titian was a frequent visitor here, its owner, Martino d'Anna, a Flemish merchant, being an intimate friend, and Pordenone painted its walls.
Another calle and traghetto and we come to a very commonplace house, and then, after a cinematograph office and another calle, to the Palazzo Benzon, famous a hundred years ago for its literary and artistic receptions, and now spruce and modern with more of the striking blue posts, the most vivid on the canal. In this house Byron has often been; hither he brought Moore. It is spacious but tawdry, and its plate-glass gives one a shock. Then the Rio Michiel and then the Tornielli, very dull, the Curti, decayed, and the Rio dell'Albero. After the rio, the fine blackened Corner Spinelli with porphyry insets. At the steamboat station of S. Angelo are new buildings—one a very pretty red brick and stone, one with a loggia—standing on the site of the Teatro S. Angelo. After the Rio S. Angelo we come to a palace which I always admire: red brick and massive, with good Gothic windows and a bold relief of cupids at the top. It is the Garzoni Palace and now an antiquity dealer's.
A calle and traghetto next, a shed with a shrine on its wall, a little neat modern house and the Palazzo Corner with its common new glass, and we are abreast the first of the three Mocenigo palaces, with the blue and white striped posts and gold tops, in the middle one of which Byron settled in 1818 and wrote Beppo and began Don Juan and did not a little mischief.
THE GRAND CANAL. V: BYRON IN VENICE
The beautiful Marianna—Rum-punch—The Palazzo Albrizzi—A play at the Fenice—The sick Ballerina—The gondola—Praise of Italy—Beppo—Childe Harold—Riding on the Lido—The inquisitive English—Shelley in Venice—Julian and Maddalo—The view from the Lido—The madhouse—The Ducal prisons.
The name of Byron is so intimately associated with Venice that I think a brief account of his life there (so far as it can be told) might be found interesting.
It was suggested by Madame de Flanhault that Byron was drawn to Venice not only by its romantic character, but because, since he could go everywhere by water, his lameness would attract less attention than elsewhere. Be that as it may, he arrived in Venice late in 1816, being then twenty-eight. He lodged first in the Frezzeria, and at once set to work upon employments so dissimilar as acquiring a knowledge of the Armenian language in the monastery on the island of San Lazzaro and making love to the wife of his landlord. But let his own gay pen tell the story. He is writing to Tom Moore on November 17, 1816: "It is my intention to remain at Venice during the winter, probably, as it has always been (next to the East) the greenest island of my imagination. It has not disappointed me; though its evident decay would, perhaps, have that effect upon others. But I have been familiar with ruins too long to dislike desolation. Besides, I have fallen in love, which, next to falling into the canal (which would be of no use, as I can swim), is the best or the worst thing I could do. I have got some extremely good apartments in the house of a 'Merchant of Venice,' who is a good deal occupied with business, and has a wife in her twenty-second year. Marianna (that is her name) is in her appearance altogether like an antelope. She has the large, black, oriental eyes, with that peculiar expression in them which is seen rarely among Europeans—even the Italians—and which many of the Turkish women give themselves by tinging the eyelid, an art not known out of that country, I believe. This expression she has naturally—and something more than this. In short—." The rest of this amour, and one strange scene to which it led, very like an incident in an Italian comedy, is no concern of this book. For those who wish to know more, it is to be found, in prose, in the Letters, and, in verse, in Beppo.
On this his first visit to Venice, Byron was a private individual. He was sociable in a quiet way, attending one or two salons, but he was not splendid. And he seems really to have thrown himself with his customary vigour into his Armenian studies; but of those I speak elsewhere. They were for the day: in the evening, he tells Moore, "I do one of many nothings—either at the theatres, or some of the conversaziones, which are like our routs, or rather worse, for the women sit in a semi-circle by the lady of the mansion, and the men stand about the room. To be sure, there is one improvement upon ours—instead of lemonade with their ices, they hand about stiff rum-punch—punch, by my palate; and this they think English. I would not disabuse them of so agreeable an error,—'no, not for "Venice"'."
The chief houses to which he went were the Palazzo Benzon and the Palazzo Albrizzi. Moore when in Venice a little later also paid his respects to the Countess Albrizzi. "These assemblies," he wrote home, "which, at a distance, sounded so full of splendour and gallantry to me, turned into something much worse than one of Lydia White's conversaziones."
Here is one of Byron's rattling descriptions of a Venetian night. The date is December 27, 1816, and it is written to his publisher, Murray: "As the news of Venice must be very interesting to you, I will regale you with it. Yesterday being the feast of St. Stephen, every mouth was put in motion. There was nothing but fiddling and playing on the virginals, and all kinds of conceits and divertisements, on every canal of this aquatic city.
"I dined with the Countess Albrizzi and a Paduan and Venetian party, and afterwards went to the opera, at the Fenice theatre (which opens for the Carnival on that day)—the finest, by the way, I have ever seen; it beats our theatres hollow in beauty and scenery, and those of Milan and Brescia bow before it. The opera and its Syrens were much like all other operas and women, but the subject of the said opera was something edifying; it turned—the plot and conduct thereof—upon a fact narrated by Livy of a hundred and fifty married ladies having poisoned a hundred and fifty husbands in the good old times. The bachelors of Rome believed this extraordinary mortality to be merely the common effect of matrimony or a pestilence; but the surviving Benedicts, being all seized with the cholic, examined into the matter, and found that their possets had been drugged; the consequence of which was much scandal and several suits at law.
"This is really and truly the subject of the Musical piece at the Fenice; and you can't conceive what pretty things are sung and recitativoed about the horreda straga. The conclusion was a lady's head about to be chopped off by a Lictor, but (I am sorry to say) he left it on, and she got up and sang a trio with the two Consuls, the Senate in the background being chorus.
"The ballet was distinguished by nothing remarkable, except that the principal she-dancer went into convulsions because she was not applauded on her first appearance; and the manager came forward to ask if there was 'ever a physician in the theatre'. There was a Greek one in my box, whom I wished very much to volunteer his services, being sure that in this case these would have been the last convulsions which would have troubled the Ballerina; but he would not.
"The crowd was enormous; and in coming out, having a lady under my arm, I was obliged in making way, almost to 'beat a Venetian and traduce the state,' being compelled to regale a person with an English punch in the guts which sent him as far back as the squeeze and the passage would admit. He did not ask for another; but with great signs of disapprobation and dismay, appealed to his compatriots, who laughed at him."
Byron's first intention was to write nothing in Venice; but fortunately the idea of Beppo came to him, and that masterpiece of gay recklessness and high-spirited imprudence sprang into life. The desk at which he wrote is still preserved in the Palazzo Mocenigo. From Beppo I quote elsewhere some stanzas relating to Giorgione; and here are two which bear upon the "hansom of Venice," written when that vehicle was as fresh to Byron as it is to some of us:—
Didst ever see a Gondola? For fear You should not, I'll describe it you exactly: 'Tis a long covered boat that's common here, Carved at the prow, built lightly, but compactly. Rowed by two rowers, each call'd "Gondolier," It glides along the water looking blackly, Just like a coffin clapt in a canoe, Where none can make out what you say or do.
And up and down the long canals they go, And under the Rialto shoot along, By night and day, all paces, swift or slow, And round the theatres, a sable throng, They wait in their dusk livery of woe,— But not to them do woeful things belong, For sometimes they contain a deal of fun, Like mourning coaches when the funeral's done.
Those useful ciceroni in Venice, the Signori Carlo and Sarri, seem to have had Byron's description in mind. "She is all black," they write of the gondola, "everything giving her a somewhat mysterious air, which awakens in one's mind a thousand various thoughts about what has happened, happens, or may happen beneath the little felze."
It is pleasant to think that, no matter upon what other Italian experiences the sentiments were founded, the praise of Italy in the following stanzas was written in a room in the Mocenigo Palace, looking over the Grand Canal upon a prospect very similar to that which we see to-day:—
With all its sinful doings, I must say, That Italy's a pleasant place to me, Who love to see the Sun shine every day, And vines (not nailed to walls) from tree to tree, Festooned, much like the back scene of a play, Or melodrama, which people flock to see, When the first act is ended by a dance In vineyards copied from the South of France.
I like on Autumn evenings to ride out, Without being forced to bid my groom be sure My cloak is round his middle strapped about, Because the skies are not the most secure; I know too that, if stopped upon my route, Where the green alleys windingly allure, Reeling with grapes red wagons choke the way,— In England 'twould be dung, dust or a dray.
I also like to dine on becaficas, To see the Sun set, sure he'll rise to-morrow, Not through a misty morning twinkling weak as A drunken man's dead eye in maudlin sorrow, But with all Heaven t'himself; the day will break as Beauteous as cloudless, nor be forced to borrow That sort of farthing candlelight which glimmers Where reeking London's smoky cauldron simmers.
I love the language, that soft bastard Latin Which melts like kisses from a female mouth, And sounds as if it should be writ on satin, With syllables which breathe of the sweet South, And gentle liquids gliding all so pat in, That not a single accent seems uncouth, Like our harsh northern whistling, grunting guttural, Which were obliged to hiss, and spit and sputter all.
I like the women too (forgive my folly!), From the rich peasant cheek of ruddy bronze, And large black eyes that flash on you a volley Of rays that say a thousand things at once, To the high Dama's brow, more melancholy, But clear, and with a wild and liquid glance, Heart on her lips, and soul within her eyes, Soft as her clime, and sunny as her skies.
Byron's next visit to Venice was in 1818, and it was then that he set up state and became a Venetian lion. He had now his gondolas, his horses on the Lido, a box at the Opera, many servants. But his gaiety had left him. Neither in his letters nor his verse did he recapture the fun which we find in Beppo. To this second period belong such graver Venetian work (either inspired here or written here) as the opening stanzas of the fourth canto of Childe Harold. The first line takes the reader into the very heart of the city and is one of the best-known single lines in all poetry. Familiar as the stanzas are, it would be ridiculous to write of Byron in Venice without quoting them again:—
I stood in Venice, on the "Bridge of Sighs"; A Palace and a prison on each hand: I saw from out the wave her structures rise As from the stroke of the Enchanter's wand: A thousand Years their cloudy wings expand Around me, and a dying Glory smiles O'er the far times, when many a subject land Looked to the winged Lion's marble piles, Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles.
She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from Ocean, Rising with her tiara of proud towers At airy distance, with majestic motion, A ruler of the waters and their powers: And such she was;—her daughters had their dowers From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers. In purple was she robed, and of her feast Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.
Byron wrote also, in 1818, an "Ode on Venice," a regret for its decay, in spirit not unlike the succeeding Childe Harold stanzas which I do not here quote. Here too he planned Marino Faliero, talking it over with his guest, "Monk" Lewis. Another Venetian play of Byron's was The Two Foscari, and both prove that he attacked the old chronicles to some purpose and with all his brilliant thoroughness. None the less he made a few blunders, as when in The Two Foscari there is an allusion to the Bridge of Sighs, which was not, as it happens, built for more than a century after the date of the play.
No city, however alluring, could be Byron's home for long, and this second sojourn in Venice was not made any simpler by the presence of his daughter Ada. In 1819 he was away again and never returned. No one so little liked the idea of being rooted as he; at a blow the home was broken.
The best account of Byron at this time is that which his friend Hoppner, the British Consul, a son of the painter, wrote to Murray. Hoppner not only saw Byron regularly at night, but used to ride with him on the Lido. "The spot," he says, "where we usually mounted our horses had been a Jewish cemetery; but the French, during their occupation of Venice, had thrown down the enclosure, and levelled all the tombstones with the ground, in order that they might not interfere with the fortifications upon the Lido, under the guns of which it was situated. To this place, as it was known to be that where he alighted from his gondola and met his horses, the curious amongst our country-people, who were anxious to obtain a glimpse of him, used to resort; and it was amusing in the extreme to witness the excessive coolness with which ladies, as well as gentlemen, would advance within a very few paces of him, eyeing him, some with their glasses, as they would have done a statue in a museum, or the wild beasts at Exeter 'Change. However flattering this might be to a man's vanity, Lord Byron, though he bore it very patiently, expressed himself, as I believe he really was, excessively annoyed at it.
"The curiosity that was expressed by all classes of travellers to see him, and the eagerness with which they endeavoured to pick up any anecdotes of his mode of life, were carried to a length which will hardly be credited. It formed the chief subject of their inquiries of the gondoliers who conveyed them from terra firma to the floating city; and these people who are generally loquacious, were not at all backward in administering to the taste and humours of their passengers, relating to them the most extravagant and often unfounded stories. They took care to point out the house where he lived, and to give such hints of his movements as might afford them an opportunity of seeing him.
"Many of the English visitors, under pretext of seeing his house, in which there were no paintings of any consequence, nor, besides himself, anything worthy of notice, contrived to obtain admittance through the cupidity of his servants, and with the most barefaced impudence forced their way even into his bedroom, in the hopes of seeing him. Hence arose, in a great measure, his bitterness towards them, which he has expressed in a note to one of his poems, on the occasion of some unfounded remark made upon him by an anonymous traveller in Italy; and it certainly appears well calculated to foster that cynicism which prevails in his latter works more particularly, and which, as well as the misanthropical expressions that occur in those which first raised his reputation, I do not believe to have been his natural feeling. Of this I am certain, that I never witnessed greater kindness than in Lord Byron."
Byron's note to which Hoppner alludes is in Marino Faliero. The conclusion of it is as follows: "The fact is, I hold in utter abhorrence any contact with the travelling English, as my friend the Consul General Hoppner and the Countess Benzoni (in whose house the Converzasione mostly frequented by them is held), could amply testify, were it worth while. I was persecuted by these tourists even to my riding ground at Lido, and reduced to the most disagreeable circuits to avoid them. At Madame Benzoni's I repeatedly refused to be introduced to them; of a thousand such presentations pressed upon me, I accepted two, and both were to Irish women."
Shelley visited Byron at the Mocenigo Palace in 1818 on a matter concerning Byron's daughter Allegra and Claire Clairmont, whom the other poet brought with him. They reached Venice by gondola from Padua, having the fortune to be rowed by a gondolier who had been in Byron's employ and who at once and voluntarily began to talk of him, his luxury and extravagance. At the inn the waiter, also unprovoked, enlarged on the same alluring theme. Shelley's letter describing Byron's Venetian home is torn at its most interesting passage and we are therefore without anything as amusing and vivid as the same correspondent's account of his lordship's Ravenna menage. Byron took him for a ride on the Lido, the memory of which formed the opening lines of Julian and Maddalo. Thus:—
I rode one evening with Count Maddalo Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow Of Adria towards Venice: a bare strand Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand, Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds, Such as from earth's embrace the salt ooze breeds, Is this; an uninhabited sea-side, Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried, Abandons; and no other object breaks The waste, but one dwarf tree and some few stakes Broken and unrepaired, and the tide makes A narrow space of level sand thereon, Where 'twas our wont to ride while day went down. This ride was my delight. I love all waste And solitary places; where we taste The pleasure of believing what we see Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be: And such was this wide ocean, and this shore More barren than its billows; and yet more Than all, with a remembered friend I love To ride as then I rode;—for the winds drove The living spray along the sunny air Into our faces; the blue heavens were bare, Stripped to their depths by the awakening north; And, from the waves, sound like delight broke forth Harmonizing with solitude, and sent Into our hearts aerial merriment.
When the ride was over and the two poets were returning in Byron's (or Count Maddalo's) gondola, there was such an evening view as one often has, over Venice, and beyond, to the mountains. Shelley describes it:—
Paved with the image of the sky ... the hoar And aery Alps towards the North appeared Through mist, an heaven-sustaining bulwark reared Between the East and West; and half the sky Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew Down the steep West into a wondrous hue Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent Among the many-folded hills: they were Those famous Euganean hills, which bear, As seen from Lido thro' the harbour piles, The likeness of a clump of peaked isles— And then—as if the Earth and Sea had been Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen Those mountains towering as from waves of flame Around the vaporous sun, from which there came The inmost purple spirit of light, and made Their very peaks transparent.
Browning never tired, says Mrs. Bronson, of this evening view from the Lido, and always held that these lines by Shelley were the best description of it.
The poem goes on to describe a visit to the madhouse of S. Clemente and the reflections that arose from it. Towards the close Shelley says:—
If I had been an unconnected man I, from this moment, should have formed some plan Never to leave sweet Venice,—for to me It was delight to ride by the lone sea; And then, the town is silent—one may write Or read in gondolas by day or night, Having the little brazen lamp alight, Unseen, uninterrupted; books are there. Pictures, and casts from all those statues fair Which were twin-born with poetry, and all We seek in towns, with little to recall Regrets for the green country.
Later in 1818 Mrs. Shelley joined her daughter in Venice, but it was a tragic visit, for their daughter Clara died almost immediately after they arrived. She is buried on the Lido.
In a letter to Peacock, Shelley thus describes the city: "Venice is a wonderfully fine city. The approach to it over the laguna, with its domes and turrets glittering in a long line over the blue waves, is one of the finest architectural delusions in the world. It seems to have—and literally it has—its foundations in the sea. The silent streets are paved with water, and you hear nothing but the dashing of the oars, and the occasional cries of the gondolieri. I heard nothing at Tasso. The gondolas themselves are things of a most romantic and picturesque appearance; I can only compare them to moths of which a coffin might have been the chrysalis. They are hung with black, and painted black, and carpeted with grey; they curl at the prow and stern, and at the former there is a nondescript beak of shining steel, which glitters at the end of its long black mass.
"The Doge's Palace, with its library, is a fine monument of aristocratic power. I saw the dungeons, where these scoundrels used to torment their victims. They are of three kinds—one adjoining the place of trial, where the prisoners destined to immediate execution were kept. I could not descend into them, because the day on which I visited it was festa. Another under the leads of the palace, where the sufferers were roasted to death or madness by the ardours of an Italian sun: and others called the Pozzi—or wells, deep underneath, and communicating with those on the roof by secret passages—where the prisoners were confined sometimes half-up to their middles in stinking water. When the French came here, they found only one old man in the dungeons, and he could not speak."
THE GRAND CANAL. VI: FROM THE MOCENIGO PALACE TO THE MOLO, LOOKING TO THE LEFT
Mr. W.D. Howells—A gondoliers' quarrel—Mr. Sargent's Diploma picture—The Barbarigo family—Ruskin's sherry—Palace hotels—The Venetian balcony.
The next palace, with dark-blue posts, gold-topped, and mural inscriptions, also belonged to the Mocenigo, and here Giordano Bruno was staying as a guest when he was betrayed by his host and burned as a heretic. Then comes the dark and narrow Calle Mocenigo Casa Vecchia. Next is the great massive palace, with the square and round porphyry medallions, of the Contarini dalle Figure; the next, with the little inquisitive lions, is the Lezze. After three more, one of which is in a superb position at the corner, opposite the Foscari, and the third has a fondamenta and arcade, we come to the great Moro-Lin, now an antiquity store. Another little modest place between narrow calli, and the plain eighteenth-century Grassi confronts us. The Campo of S. Samuele, with its traghetto, church, and charming campanile, now opens out. The church has had an ugly brown house built against it. Then the Malipiero, with its tropical garden, pretty marble rail and brown posts, and then two more antiquity stores with hideous facades, the unfinished stonework on the side of the second of which, with the steps and sottoportico, was to have been a palace for the Duke of Milan, but was discontinued.
Next the Rio del Duca is the pretty little Palazzo Falier, from one of whose windows Mr. Howells used to look when he was gathering material for his Venetian Life. Mr. Howells lived there in the early eighteen-sixties, when a member of the American Consulate in Venice. As to how he performed his consular duties, such as they were, I have no notion; but we cannot be too grateful to his country for appointing him to the post, since it provided him with the experiences which make the most attractive Anglo-Saxon book on Venice that has yet been written. It is now almost half a century since Venetian Life was published, and the author is happily still hale.
It was not at the Palazzo Falier that Mr. Howells enjoyed the ministrations of that most entertaining hand-maiden Giovanna; but it was from here that he heard that quarrel between two gondoliers which he describes so vividly and which stands for every quarrel of every gondolier for all time. I take the liberty of quoting it here, because one gondolier's quarrel is essential to every book that hopes to suggest Venice to its readers, and I have none of my own worth recording. "Two large boats, attempting to enter the small canal opposite at the same time, had struck together with a violence that shook the boatmen to their inmost souls. One barge was laden with lime, and belonged to a plasterer of the city; the other was full of fuel, and commanded by a virulent rustic. These rival captains advanced toward the bows of their boats, with murderous looks,
Con la test'alta e con rabbiosa fame. Si che parea che l'aer ne temesse,
and there stamped furiously, and beat the wind with hands of deathful challenge, while I looked on with that noble interest which the enlightened mind always feels in people about to punch each others' heads.
"But the storm burst in words.
"'Figure of a pig!' shrieked the Venetian, 'you have ruined my boat for ever!'
"'Thou liest, son of an ugly old dog!' returned the countryman, 'and it was my right to enter the canal first.'
"They then, after this exchange of insult, abandoned the main subject of dispute, and took up the quarrel laterally and in detail. Reciprocally questioning the reputation of all their female relatives to the third and fourth cousins, they defied each other as the offspring of assassins and prostitutes. As the peace-making tide gradually drifted their boats asunder, their anger rose, and they danced back and forth and hurled opprobrium with a foamy volubility that quite left my powers of comprehension behind. At last the townsman, executing a pas seul of uncommon violence, stooped and picked up a bit of stone lime, while the countryman, taking shelter at the stern of his boat, there attended the shot. To my infinite disappointment it was not fired. The Venetian seemed to have touched the climax of his passion in the mere demonstration of hostility, and gently gathering up his oar gave the countryman the right of way. The courage of the latter rose as the strange danger passed, and as far as he could be heard, he continued to exult in the wildest excesses of insult: 'Ah-heigh! brutal executioner! Ah, hideous headsman!' Da capo. I now know that these people never intended to do more than quarrel, and no doubt they parted as well pleased as if they had actually carried broken heads from the encounter. But at the time I felt affronted and trifled with by the result, for my disappointments arising out of the dramatic manner of the Italians had not yet been frequent enough to teach me to expect nothing from it."
I too have seen the beginning of many quarrels, chiefly on the water. But I have seen only two Venetians use their fists—and they were infants in arms. For the rest, except at traghetti and at the corners of canals, the Venetians are good-humoured and blessed with an easy smiling tolerance. Venice is the best place in the world, and they are in Venice, and there you are! Why lose one's temper?
Next the Casa Falier is a calle, and then the great Giustinian Lolin Palace with brown and yellow posts. Taglioni lived here for a while too. Another calle, the Giustinian, a dull house with a garden and red and white striped posts, and we are at the Iron Bridge and the Campo S. Vitale, a small poor-people's church, with a Venetian-red house against it, and inside, but difficult to see, yet worth seeing, a fine picture by Carpaccio of a saint on horseback.
The magnificent palace in good repair that comes next is the Cavalli, with a row of bronze dragons on the facade. This is the home of the Franchetti family, who have done so much for modern Venice, conspicuously, as we have seen, at the Ca d'Oro. Then the Rio dell'Orso o Cavana, and the Palazzo Barbaro with its orange and red striped posts, a beautiful room in which will be familiar to all visitors to the Diploma Gallery at Burlington House, for it is the subject of one of Mr. Sargent's most astounding feats of dexterity. It is now the Venetian home of an American; and once no less a personage than Isabella d'Este lived in it very shortly after America was discovered. The older of the two Barbaro palaces is fourteenth century, the other, sixteenth. They will have peculiar interest to anyone who has read La Vie d'un Patricien de Venise au XVI Siecle, by Yriarte, for that fascinating work deals with Marcantonio Barbaro, who married one of the Giustiniani and lived here.
Nothing of importance—a palace with red and gold posts and an antiquity store—before the next rio, the beautiful Rio del Santissimo o di Stefano; nor after this, until the calle and traghetto: merely two neglected houses, one with a fondamenta. And then a pension arises, next to which is one of the most coveted abodes in the whole canal—the little alluring house and garden that belong to Prince Hohenlohe. The majestic palace now before us is one of Sansovino's buildings, the Palazzo Corner della Ca Grande, now the prefecture of Venice. Opposite it is the beautiful Dario palace and the Venier garden. Next is the Rio S. Maurizio and then two dingy Barbarigo palaces, with shabby brown posts, once the home of a family very famous in Venetian annals. Marco Barbarigo was the first Doge to be crowned at the head of the Giants' Stairs; it was while his brother Agostino was Doge (1486-1501) that Venice acquired Cyprus, and its queen, Caterina Corner, visited this city to abdicate her throne. Cardinal Barbarigo, famous not only for his piety but for refusing to become Pope, was born in this house.
Then the Rio S. Maria Zobenigo o dei Furlani and a palace, opposite the steamboat station. Another palace, and then a busy traghetto, with vine leaves over its shelter, and looking up the campo we see the church of S. Maria del Giglio with all its holy statues. Ruskin (who later moved to the Zattre) did most of his work on The Stones of Venice in the house which is now the Palazzo Swift, an annexe of the Grand Hotel, a little way up this campo. Here he lived happily with his young wife and toiled at the minutiae of his great book; here too he entertained David Roberts and other artists with his father's excellent sherry, which they described as "like the best painting, at once tender and expressive".
And now the hotels begin, almost all of them in houses built centuries ago for noble families. Thus the first Grand Hotel block is fourteenth century—the Palazzo Gritti. The next Grand Hotel block is the Palazzo Fini and is seventeenth century, and the third is the Manolesso-Ferro, built in the fourteenth century and restored in the nineteenth. Then comes the charming fourteenth-century Contarini-Fasan Palace, known as the house of Desdemona, which requires more attention. The upper part seems to be as it was: the water floor, or sea storey, has evidently been badly botched. Its glorious possession is, however, its balconies, particularly the lower.
Of the Grand Canal balconies, the most beautiful of which is, I think, that which belongs to this little palace, no one has written more prettily than that early commentator, Coryat. "Again," he says, "I noted another thing in these Venetian Palaces that I have very seldome seen in England, and it is very little used in any other country that I could perceive in my travels, saving only in Venice and other Italian cities. Somewhere above the middle of the front of the building, or (as I have observed in many of their Palaces) a little beneath the toppe of the front they have right opposite to their windows, a very pleasant little tarrasse, that jutteth or butteth out from the maine building, the edge whereof is decked with many pretty little turned pillers, either of marble or free stone to leane over. These kinds of tarrasses or little galleries of pleasure Suetonius calleth Meniana. They give great grace to the whole edifice, and serve only for this purpose, that people may from that place as from a most delectable prospect contemplate and view the parts of the City round about them in the coole evening."—No modern description could improve on the thoroughness of that.
Next is the pretty Barozzi Wedmann Palace, with its pointed windows, said to be designed by Longhena, who built the great Salute church opposite, and then the Hotel Alexandra, once the Palazzo Michiel. For the rest, I may say that the Britannia was the Palazzo Tiepolo; the Grand Hotel de l'Europe was yet another Giustiniani palace; while the Grand Canal Hotel was the Vallaresso. The last house of all before the gardens is the office of the Harbour Master; the little pavilion at the corner of the gardens belongs to the yacht club called the Bucintoro, whose boats are to be seen moored between here and the Molo, and whose members are, with those of sculling clubs on the Zattere and elsewhere, the only adult Venetians to use their waters for pleasure. As for the Royal Palace, it is quite unworthy and a blot on the Venetian panorama as seen from the Customs House or S. Giorgio Maggiore, or as one sees it from the little Zattere steamboat as the Riva opens up on rounding the Punta di Dogana. Amid architecture that is almost or quite magical it is just a common utilitarian facade. But that it was once better can be seen in one of the Guardis at the National Gallery, No. 2099.
Finally we have Sansovino's mint, now S. Mark's Library, with the steamboat bridge for passengers for the Giudecca and the Zattere in front of it, and then the corner of the matchless Old Library, and the Molo with all its life beneath the columns.
And now that we have completed the voyage of the Grand Canal, each way, let me remind the reader that although the largest palaces were situated there, they are not always the best. All over Venice are others as well worth study.
ISLAND AFTERNOONS' ENTERTAINMENTS. I: MURANO, BURANO AND TORCELLO
The Campo Santo—The Vivarini—The glass-blowers—An artist at work—S. Pietro—A good Bellini—A keen sacristan—S. Donato—A foreign church—An enthusiast—Signor "Rooskin"—The blue Madonna—The voyage to Burano—The importunate boatman—A squalid town—The pretty lace workers—Torcello—A Christian exodus—Deserted temples—The bishop's throne—The Last Judgment—The stone shutters—The Porto di Lido.
The cheap way to Murano is by the little penny steamer from the Fondamenta Nuova. This side of Venice is poor and squalid, but there is more fun here than anywhere else, for on Sundays the boys borrow any kind of craft that can be obtained and hold merry little regattas, which even those sardonic officials, the captains of the steamboats, respect: stopping or easing down so as to interfere with no event. But one should go to Murano by gondola, and go in the afternoon.
Starting anywhere near the Molo, this means that the route will be by the Rio del Palazzo, under the Ponte di Paglia and the Bridge of Sighs, between the Doges' Palace and the prison; up the winding Rio di S. Maria Formosa, and then into the Rio dei Mendicanti with a glimpse of the superb Colleoni statue and SS. Giovanni e Paoli and the lions on the Scuola of S. Mark; under the bridge with a pretty Madonna on it; and so up the Rio dei Mendicanti, passing on the left a wineyard with two graceful round arches in it and then a pleasant garden with a pergola, and then a busy squero with men always at work on gondolas new or old. And so beneath a high bridge to the open lagoon, with the gay walls and sombre cypresses of the cemetery immediately in front and the island of Murano beyond.
Many persons stop at the Campo Santo, but there is not much profit in so doing unless one is a Blair or an Ashton. Its cypresses are more beautiful from the water than close at hand, and the Venetian tombstones dazzle. Moreover, there are no seats, and the custodian insists upon abstracting one's walking-stick. I made fruitless efforts to be directed to the English section, where among many graves of our countrymen is that of the historical novelist, G.P.R. James.
Murano is interesting in art as being the home of that early school of painting in which the Vivarini were the greatest names, which supplied altar-pieces for all the Venetian churches until the Bellini arrived from Padua with more acceptable methods. The invaders brought in an element of worldly splendour hitherto lacking. From the concentrated saintliness of the Vivarini to the sumptuous assurance of Titian is a far cry, yet how few the years that intervened! To-day there are no painters in Murano; nothing indeed but gardeners and glass-blowers, and the island is associated purely with the glass industry. Which is the most interesting furnace, I know not, for I have always fallen to the first of all, close to the landing stage, and spent there several amusing half-hours, albeit hotter than the innermost pit. Nothing ever changes there: one sees the same artificers and the same routine; the same flames rage; glass is the same mystery, beyond all conjuring, so ductile and malleable here, so brittle and rigid everywhere else. There you sit, or stand, some score of visitors, while the wizards round the furnace busily and incredibly convert molten blobs of anything (you would have said) but glass into delicate carafes and sparkling vases. Meanwhile the sweat streams from them in rivulets, a small Aquarius ever and anon fetches tumblers of water from a tap outside or glasses of red wine, and a soft voice at your ear, in whatever language you happen to be, supplies a commentary on the proceedings. Beware of listening to it with too much interest, for it is this voice which, when the glass-blowing flags, is proposing to sell you something. The "entrance" may be "free," but the exit rarely is so.
Let me describe a particular feat. After a few minutes, in sauntered a little lean detached man with a pointed beard and a long cigar, who casually took from a workman in the foreground a hollow iron rod, at the end of which was a more than commonly large lump of the glowing mass. This he whirled a little, by a rotatory movement of the rod between the palms of his hands, and then again dipped it into the heart of the flames, fetching it out more fiery than ever and much augmented. This too he whirled, blowing down the pipe first (but without taking his cigar from his mouth) again and again, until the solid lump was a great glistening globe. The artist—for if ever there was an artist it is he—carried on this exhausting task with perfect nonchalance, talking and joking with the others the while, but never relaxing the concentration of his hands, until there came a moment when the globe was broken from the original rod and fixed in some magical way to another. Again it went into the furnace, now merely for heat and not for any accretion of glass, and coming out, behold it was a bowl; and so, with repeated visits to the flames, on each return wider and shallower, it eventually was finished as an exact replica of the beautiful greeny-blue flower-dish on a neighbouring table. The artist, still smoking, then sauntered out again for fresh air, and was seen no more for a while.