Tag Archives: Venice

In anxious times a Venetian-based soprano makes her Melbourne debut

Catherine Kovesi   University of Melbourne

Anna Sanachina, by a canal in Venice, Credit: Diana Litvinova

For twenty years I have been teaching first year students at the University of Melbourne about the Black Death and its social, cultural, economic and political knock-on effects. In these two decades I have been struck consistently by the continuing relevance of this most gruesome and visceral of topics, but never more so than in this present iteration of my subject. Whilst in previous years I have made comparisons with AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Ebola – the list goes on – never before have students had a virus affect them all personally and dramatically. As students read the vivid accounts of Giovanni Boccaccio, Marchionne di Coppo Stefani and Agnolo di Tura of an Italy in crisis in 1348, their nightly news showed them the unfolding horror in Bergamo and nearby towns in 2020.

The point was brought home even more forcefully when the very week in which I had to talk about the Black Death, our University suspended all face-to-face classes and notified us that there were three confirmed cases on campus. And so I sat at home, preparing to record the lecture in which I recount the contingent fragility of civil life and the multiple ways in which this broke down in 1348, and I spliced a depressing succession of images from 1348 with current examples.

Taking a break from the task, my social media feed showed me instead the glorious Russian-born soprano Anna Sanachina singing a prayer to her adopted city from her Venetian window. On the bridge below stood an audience of two –  transfixed, whilst scrupulously observing Social Distancing protocols.

Although we have seen a succession of moving clips of Italians singing from their balconies in recent days, all of which provide the most poignant of reminders that even midst extreme crisis civil society does not always break down, Anna’s voice was a singular one. I asked Anna whether I could show the video of her singing to my students. She generously agreed but told me to emphasise to the students the words of her chosen aria, ‘La mamma morta’ from Act 3, of Umberto Giordano’s 1896 opera Andrea Chénier, in particular its final four lines:
Tu non sei sola!
Le lacrime tue io le raccolgo!
Io sto sul tuo cammino e ti sorreggo!
Sorridi e spera! Io son l’amore!

Powerpoint slide for students in Europe: From Black Death to New Worlds, by Catherine Kovesi.

In subsequent days, Anna has continued to sing her glorious sonic prayers and she has gained an increasing worldwide audience. The BBC interviewed her and then, most stunningly of all, a video montage by Andrea Rizzo, shot in black and white, of an exquisitely beautiful yet eerily deserted Venice in these days of lockdown, concludes in vivid technicolour with Anna singing her prayer (see 2’33”) as the camera scans across a city swathed in banners declaring ‘Andrà tutto bene’ – ‘All shall be well’.  

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Exploring Venice’s past and present

Jen McFarland, enrolled in a History MA at the University of Melbourne, spent September to December 2019 in Venice as an ACIS Save Venice Fellow researching the identity, status and activities of the pizzocchere (associations of lay religious women) in the city in the 16th century. It was not her first exploration of religion there. In 2019 the journal Renaissance Studies published her study of Catherine of Siena’s incorporation into the iconography held in the Dominican convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the late 15th century, in particular the ways in which the convent wanted to emphasise Catherine’s status as a legitimate stigmatic and to promote the then-current Dominican reform. Jen has written an interesting piece summarising her recent stay in Venice which can be found here.

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ACIS – Save Venice fellowships for 2019

ACIS is very pleased to announce that Jen McFarland and Emma Barron have been awarded ACIS – Save Venice Fellowships for 2019.

Jen McFarland’s project, Pizzochere and public presence in late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venice, is a study of pizzochere (lay religious women), examining their identity, social status, and activities and drawing on material in the Archivio Storico Patriarcale di Venezia and the Archivio di Stato di Venezia, as well as painting cycles in the Gallerie dell’Accademia. Pizzochere groups held a significant social and charitable function in sixteenth-century Venice, offering vital spaces of assistance and agency for women of varied (but mostly vulnerable) social backgrounds.

Emma Barron’s project, Popular access to ideas about the modern world through mass culture in post-war Italy, examines social change and media coverage of the Venice Art Biennale and Venice Film Festival in the late 1960s, using materials from the Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia, Archivio dello Stato and the Biblioteca della Fondazione Querini Stampalia. She will analyse ideas about Venice as a site of glamour, wealth and film-stars and the events that led to Venice becoming a site of protest during the 1968 student demonstrations at the 34th Venice Art Biennale and the 29th Venice Film Festival.

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Beauty and Beast: Venice and the rhino

In 1751 Pietro Longhi painted this portrait of the rhinoceros, Clara, brought to the Venice Carneval that year. He depicted the animal eating quietly, indifferent to its owner (carrying the horn which had rubbed off) and to the masked and other spectators in the casotto behind it. Nearly three centuries later the rhinoceros returns to Venice in the form of a symposium, Beauty and the Beast: Venice and the Rhino, on 24 November and an accompanying exhibition, Rhinoceros: Luxury’s Fragile Frontier, 24 November – 21 December, both at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac. The exhibition title reveals the central theme. Both Venice and the rhinoceros are now luxury objects and both are threatened by the desire they evoke. The symposium brings together artists, conservationists, poets, writers, and historians to explore the unexpected intersections between these two endangered objects of luxury consumption. The exhibition presents the works of two artists concerned about issues of fragility and identity in relation to their personal and wider worlds and that of the rhinoceros. Their sculptural creations will be framed against the background of a ‘demand reduction’ marketing campaign which targets the consumption of rhino horn.

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ACIS – Save Venice Fellowship 2018

ACIS is very pleased to announce that Dr Angelo Lo Conte has been awarded the inaugural ACIS – Save Venice Fellowship. He will spend 3 months in Venice in the second half of 2018 to work at the Biblioteca Marciana, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and the Galleria dell’Accademia on the extensive literature about, and drawings of, three artists originally from Bologna: the brothers Camillo (b.1564),  Carlo Antonio (b.1571) and Giulio Cesare (b.1574) Procaccini. Both the stylistic and commercial aspects of the family bottega established in Milan in the late 1580s played a significant role, artistic and practical, in the transition from Mannerism to the Baroque.  The project will define and illustrate the ways in which the Procaccini were the most important family of painters working in northern Italy in the first part of the 17th century.

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A Racist Brooch? The Venetian origins of a royal jewel

Catherine Kovesi   University of Melbourne

In reportage of Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace and the arrival of Meghan Markle and her fiancé Prince Harry, worldwide news focused on the item of jewellery worn by Princess Michael of Kent. Immediately branded as a ‘racist’ piece of jewellery in so-called ‘blackamoor’ style, many of these reports were also at pains to emphasise Princess Michael’s father’s association with the SS and to portray this fashion statement as a blatant affront to Harry’s choice of bride, a woman of part African-American heritage. Princess Michael hastily apologized for wearing the piece and said she would not wear it again. But this explosion of journalistic outrage obscures a much more interesting story  ……     Continue reading

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Enfilade, Venetian Painting, Remembering David Rosand

Sally Grant   New York

bellotto-framed-copy

Here is an item from a recent issue of the newsletter Enfilade that will interest ACIS readers (Enfilade is edited by the tireless and ineffably charming Craig Hanson who keeps everyone in eighteenth-century studies, especially art and architecture, informed about what is going on in the way of exhibitions, conferences and publications). It signals the opening this week of a Venetian painting exhibition, In Light of Venice: Venetian Painting in Honor of David Rosand, at the Otto Naumann Gallery, New York, which lasts until 12 February 2016. The title recalls the distinguished art historian of Renaissance Venice who died in 2014 and in whose honour a new Italian professorship is to be established at Columbia University. Some of the profits from the exhibition will be donated to the David Rosand Tribute Fund at the university to support the position.

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Venetian Old Master Drawings, and a Contemporary Response, at the Ashmolean, Oxford

Sally Grant   New York

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754), Head of a Youth, Ashmolean Museum

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754), Head of a Youth © Ashmolean Museum

A major early-modern Venetian drawing exhibition has opened at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Focusing on works from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, Titian to Canaletto: Drawing in Venice should be a visual delight. Considering other recent exhibitions on this subject in Venice, LA, and New York (both in 2012 and 2013-14, as reviewed here), however, the museum’s emphasis on its “ground breaking” attention to the role drawing played for Venetian artists is perhaps a tad overstated. Nevertheless, when it comes to the art of Venice, the more shows the merrier.

This is particularly the case when exhibitions bring to view drawings that are often sequestered in archives away from the public’s gaze. Each opportunity to look closely at such works brings with it the chance of new understanding of aspects of art and humanity. And unlike the previously mentioned exhibitions, where the works were all drawn from US collections, the Ashmolean is displaying its own drawings alongside loans from the Uffizi in Florence and Oxford’s Christ Church. This will create the UK’s first prominent exhibition devoted to the drawings of the Venetian Old Masters.

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Jo-Anne Duggan Essay Prize 2015

Jo-Anne Duggan Essay Prize PosterWe are delighted to announce the outcome of the inaugural Jo-Anne Duggan Essay Prize sponsored by ACIS. The winner is Sally Grant, ECR (PhD, University of Sydney, 2013) for her essay on ‘The Eighteenth-Century Experience of the Veneto Country House: Andrea Urbani’s Decoration of Villa Vendramin Calergi’s Room of the Gardens’. Two entrants were highly commended: Crystal Filep (PhD candidate, University of Otago) for her creative work and exegesis ‘Intersection Unbounded’ and Kyra Giorgi, ECR (PhD, La Trobe University, 2013) for her essay ‘La speranza: Spaces of hoping, waiting and dreaming in Italian migration’.  The Panel for the Prize has provided the following summaries of the three entries …. Continue reading

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Alla Venetiana

imagesFor those readers who did not receive invitations to George’s wedding in Venice, here are a couple of consolation prizes. Richard Bosworth’s latest book, Italian Venice: A History (Yale UP, 2014), offers a characteristically engaging account of the city since the fall of the Republic in 1797, covering inter alia the most significant contemporary issues: the threat of flooding, the festivals, tourism. A very different view of the city is presented by the philosopher Philip Kitcher whose Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Columbia UP, 2013), takes Thomas Mann’s novella as an entry point to an exploration of the general relations between literature and philosophy.

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