Showing posts with label Dorsoduro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dorsoduro. Show all posts

7 October 2017

Rosalba Carriera - portrait painter

Venetian artist specialised in miniatures

Rosalba Carriera: shown painting her sister in a self-portrait housed at the Uffizi in Florence
Rosalba Carriera: shown painting her sister in
a self-portrait housed at the Uffizi in Florence
One of the most successful women painters in the history of art, Rosalba Carriera is thought to have been born on this day in 1675 in Venice.

A pioneer of the Rococo style, she worked in pastel colours and was best known for her portraits. Her work was so admired that at her peak she had an almost constant stream of commissions from notable visitors to Venice, and from diplomats and nobility in the courts of other countries, principally France and Austria.

Born into a middle-class background, she was able to live a relatively comfortable life, although she would outlive her family, including her two sisters, and had gone blind by the time she died, at the age of 84.

Nowadays, Carriera’s portraits are as highly sought after as they were in the 18th century, with prices in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds realised when examples come up for auction.

One of the finest such examples, a portrait of the Irish politician Gustavus Hamilton, who was a colonel in the regiment of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, fetched £421,250 at Christie’s in 2008.

The daughter of a clerk and a lacemaker, Carriera is said to have learned lacemaking from her mother but as the lace industry declined she began decorating snuff boxes with miniature portraits, to be sold to tourists.

Carriera's portrait of Gustavus Hamilton, the Irish politician, sold for £421,250 at Christie's
Carriera's portrait of Gustavus Hamilton, the
Irish politician, sold for £421,250 at Christie's
She was one of the first miniaturists to paint on thin pieces of ivory rather than vellum.

Her talent was soon recognised, bringing her admission to the Accademia di San Luca in Rome in 1704. She moved from snuff boxes to more conventional portrait painting.

Carriera’s portraits were highly sophisticated, appealing to the refined tastes of nobility in particular, who were impressed with the way in which her attention to detail conveyed the image of wealth and luxury.

She placed her subjects almost always in a bust-length pose, with the body turned slightly away and the face looking towards the viewer, with the features accurately captured. Her ability to use her paints to create realistic representations of different textures and materials - gold braid, lace, furs – as well as jewels, hair and skin, set her apart.

Although she veered away from idealising her subjects, inevitably she presented them in a flattering light. By contrast, her self-portraits were sometimes starkly unflattering, emphasising what she considered to her poorer features, exaggerating the size of her nose, for example.  Her best-known self-portrait is one she contributed to the Medici collection of self-portraits at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, in which she portrays herself holding a portrait of her sister, Giovanna, to whom she was devoted.

Her early ‘celebrity’ subjects, whom she painted while they were visiting Venice, included Maximilian II of Bavaria and Frederick IV of Denmark.

Carriera's portrait of the young Louis XV
Carriera's portrait of the young Louis XV
August the Strong of Saxony, who was also King of Poland and sat for her in 1713, became one of her biggest patrons, inviting her to his court and acquiring more than 150 of her works.

Carriera spent between a year and 18 months in Paris, after the collector and financier Pierre Crozat had encouraged her to go.

She arrived with her family in March 1720 and became the idol of the French capital.  She painted every member of the French royal family, including the young Louis XV, and was granted honorary membership of the French Royal Academy.

After returning to Venice, where she had a home on the Grand Canal, she was invited to Vienna, where Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI became her patron.

Carriera was very close to her sisters, Angela and Giovanna, to whom she passed on her skill.  Giovanna helped her fulfil her numerous commissions in Paris, for example.

When Giovanna died in 1738, she was said to have become lonely and deeply depressed, her state of mind not helped by failing eyesight.  She underwent surgery twice in the hope of saving her sight from cataracts, but the operations were not successful.

Carriera spent the last few years of her life living in relative seclusion in a house in the Dorsoduro area of Venice.

The Ca' Biondetti on the Grand Canal was Carriera's home for many years
The Ca' Biondetti on the Grand Canal was Carriera's
home for many years
Travel tip:

Rosalba Carriera lived for many years in the Ca’ Biondetti, a private house on the Grand Canal in Venice, situated between the beautifully ornate Palazzo Mula Morosini and Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, the 18th century palace best known for being the home of the Peggy Guggenheim collection.

The magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
The magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
Travel tip:

Dorsoduro is the quarter of Venice just across the Grand Canal near where it emerges into the lagoon, accessed from San Marco via the Accademia Bridge. Much less crowded than San Marco, it nonetheless has much to recommend it, including the Peggy Guggenheim collection, the Gallerie dell’ Accademia and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which itself houses no fewer than 12 works by Titian.  There are also a host of small bars serving a wonderful variety of the Venetian bar snacks known as cicchetti.

29 January 2017

Luigi Nono - avant-garde composer

Venetian used music as a medium for political protest

Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music to express his political viewpoint
Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music
to express his political viewpoint
The Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, famous for using music as a form of political expression, was born in Venice on this day in 1924.

Nono, whose compositions often defied the description of music in any traditional sense, was something of a contradiction in that he was brought up in comfortable surroundings and had a conventional music background.

His father was a successful engineer, wealthy enough to provide for his family in a large house in Dorsoduro, facing the Giudecca Canal, while his grandfather, a notable painter, inspired in him an interest in the arts.  He had music lessons with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero at the Venice Conservatory, where he developed a fascination for the Renaissance madrigal tradition, before going to the University of Padua to study law.

Nono appreciated the natural sounds of Venice, in particular how much they were influenced by the water, and as he began to compose works of his own there might have been an expectation that any contemporary influences would have been against a backcloth of ideas rooted in tradition.

Yet the classical Venetian music of Giovanni Gabrieli, Antonio Vivaldi and others could not have been further away from the sounds that would define much of Nono's output.

There was no harmony or melody, none of the things commonly associated with music.  Instead, Nono's compositions often comprised strange sounds, generated by conventional instruments and voices, yet difficult to associate with them.  Listening to them was uncomfortable but that was their purpose, to defy convention and challenge the listener to be aroused and seek an interpretation, in much the same way that modern art asks the observer to see visual images in a different way.

Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere
al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Nono's early influences were the Italian composer-conductor Bruno Maderna and German conductor Hermann Scherchen, with whom he began working in 1946 and who both encouraged his work.  He attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where his compositions reflected his admiration for the Austrian abstract composer Anton Webern. 

Yet just as strong an influence was his politics. Like many Italian intellectuals of the post-war period, Nono had been disturbed by the experience of growing up under Fascism. He rebelled in the 1950s by becoming a Communist, following in the footsteps of other well-heeled intellectuals, such as the film director Luigi Visconti.

However, there was nothing faddish or self-indulgent about his interest in left-wing causes. It seemed to be at the roots of his being. "An artist must concern himself with his time," he once said. "Injustice dominates in our time. As man and musician I must protest.

"The genesis of every work of mine springs from some human 'provocation' – an event or a text in our lives which provokes my instinct and my consciousness to bear witness."

Thus he produced pieces such as Il Canto Sospeso  - 'The Suspended Song' - which celebrates the heroic deaths of Resistance fighters. Later pieces would highlight revolutionary causes around the world from Mao to Castro yet never was any protesting sentiment expressed in a rousing chorus, rather in distorted and fragmented sounds, the sounds of shouts and screams and rage.

Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
He wrote pieces protesting against the atomic bomb, against American involvement in Vietnam and was inspired by visits to former Nazi prison camps.  Nono was once described as the angriest composer that ever lived, a flippant remark yet once that seemed to be borne out by his body of work.

Only in his later years did he mellow, when his compositions sought to reflect the stillness and muffled sounds of Venice at its most haunting, in the winter, empty of crowds and shrouded in mists.

Married to the daughter of Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer and music theorist who was an early influence, Nono had two daughters, Silvia and Serena. He died from a liver complaint in 1990. He is buried at the cemetery on San Michele island.

Travel tip:

The Dorsoduro, where Nono grew up, is one of the six sestieri - municipal areas - of Venice, sitting between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.  It is regarded as a good place to get the feel for the more traditional Venice, without the huge crowds and tourist trappings associated with the areas around St Mark's and the Rialto.  There are many traditional bacari, the small bars that sell inexpensive small snacks - cicchetti - along with glasses of wine - known locally as ombre, as well as squares where local people meet during the day and students gather at night.  Yet it is also home to some fine churches, such as San Sebastiano, full of works by Veronese, and two of the city's most prestigious galleries, the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim.

Hotels in Venice from

The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many  works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many
works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
Travel tip:

The Giudecca itself - an island divided from the main body of Venice by the wide Giudecca Canal - is perhaps even more representative of the real Venice, if such a thing exists.  Rarely a destination for many tourists, apart from the well-heeled ones who stay at the famed Hotel Cipriani at its eastern tip, it was once home to only the residents of a small fishing village. Later it was developed for market gardens and then became fashionable with Venice's wealthier residents as somewhere with space to build their grand houses.  More recently, the western end of the island has become home to shipyards and factories.  There are plenty of interesting streets and enough bars and local restaurants to satisfy those curious enough to explore.

Hotels in Venice from Expedia

More reading:

How the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi died penniless in Vienna

Gabrieli's music led the transition from Renaissance to Baroque in music of Venice

How the Venetian Patty Pravo turned her back on classical music for a career in pop

Also on this day:

1966: Fire destroys Venice's La Fenice opera house

(Picture credits: Luigi Nono from Zoeken; Nono's house and San Sebastiano by Didier Descouens; grave by Smerus; all via Wikimedia Commons)