Friday, February 9, 2018

Casanova & Friends - A Venice Carnival Seduction

Outside the Caffè Florian - Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Giacomo Casanova is Venice's most famous hometown boy. In addition to his notorious reputation as a lover, he was also a prolific and gifted author, as well as a spy, cleric, violinist, alchemist, Freemason, financier, gambler, traveler, adventurer and prison escapee. He met everybody who was anybody in nearly all of Europe, including Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin. Even today, during Carnival, the wild, wonderful, seductive spirit of Casanova permeates the air. You can still sip a hot chocolate in Caffè Florian with your lover, just as Casanova did about 275 years ago.

Creatum: Civitas Ludes is the theme of this year's Carnival. Chosen by Marco Maccapani, the artistic director, it sort of translates to "Creativity: City of Games." Now, what Venice considers games might not be everyone's definition. It can include games of seduction, gambling, pranks and mischief -- even exotic animals. And there are masks involved.

Playing cards printed by Antonio Moro (1841)
The other day I went over to the Archivio di Stato to see what their offerings were for Civitas Ludes. The Venice State Archive is one of the largest in Italy, and preserves more than 1000 years of Venetian history covering about 80km (50 miles) of shelves. It is enormous, and located inside the former convent of Santa Maria dei Frari.

The Archive has dug up some intriguing official documents regarding the behavior of its citizens -- it is as if the FBI, the CIA and the US State Department released their files for public consumption under the Freedom of Information Act. In 1310, Venice created the Council of Ten to overcome the revolt against the Doge and the Republic by Bajamonte Tiepolo. It was supposed to be a temporary body, but became a permanent fixture by 1334. Over the centuries, its powers grew greater until it had almost unlimited authority over all governmental affairs, including Venice's diplomatic and intelligence services.

The ten individuals, who were limited to a term of one year, became Venice's spy chiefs -- and Venice had a vast network of spies, one of whom was Casanova. In 1539, an additional, even smaller unit was created: the State Inquisitors -- three super-secret judges who wore masks and had as much authority as the entire Council of Ten, and could independently try and convict those accused of treason -- they could sentence people to exile, or even death. Needless to say, being called in front of the Council of Ten or the State Inquisitors was a terrifying prospect.

Council of Ten prohibiting all lotteries whatsoever under penalty of 500 ducats
On display at the State Archive is a document dated 1776 from the State Inquisitors by a confidant named Camillo Pasini, who reported on the gambling habits of the nobility. Another is dated 1580 from the Heresy Magistrates regarding the card-playing manner of the renowned courtesan, Victoria Franco.

But the most interesting document is one dated 1754 from the State Inquisitors about Casanova, who is called a card player and a "hyperbolate." Casanova had returned to Venice the year before from his own Grand Tour, and was under surveillance due to his wild escapades, and association with Freemasonry and secret rites. The next year, on July 26, 1755, at age 30, he would be arrested for affront to religion and common decency, and thrown into the Piombi prison in Palazzo Ducale, from which he would make a daring escape.

We know a lot about Casanova because he wrote a terrific erotic memoir called, The Story of my Life, which you can read for free in English as an ebook thanks to Project Gutenberg. Because Casanova is such a clever writer, I thought my readers might enjoy an excerpt from the man himself.

Casanova describes an adventure that he and his gang-of-eight had during Carnival 1745 -- ten years before his imprisonment -- when they snatched a pretty young woman away from her husband and his two friends and seduced her -- much to her enjoyment. She did file a complaint with the Council of Ten -- not because of the orgy, to which, according to the complaint, she had willingly succumbed, but because she was frightened about the welfare of her husband.

Here's Casanova, in his own words, translated into English by Arthur Machen:


We were seven, and sometimes eight, because, being much attached to my brother Francois, I gave him a share now and then in our nocturnal orgies. But at last fear put a stop to our criminal jokes, which in those days I used to call only the frolics of young men. This is the amusing adventure which closed our exploits. 

In every one of the seventy-two parishes of the city of Venice, there is a large public-house called ‘magazzino’. It remains open all night, and wine is retailed there at a cheaper price than in all the other drinking houses. People can likewise eat in the ‘magazzino’, but they must obtain what they want from the pork butcher near by, who has the exclusive sale of eatables, and likewise keeps his shop open throughout the night. The pork butcher is usually a very poor cook, but as he is cheap, poor people are willingly satisfied with him, and these resorts are considered very useful to the lower class. The nobility, the merchants, even workmen in good circumstances, are never seen in the ‘magazzino’, for cleanliness is not exactly worshipped in such places. Yet there are a few private rooms which contain a table surrounded with benches, in which a respectable family or a few friends can enjoy themselves in a decent way. 

It was during the Carnival of 1745, after midnight; we were, all the eight of us, rambling about together with our masks on, in quest of some new sort of mischief to amuse us, and we went into the magazzino of the parish of Santa Croce to get something to drink. We found the public room empty, but in one of the private chambers we discovered three men quietly conversing with a young and pretty woman, and enjoying their wine. 

Our leader, a noble Venetian belonging to the Balbi family, said to us, “It would be a good joke to carry off those three blockheads, and to keep the pretty woman in our possession.” He immediately explained his plan, and under cover of our masks we entered their room, Balbi at the head of us. Our sudden appearance rather surprised the good people, but you may fancy their astonishment when they heard Balbi say to them: “Under penalty of death, and by order of the Council of Ten, I command you to follow us immediately, without making the slightest noise; as to you, my good woman, you need not be frightened, you will be escorted to your house.” When he had finished his speech, two of us got hold of the woman to take her where our leader had arranged beforehand, and the others seized the three poor fellows, who were trembling all over, and had not the slightest idea of opposing any resistance. 

The waiter of the magazzino came to be paid, and our leader gave him what was due, enjoining silence under penalty of death. We took our three prisoners to a large boat. Balbi went to the stern, ordered the boatman to stand at the bow, and told him that he need not enquire where we were going, that he would steer himself whichever way he thought fit. Not one of us knew where Balbi wanted to take the three poor devils. 

He sails all along the canal, gets out of it, takes several turnings, and in a quarter of an hour, we reach San Giorgio where Balbi lands our prisoners, who are delighted to find themselves at liberty. After this, the boatman is ordered to take us to Saint Genevieve, where we land, after paying for the boat.
We proceed at once to Palombo Square, where my brother and another of our band were waiting for us with our lovely prisoner, who was crying. 

“Do not weep, my beauty,” says Balbi to her, “we will not hurt you. We intend only to take some refreshment at the Rialto, and then we will take you home in safety.” 

“Where is my husband?” 

“Never fear; you shall see him again to-morrow.” 

Comforted by that promise, and as gentle as a lamb, she follows us to Do Spade. We ordered a good fire in a private room, and, everything we wanted to eat and to drink having been brought in, we send the waiter away, and remain alone. We take off our masks, and the sight of eight young, healthy faces seems to please the beauty we had so unceremoniously carried off. We soon manage to reconcile her to her fate by the gallantry of our proceedings; encouraged by a good supper and by the stimulus of wine, prepared by our compliments and by a few kisses, she realizes what is in store for her, and does not seem to have any unconquerable objection. Our leader, as a matter of right, claims the privilege of opening the ball; and by dint of sweet words he overcomes the very natural repugnance she feels at consummating the sacrifice in so numerous company. She, doubtless, thinks the offering agreeable, for, when I present myself as the priest appointed to sacrifice a second time to the god of love, she receives me almost with gratitude, and she cannot conceal her joy when she finds out that she is destined to make us all happy. My brother Francois alone exempted himself from paying the tribute, saying that he was ill, the only excuse which could render his refusal valid, for we had established as a law that every member of our society was bound to do whatever was done by the others. 

After that fine exploit, we put on our masks, and, the bill being paid, escorted the happy victim to San Giobbe, where she lived, and did not leave her till we had seen her safe in her house, and the street door closed.

My readers may imagine whether we felt inclined to laugh when the charming creature bade us good night, thanking us all with perfect good faith! 

From the Archives 1754: State Inquisitors re: Giacomo Casanova
Two days afterwards, our nocturnal orgy began to be talked of. The young woman’s husband was a weaver by trade, and so were his two friends. They joined together to address a complaint to the Council of Ten. The complaint was candidly written and contained nothing but the truth, but the criminal portion of the truth was veiled by a circumstance which must have brought a smile on the grave countenances of the judges, and highly amused the public at large: the complaint setting forth that the eight masked men had not rendered themselves guilty of any act disagreeable to the wife. It went on to say that the two men who had carried her off had taken her to such a place, where they had, an hour later, been met by the other six, and that they had all repaired to Do Spade, where they had spent an hour in drinking. The said lady having been handsomely entertained by the eight masked men, had been escorted to her house, where she had been politely requested to excuse the joke perpetrated upon her husband. 

The three plaintiffs had not been able to leave the island of San Giorgio until day-break, and the husband, on reaching his house, had found his wife quietly asleep in her bed. She had informed him of all that had happened; she complained of nothing but of the great fright she had experienced on account of her husband, and on that count she entreated justice and the punishment of the guilty parties. 

That complaint was comic throughout, for the three rogues shewed themselves very brave in writing, stating that they would certainly not have given way so easily if the dread authority of the council had not been put forth by the leader of the band. The document produced three different results; in the first place, it amused the town; in the second, all the idlers of Venice went to San Giobbe to hear the account of the adventure from the lips of the heroine herself, and she got many presents from her numerous visitors; in the third place, the Council of Ten offered a reward of five hundred ducats to any person giving such information as would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the practical joke, even if the informer belonged to the band, provided he was not the leader. 

The offer of that reward would have made us tremble if our leader, precisely the one who alone had no interest in turning informer, had not been a patrician. The rank of Balbi quieted my anxiety at once, because I knew that, even supposing one of us were vile enough to betray our secret for the sake of the reward, the tribunal would have done nothing in order not to implicate a patrician. There was no cowardly traitor amongst us, although we were all poor; but fear had its effect, and our nocturnal pranks were not renewed. 

Three or four months afterwards the chevalier Nicolas Ferro, then one of the inquisitors, astonished me greatly by telling me the whole story, giving the names of all the actors. He did not tell me whether any one of the band had betrayed the secret, and I did not care to know; but I could clearly see the characteristic spirit of the aristocracy, for which the ‘solo mihi’ is the supreme law. 

Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
So the crime was not the orgy, which the woman had apparently enjoyed, but that she was caused unnecessary fright because she thought her husband had been arrested by the Council of Ten. Luckily for Casanova and the gang the accusation took place during Carnevale, when conventions are flipped on their heads. Otherwise, I think the Council of Ten would not have been amused that they had been impersonated by Balbi, a young member of the aristocracy, nor that Casanova went along for the ride. 

Go to the official site for the program of Carnevale di Venezia 2018.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Peek Behind the Scenes - The Restoration of Carpaccio's Saint Ursula by Save Venice

Detail from Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) It was a great privilege to go behind the scenes and see up close the progress of the conservation of the much-loved Saint Ursula Cycle by Vittore Carpaccio inside the Galleria dell'Accademia -- a campaign by the American non-profit organization, Save Venice Inc.

Carpaccio (circa 1460-1525) was a young painter who came of age with the Saint Ursula Cycle. He created nine paintings for the Scuola di Sant'Orsola, a devotional confraternity once located near the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo down in the Castello zone of Venice.

The Scuola of Sant'Orsola was founded on July 15, 1300. On November 26, 1488, it decided to decorate its headquarters. Enter Carpaccio, who was then about 25-30 years-old.

Saint Ursula Cycle - detail2 - Photo: Cat Bauer

What was happening in Venice around that time: 


In 1453, the Ottoman Turk Mehmed II had conquered Constantinople, turning it into Istanbul, destroying the over-1000-year-old Byzantine Empire and utterly transforming the order of the world. Some of the most horrific stories were about young mothers, virgins and nuns who were torn from their homes and debased.

The Ottomans were the archenemies of the aristocratic Venetian Loredan family, which was packed full of doges, admirals and captains, and known for their military feats, especially against the Ottomans. The Loredans were patrons of the Scuola of Sant'Orsola and probably commissioned the Saint Ursula paintings.

Saint Ursula Cycle detail - before restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer

Who was Saint Ursula?


There is no historic evidence that Saint Ursula ever existed, but people love her anyway. Her legend has many different variations, depending on the source. Carpaccio, too, created his own story line, mixing Venetian traditions with fantasy backdrops. The cycle is sort of like a Hollywood remake of an ancient story about a 4th century princess from Britain, but transported 1,000 years into the future to the time of the Venetian Renaissance.

According to legend, Saint Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king from Brittany who died in... let's say 383 AD. The princess Ursula was supposed to marry the son of a pagan king with the condition that he make a pilgrimage with her (and her 11,000 virgin ladies-in-waiting) to meet the pope and convert to Christianity. The prince agreed, and off they went to Rome. On her way back home, she and her entourage (which included the pope -- I am not clear why he was on the trip -- some say because he was smitten with Ursula and her virgins) passed through Cologne where they ran into Attila the Hun, who wanted to marry Ursula, who refused, so he chopped off everyone's heads -- except for Ursula, who was shot with an arrow.

What backs up that story is the Church of Saint Ursula in Cologne, built in the 12th century on top of a Roman graveyard, which is eerily decorated with thousands of bones.

Venice Carnival 2018 - La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua - Photo: Cat Bauer
Carpaccio and his wild imagination puts a whole different spin on the story by setting it in contemporary Renaissance Venice, full of festivals, visiting ambassadors and colorful ceremonies.

Included in the paintings are members of the Campagnie delle Calze, which were theatrical associations made up of noblemen that ran around Venice putting on events like masked watery processions on the canals (which Venice still does to this very day -- the opening of Carnival yesterday was entitled: La Festa Veneziana dell'Acqua which took place on the Cannaregio Canal). Calza means "sock" in Italian, and the companies were known for their distinctive hosiery. I was riveted by the intricate embroidery of one young man's sock.

Detail - Socks - Saint Ursula Cycle by Carpaccio - Photo: Cat Bauer
The restoration is bringing the faded colors back to vivid life. To aid the CBC and Arlango restoration firms in their work, Save Venice bought an Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) so the restorers could peer beneath the painted surface and reveal Carpaccio's work methods. They raised the loot for the restoration with funds from The Thompson Family Foundation, Inc., Un Ballo in Maschera 2016, the dynamic duo of Thomas Schumacher and Matthew White, the California Chapter of Save Venice, The James R. Dougherty, Jr. Foundation and Dolce & Gabbana.

Behind the scenes - Carpaccio restoration - Photo: Cat Bauer
To further embellish an already mythic story, according to the Save Venice newsletter, the Saint Ursula Cycle is not only about the courageous saint, but is also thought to outline the complex politics of marriage in Venetian society in the 1490s. What sounds like a fascinating presentation: art historians Patricia Fortini Brown and Sarah Blake McHam will hold a session for the March 2018 Renaissance Society of America annual meeting in New Orleans on the theme Venetian Brides - No Real Choices: Carpaccio's Life of Saint Ursula in Context, joined by independent scholar Francesca Toffolo and Melissa Conn, the Venice Director of Save Venice. Now there's a lecture I would love to attend!

The restoration of the Saint Ursula Cycle is expected to be completed in 2019 when the nine paintings will be back at home in the gallery room inside the Accademia designed by the renowned Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Venice in January - Real Life + "Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti at Ca' Pesaro"

Rialto Bridge Photo Cat Bauer
Rialto Bridge just before sunset - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) There is a beautiful pause here in Venice between the New Year and Carnevale. There is real life, provincial and serene, set against a backdrop of ancient architecture and kaleidoscope sunsets. Many people in town know each other, if not by name, at least by face. It is a village without cars that floats along the water, and it is safe.

There is golden sunlight, and there is mysterious fog. It is brisk and cold. There are children chasing balls in the campi, and dogs flying free.

Every morning I personally hand my trash to the street sweepers, hard-working angels who ring my bell, and holler, "Spazzino!" I tried to tip them at Christmas, but they would not accept, so I took the cash out of the envelopes, and just gave them the cards.

At this time of year, residents run into each other nearly every day. Kids travel alone on the vaporetti, which are stuffed full of locals, not tourists; the kids are connected to their parents by cell phones, and protected by the watchful eyes of the community. Venetians walk through the calli and campi; there is time for conversations, and room enough to stroll. In the background, winter tourists provide comic relief, rattling suitcases, clutching maps or trying hopelessly to navigate with their smartphones.

A Foggy Day in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
I am getting a refund from ACTV, the agency that runs the vaporetti, because I was charged when the machine over by San Marcuola debited my bank card but did not credit my vaporetto pass. It is a little victory -- in English, no less:

Dear Mrs. Bauer,
with reference to your enquiry of December 21st, 2017 we are sorry for the inconvenience in buying your pass at the automatic ticket dispenser located at San
Marcuola.
We inform you that we checked the machine and stated the bad working of it on
December 1st, 2017.
For this reason your request of refund amounting to €37,00 has been accepted and
we will provide to credit the amount due with a bank transfer to the bank account number you supplied in your enquiry.
We apologize again and take this opportunity to extend our best regards.

That is real life.

Il tuffatore (The Diver) by Luciano Zarotti (1978)
Meanwhile, the inauguration today at Ca' Pesaro of Venetian Pop - Luciano Zarotti & Ca' Pesaro during 70s-80s drew an eclectic crowd.

Felicita Bevilacqua (1822-1899), the widow of General Giuseppe La Masa, left the monumental palace Ca' Pesaro -- now the International Gallery of Modern Art -- to the City of Venice in her will provided that it was used to enhance the education and careers of emerging artists who could not access large, international exhibitions. The Bevilacqua la Masa Foundation is still in existence today, and has the same mission, although its location has ambled around town. Luciano Zarotti, who was born in Venice in 1942, started his activity within the Opera Bevilacqua La Masa of Venice at the age of twenty-five. Now he is the star of the show.

It was interesting to note how the Pop artists of Europe and the US influenced the Venetian artist, and how the 1964 win of La Biennale's top prize, the Golden Lion, by American artist Robert Rauschenber impacted the art world. According to the Observer, a documentary examining the controversy entitled Americans in Venice: Robert Rauschenberg Rewrites the Rules is set for release in March.

The Sonnabend Collection - Photo: Cat Bauer
Ca' Pesaro keeps reinventing itself. Thanks to the Sonnabend collection, you can see works by the vanguard of Pop Art like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and many, many more.

Food art - Photo: Cat Bauer
The greatest triumph at the inauguration was the food, an assortment of divine nibbles -- there was even hot pasta e fagioli. The staff really outdid themselves, creating works of edible art that were almost -- but not quite -- too beautiful to eat!

Veneziano Pop - Luciano Zarotti e Ca' Pesaro negli anni '70-'80 runs through February 18. Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Euphoric Epiphany! Buona Befana! Happy 12th Day of Christmas in Venice 2018!

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto (1304-06)

(Venice, Italy) Today, Epiphany, is supposedly the last day of the holiday season. However, here in Venice, we will have only a short respite until Carnival, which comes early this year, starting in only three weeks, on January 27. If you want to see what the festivities will be, here is the official Carnival of Venice site.

The Epiphany celebrates when the Three Wise Men, or Magi, arrive to welcome the infant Jesus Christ, bringing him gifts. Giotto chose to depict the Star of Bethlehem as Halley's Comet, which he had seen over 700 years ago before he painted the fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Here is my post from last year about Venice's renowned Clock Tower, and the appearance by the Magi -- and the link to the Befana Regata.

Clock Tower in Venice - The Magi Appear! Epiphany 2017

 

Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco on Epiphany
(Venice, Italy) Today, the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn, appeared out on the Clock Tower here in Venice, followed by the Three Magi, who bowed and saluted to the Madonna and Child, something they only do twice a year-- today, the Epiphany, and again on Ascension Day.

Clock Face - Photo: Musei Civici
The Clock Tower, or Torre dell'Orologio, was inaugurated on February 1, 1499, more than 500 years ago. Rich with symbolism, the Venetians designed an astronomical clock, which moves through the signs of the Zodiac, as well as keeping time.

Photo: ReidsItaly
On the top of the tower are two enormous bronze statues known as the Moors, more than eight and a half feet tall (2.6 meters) -- one old, one young -- two Wild Men who swing a hammer to clang out the passage of time. The Moors are nude under their sheaths of vines, and are well-endowed.

Beneath the Moors on the top of the Clock Tower is the winged Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice, holding an open book. Originally, there was a statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneeling before the lion, but when Napoleon's soldiers invaded Venice in 1797, down it came.

Photo: Heather McDougal - Cabinet of Wonders Blog
Gabriel and the Wise Men used to come out every hour when the clock was first constructed, but they haven't done that for centuries. Now, they emerge just those two days a year, and if you are not there at the precise moment to witness it, it is over in a flash. Otherwise, the doors where they exit and enter show the hour in Roman numerals on the left, and every five minutes in Hindu-Arabic on the right.

Photo: Venezia Unica
Gabriel and the Three Magi came out today, bells clamoring throughout Piazza San Marco. For the rest of the year, they reside inside the clock; you can see them if you take the Clock Tower tour. I went on the tour many years ago when I wrote a piece about it back in 2008 as the Venice Insider for Ninemsn, and I thought it was fascinating. Back then, interesting, quirky people took the Clock Tower tour:

Cinderella Bells

Only a handful of people usually show up for the tour of the inner workings of the newly restored St Mark's Clock, which was first inaugurated on February 1, 1499 by Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Five hundred years ago, Venetians built an astronomical clock that had five planets which moved around the earth (only the sun and the moon remain), two Moors that struck the time two minutes before and after the hour, and three Magi that circled the Madonna. For half a millennium, a watchman actually lived with his family in the Clock Tower; the last one left in 1998. After almost a decade of arguing about restoration procedures, the clock was finally up and running again in 2006. Aga is the name of one vivacious and informative guide who does English tours. A visit to the clock tower also offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice.
Photo: Musei Civici
I have long become accustomed to telling time by the bells of Venice. I don't wear a watch; the bells tell me when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when I am running late, or ahead of schedule.

Giant Wild Men clanging an enormous bell... The Lion of San Marco.... The Madonna and Child... the Angel Gabriel and Three Magi circling... An astronomical clock that moves through the signs of the Zodiac.... constructed during the Renaissance in Venice... Things to ponder during the Epiphany.
From the Cambridge Dictionary:

epiphany

noun 

uk /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ us /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ literary
a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you
a powerful religious experience


Of course, the Epiphany is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many, many times before:

Befana 2014 - Epiphany! Venice has got the Relics of St. Nick!


Happy Epiphany from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from Venice 2018 - Who was Saint Trovaso? + The Nicolotti and the Castellani

Campo entrance - Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Church of San Trovaso is so named because Venetians mashed the names of two saints together: the twin brothers, San Gervasio and San Protasio, patron saints of Milan. Gervasio and Protasio came from an aristocratic Milanese family in the first or second century -- some say during the time of Nero -- when being a Christian was a dangerous thing. The details are sketchy, but both their parents were also saints: their father was Saint Vitalis and their mother was Saint Valeria of Milan. First the father, then the mother, then the brothers were all martyred for their faith.

The Church of San Trovaso was originally founded in ancient times; some say way back in the 9th century. On record, it was rebuilt by the Barbarigo family in 1028, destroyed by fire in 1105 and rebuilt. More than 400 years later, in 1583, the church collapsed. Work began the next year on a design by Francesco Smeraldi, a pupil of Palladio, resulting in the church we see today.

Altar of Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Church of San Trovaso has two facades, and two main entrances, one on the canal side, and one on the campo side. Legend says this was to accommodate two warring factions of the population in Venice: the Nicolotti and the Castellani.

The headquarters of the Nicolotti were on the West side, based around the Church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli (Donald Sutherland's church in Don't Look Now). The Nicolotti were fishermen, and they wore black colors.

The Castellani were based in the East, down by Arsenale in Castello, and were workers that built Venice's ships. They wore red.

The bitter enemies were famous for their ferocious battles, fighting over bridges, and throwing each other into the canals. This went on for centuries, becoming more and more vicious, until the fighting was banned in 1705, and transformed into gymnastic competitions like the "Force of Hercules," where each side would try to build the tallest human pyramid.

Nativity scene - Church of San Trovaso - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Church of San Trovaso was considered neutral territory; hence the two facades and two entrances. Enemies that pray together, stay together. Centuries later, in February 1848, when the Austrians ruled Venice, a red Castellani scarf and a black Nicolotti scarf were found together on the steps of the Madonna della Salute altar. On March 22, 1848, the short-lived comeback of the Venetian Republic began when the Venetians revolted against Austrian rule. 


Let's hope that the year 2018 finds everyone putting aside their differences to work together for the benefit of all Humankind.

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World - Teatro Italia in Venice Part 3 - The Story Continues

Teatro Italia in its heyday
(Venice, Italy) One year ago today, I wrote about the controversial transformation of Teatro Italia, a beautiful neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural gem here in Venice, into a Despar supermarket.

Inaugurated on March 2, 1916 as a theater, Teatro Italia was the dream of the Venetian publisher, Giuseppe Scarabellin, along with the designer, Dominico Mocellin. The architect was Giovanni Sardi, renown for designing the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido.

Scarabellin had a vision of how he wanted the building to look, and hired the prominent artists Guido Marussig, Alessandro Pomi, Umberto Martina and Umberto Bellotto, who were all friends, to decorate the interior with their considerable talents, including Pomi's fresco The Allegory of the Glory of Italy in the center of the ceiling, and Bellotto's wrought iron enhancements.

Decades later, Teatro Italia morphed from a cinema into a lecture hall for Ca' Foscari, Venice's university, and then closed in the late 1990s, when it slid into decay and became a home for rats. If it hadn't been bought by Piero Coin and restored, it would have crumbled down.

Teatro Italia before the restoration
By coincidence, a year ago today, I was passing by Teatro Italia on the day it opened on December 28, 2016 in its current incarnation as a Despar supermarket. I went inside, then came home and wrote a post, which you can read here:

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia Morphs into De Spar in Venice


That post caused all sorts of uproar, including opinionated, negative comments on social media by self-proclaimed Venice "experts," who were not Venetian, did not live in Venice and had never seen the interior of Teatro Italia -- nor had they ever visited the Despar supermarket. This was yet another example of outside forces trying to control the narrative here in Venice.

I went back the next day, came home and wrote another post:

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia - Part Two: The Balcony


In January of this year, I attended a press conference presented by Despar, which provided details of the restoration. Executives from Despar were there, and as I have written previously, they are nice people who knew full well that they were taking on a difficult, historic project and made every effort to ensure their restoration was done with care down to the smallest details, and that the supermarket was of the highest quality.

Despar is proud of their recycling program, their bio products, that they are sustainable and that all their energy is green; they installed full LED lighting. The supermarket on Strada Nuova is a showcase for Despar Italia, and they have every incentive to keep the quality high.

Paul Klotz, President of Despar Italia "The Beauty of Sustainability" Photo: Cat Bauer
From the SPAR website: "SPAR is an international group of independently owned and operated retailers and wholesalers who work together in partnership under the SPAR Brand to provide a high quality, value-for-money shopping experience for the communities we serve." SPAR has about 12,500 stores in 44 countries on four continents.

De Spar was founded in 1932 by Adriaan van Well, a Dutch wholesaler who believed that independent wholesalers and retailers can achieve more by working together than working alone. In Dutch "De Spar" means "fir tree," which is their logo, and "Despar" is an an acronym of a slogan created by van Well to describe the organization: Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig, which translates into English as: All benefit from joint co-operation.

The group morphed into being simply SPAR ("spaar" means "save" in Dutch), except in Italy, where it is still Despar. Despar Italia is a consortium of six large companies of retailers, one of which is SPAR Austria Group (Aspiag), which is headquartered in Switzerland, and is the largest private employer in Austria.

Teatro Italia Orchestra in the balcony - Photo: Cat Bauer
If you have read my second post, you will know that I focused on the beautiful balcony, and how there would be cultural events in the future. 

Well, the future is now. Back on September 8, 2017, I was invited to hear a concert by the newly-formed Teatro Italia Orchestra - TIO - a group of students from the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, Venice's school of music, founded and directed by Maestro Dario Bisso Sabadin. Imagine shopping for groceries when, suddenly, the music of violins fills the air.

Actually, you don't have to imagine. I filmed a short video, which you can watch below:



For those who want to educate themselves about Teatro Italia, a book about the history of Venezia Cinema Teatro Italia was recently published in Italian by Marsilio. A limited edition will be published in English in February. I'll keep you posted.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog