Sunday, November 30, 2014

Humans as the Heart of Industry - America and LEWIS HINE at Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice

Worker on the Empire State Building (1931) - Photo by Lewis Hine
(Venice, Italy) Lewis Hine (1874-1940) was one of the first American photographers to use his camera to impact society. His revealing photos of children toiling in mills in the early 1900s were instrumental in changing the child labor laws in the United States. He captured the frank expressions of bewildered immigrants arriving on Ellis Island, and the blackened faces of workers in the coal mines. His dramatic images of death-defying workers dancing like acrobats across steel girders during construction of the Empire State Building were awe-inspiring. By using photography to capture the human beings who were the engines of the industrial machine, Lewis Hine was a knight armed with a camera.

Addie Card, 12-year-old spinner (1910) - Photo: Lewis Whine
Nina Rosenblum grew up with the photographs of Lewis Hine, which she used to stick on the wall with a thumb tack because back then nobody thought they were worth anything. The Academy Award-nominated documentary film director is the daughter of the photographer, Walter Rosenblum, and the photographic historian, Naomi Rosenblum. Nina was here in Venice with her husband, Daniel Allentuck, who is the son of Maureen Stapleton. They are partners in life and work, founding Daedalus Productions, a non-profit film and television production company in 1980. On Friday, November 28, 2014, they screened their 1984 family-affair documentary, "America and Lewis Hine," at Casa Dei Tre Oci here in Venice, where Lewis Hine's photos are on show until December 8.


Lewis Hine was an early faculty member of the prestigious Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a private independent school in New York City whose core value is the respect for human dignity, and which has produced such diverse members of society as J. Robert Oppenheimer, Barbara Walters and Jeffrey Katzenberg. In the early 1900s, Hine took his students to Ellis Island and encouraged them to use photography as an educational medium. He documented the masses of immigrants fleeing an impoverished Europe, hoping for a better future in an America that was booming.

Ellis Island (1905) Photo: Lewis Hine
Hines then worked as a staff photographer for the newly-established Russell Sage Foundation, one of America's oldest foundations, whose mission is for the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States. In 1907, Hines documented living conditions in Pittsburgh, which was then the prototype of an industrial city, helping to influence public opinion about the harmful effects industry was having on society and the environment.

Child labor (1908) Photo: Lewis Hine
He next worked for National Child Labor Committee, using different guises to gain entry to mills, mines and factories to document the savage effects the grueling labor was having on America's children. He documented the efforts of the American Red Cross in Europe during and after WWI, and was the official photographer for the construction of the Empire State Building, recording the fearless men who worked at dizzying heights without safety harnesses.

Empire State Building (1931) Photo: Lewis Hine
Walter Rosenblum, Nina's father, who was interviewed during the film, met Lewis Hine when Rosemblum was 17-years-old and Hine was in his 60s. By then, Hine had lost his governmental and corporate contracts, as well as his house. Rosenblum was instrumental in preserving Hine's photos, and followed in his path. Walter Rosenblum recorded the D-Day landing at Normandy in 1944, was the first Allied photographer to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp, and was a Purple Heart recipient. Through December 19, Rosenblum's photos can be seen in Rome in an exhibition called, "They Fight with Cameras."

By coincidence, I happen to be reading "Waterworks" by E.L. Doctorow, historical fiction set in New York City in 1871. From the back cover:

"In a city where every form of crime and vice flourishes, corruption is king, fabulous wealth stands on the shoulders of unspeakable want, and there are no limits to larceny."

Photo: Lewis Hine (1916)
The film reminded me that the current inequalities and extreme greed the planet is experiencing is nothing new under the sun, and it gave me hope: there are genuine photographers and filmmakers such as Nina Rosenblum and Daniel Allentuck who follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, recording social conditions in order to bring these issues into the public awareness and effect change. We have made progress since children in the United States were no better than slaves, and miners labored under horrific conditions in the coal mines. Lewis Hine fought with his camera to improve conditions for the working-class human beings that were the heart and soul of the industrial machine, allowing those with disposable income to spend it on Black Friday today.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, November 23, 2014

George Washington in the Nude - Sublime Canova - Revival of the Famed Sculptor in Venice

George Washington by Antonio Canova*
(Venice, Italy) I was astonished to learn that Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the renowned sculptor from the village of Possagno in the Veneto, had been commissioned to create a sculpture of George Washington by the North Carolina General Assembly back in 1816 for their State House when the Carolinians were feeling euphoric after the War of 1812. Thomas Jefferson himself urged that Canova, whom he considered the greatest sculptor in the world, create the neoclassical statue, which was brought to the United States on a war vessel, and arrived in Raleigh on December 24, 1821. Canova's depiction of Washington as an enlightened Roman general became "the pride and glory" of North Carolina, attracting visitors from near and far to their state capitol, including Washington's close friend, Lafayette.

Canova had never met George Washington, so he was sent a bust and a full-length portrait; the portrait never arrived, so Washington's body was left to Canova's imagination. Canova's instructions were that the style should be Roman, the size somewhat larger than life, and the attitude to be left to the artist. According to North Carolina Digital History, Countess Albrizzi described the statue in "The Works of Antonio Canova:"

If to this great man a worthy cause was not wanting, or the means of acquiring the truest and most lasting glory, neither has he been less fortunate after death, when, by the genius of so sublime an artist, he appears again among his admiring countrymen in this dear and venerated form; not as a soldier, though not inferior to the greatest generals, but in his loftier and more benevolent character of the virtuous citizen and enlightened lawgiver.

Unfortunately, the original statue was destroyed in a fire in the State House on June 21, 1831. North Carolina tried to replace it, to no avail. Then, in 1908, it was discovered that the original plaster model that Canova used to create the Cararra marble statue was in excellent condition in the Museum and Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Canova's hometown of Possagno, a village in the former Republic of Venice, not far from Asolo in the foothills of the Venetian Alps. Diplomatic inquiries were made to see if a copy could be made from the original cast. On March 5, 1908, the Mayor of Possagno replied:

As a special favor, and making an exception to the rule 
that forbids the reproduction, the Administration of this
town has decided to permit the copy of the statue of
George Washington by Canova, of which a very fine
original model exists in this museum. Such concession has
been made with a view to paying a tribute of homage to
the great man who was the first President of the United
States, and to increase the admiration for the genius of
the celebrated artist who is a glory to our country. 

The Italian government itself then got involved, and decided that the King of Italy would present the replica to the North Carolina Historical Commission as a gift.  The replica of the original cast arrived in Raleigh in January, 1910, almost 100 years after the General Assembly decided to commission a statue of the Father of our Country. But it was not until 1970 that a marble replica by the Italian artist Romano Vio was completed, which is what stands in the rotunda of the capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina today.

Replica of Canova's George Washington statue by Romano Vio
An interesting historical note: when the statue was first inaugurated in North Carolina back on Deccember 24, 1821, the Veneto was part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, a separate part of the Austrian Empire. Canova, who was then in his 60s was based in Rome, which was part of the Kingdom of Italy. However, his headquarters was in his hometown of Possogno, and he traveled there constantly throughout his life; he designed the neoclassical Tempio Canova, which was completed after his death in 1830. During the time of the Napoleonic conquests, Europe was in constant chaos as treaties and congresses divvied up territories, creating new, rapidly changing republics, kingdoms and empires with similar-sounding names.

Napoleon had forced the 1000-year-old Republic of Venice to surrender on May 12, 1797. Venice was then placed under Austrian domination on October 17, 1797 until December 26, 1805 when the Treaty of Fressburg again put Napoleon in control, who made the Veneto part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, titling himself "Emperor of the French and King of Italy." But the Veneto refused to live under French-Italian rule, and revolted.

When the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy collapsed, The Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 gave the Veneto back to the Austrian Empire, who created the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. Venice then revolted against Austria in 1848, briefly establishing the Republic of San Marco until it surrendered to the Austrian Empire after 17 months. Finally, after the battle of Vittorio Veneto in 1918 during World War I, the Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy. So, there was a lot of diplomacy required to get the statue in the first place, and then again to acquire the plaster cast almost a century later.

I called the Museum and Gipsoteca Antonio Canova up in Canova's hometown of Possogno to see if the original model was still there. I spoke to Giancarlo Cunial of the Fondazione Canova, and he assured me that not only was the original model there, they also had three smaller plaster molds that Canova had created, one of which was George Washington in the nude! Since Canova had never received the full-length portrait, he needed to use his imagination to create Washington's body. Mr. Cunial informed me that although Canova had created the Washington statue while in Rome, the original models were now in Possagno, and since the marble statues were created from the original models, what they had in their museum was most precious of all.

Museo Correr
Which brings us to SUBLIME CANOVA, a work in progress. On November 18, 2014, there was a press conference at the Museo Correr to announce the collaboration between the Civic Museums of Venice Foundation, the Venice Foundation, the American Friends of Venice Foundation and the French Committee to Safeguard Venice to shine the spotlight on Antonio Canova, considered to be the greatest neoclassical European artist who ever lived. SUBLIME CANOVA is part of an overall project to transform the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco into the Great Correr. The works of Canova will be restored, and the rooms of the museum arranged to highlight the celebrated sculptor from the Veneto, who died in Venice in 1822, just shy of his 65th birthday. His funeral was so spectacular it was said to have rivaled Michaelangelo's.

Daedulus and Icarus by Canova (1779)
The Comité Français pour la Savegarde de Venise has been around for years; they are responsible for restoring the Salla da Ballo inside the Correr, and the fine restoration of the apartments of my favorite empress, the feisty Elisbeth "Sissi"of Austria, who lived here in Venice when it was under Austrian rule -- as well as many other projects. And the prestigious Venice International Foundation was founded way back in 1966, after Venice's great flood, and is responsible for the restoration and preservation of a long list of works. It is headed by the universally-respected Franca Coin, who was here on behalf of the organization. But I was not aware of the American Friends of Venice, which is new, founded in 2012, and is the New York base of the Venice International Foundation. According to their website, their mission is:

Friends of Venice Italy is a non-profit organization that operates to raise funds for Venice. Founded in 2012, it selects and supports some of the charitable activities proposed by The Venice International Foundation, with particular reference to the Civic Museums Foundation of Venice in its work to preserve and enhance the art of Venice and its cultural heritage. As stated in a declaration signed by the president of the Civic Museums Foundation of Venice, Friends of Venice Italy is in charge of representing and promoting its cultural activities in the United States of America.
Friends of Venice Italy aims to preserve and enhance Venice’s identity, respecting the social and environmental sustainability of the city in order to guarantee the link between past present and future, to promote cultural exchanges, to communicate and share ideas and knowledge, to offer new opportunities for research and cultural production, and to attract new talent and resources.


After learning about Canova's statue of George Washington, it is fitting that the American Friends of Venice focus their efforts on SUBLIME CANOVA. They've got some distinguished people on the Advisory Committee, including Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Bobby Kennedy's oldest daughter and JFK's niece, which makes the project an interesting circle between the Veneto, France and the US. 

Psyché Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Canova
Antonio Canova's work is in nearly every important museum on the planet, from the Louvre to the Hermitage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Kunsthistorisches. Even though he was based in Rome, Canova's heart remained in the Veneto; he returned every year to his beloved village of Possagno. He died in Venice in 1822. He is buried in the Temple of Canova in Possagno, but his heart, literally, is here in Venice, in the monument based on the design Canova created for the great Venetian artist, Titian, inside the Frari.

Canova Monument - Frari 
The original plaster model for the Washington statue which is preserved in the Gipsoteca Canova in Possagno bears this inscription:

"Giorgio Washington al Popolo degli Stati Uniti 1796: Amici e concittadini…" which translates to "George Washington to the People of the United States 1796: Friends and fellow citizens…"

Apparently that inscription was not on the marble statue that arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina on Christmas Eve December 24, 1821. I wonder what George Washington would say to the People of the  United States of America today.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

*Top photo of George Washington by Canova from The Life of H. Ernest Chen blog.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

All Saints Day 2014 on the Island of San Michele, Venice

Grave of Ezra Pound & Olga Rudge
(Venice, Italy) That is what the grave of poet Ezra Pound and violinist Olga Rudge looks like on the Isola di San Michele, Venice's cemetery island. Nearly every time I go out there, someone asks me where the grave is, and even when I indicate the general direction, they still can't find it. That photo is from All Saints Day, so normally that many roses and other flowers aren't there. According to their wishes, the grave is embellished only with greenery. Perhaps people are expecting something more flashy and need to look down, not up, to find it.

Grave of Ezra Pound
By serendipity, I have run into Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, on All Saints Day before, and this year was no exception. Mary lives in Brunnenburg Castle up in South Tyrol, and comes down to visit her parent's tomb. I have had the good fortune to visit the castle a few times where Mary continues her father's work in her own elegant fashion. The woman is 89-years-old, and still radiates grace and charm.

Grave of Olga Rudge
Olga Rudge stood by Ezra Pound when he was arrested for being a traitor by the United States government during World War II, declared criminally insane and institutionalized in 1945 in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for more than twelve years. When Ezra Pound was finally released in 1958, he joined Olga here in Venice, where he died on November 1, 1972, All Saints Day. Two weeks before he died, at a reading he clarified his position:

 "re USURY / I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause. / The cause is AVARICE."

We can also thank Olga Rudge's advocacy of Antonio Vivaldi for much of his popularity today. I have written about Vivaldi before; here's a post from April 18, 2009:

Antonio Vivaldi - The Flaming Red Priest


Grave of Joseph Brodsky
Another grave I am often asked about is that of the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, who was also institutionalized by his government, the Soviet Union. (An amusing aside: After I, myself, had been institutionalized back in 2010 by an over-funded rogue section of the US government here in Italy, the sculptress, Joan Fitzgerald, who carved the headstones of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, comforted me: "All great writers have been institutionalized," to which I replied, "Well, I'd better write something great. They seem to be taking precautionary measures.")

The Barque of Dante by Georgy Frangulyan Photo: Alloggi Barbaria
Ezra Pound, Olga Rudge and Joseph Brodsky are buried among the cypress trees in the Evangelico section of San Michele, which looks like a graveyard right out of an Washington Irving story -- Ichabod Crane could be buried there. If you stand in the center with your back facing the entrance, turn left. About halfway to the end of the aisle, head into the section there on the left, and you will find Pound and Rudge. If you walk to the end of the aisle, on the right, you will find Brodsky.

I have written about All Saints Day and All Souls Day many times before. But for those of you who missed it, you might enjoy the post about when the Biennale Contemporary Music Festival ended on the Island of San Michele:

Cemetery Party in Venice - Music Amidst the Graves


Gods' aid, let not my bones lie in a public location
With crowds too assiduous in their crossing of it;
For thus are tombs of lovers most desecrated.
May a woody and sequestered place cover me with its foliage
Or may I inter beneath the hummock
of some as yet uncatalogued sand;
At any rate I shall not have my epitaph in a high road.
---from Homage to Sextus Propertius by Ezra Pound

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
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