Venetian Art and the City of Sighs

As published in The Beaver: https://beaveronline.co.uk/the-academia-and-the-city-of-sighs/

Nicknamed ‘La Serenissima’ after repeatedly described as ‘serene’ by people of high importance, Venice is one of the most historically and culturally preserved European cities. The title is well-deserved, especially in winter, when there are few loitering, selfie-hungry tourists who remind you that you’re just another one of them. Foggy spells interspersed with sunshine and drizzle create a gothic ambience as you walk over bridges and squeeze your frame down claustrophobically narrow alleyways. That, combined with the frequent knells of church bells, places you in the 19th century, or whenever it was when women used to wear extravagant ballgowns and privately sin.


There are plenty of travel guide listings of where to go, what to eat, and how to choose from the agoric array of art galleries on offer, from Italian Renaissance to Modernist exhibitions. A boat tour is a must to both take it all in and feel like you’re Angelina in The Tourist. The renowned Peggy Guggenheim Collective is located in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where Peggy Guggenheim lived, and it’s permanent collection presents works of Cubism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, European abstraction, avant-garde sculpture, Surrealism, and American Abstract Expressionism. The artists displayed include Picasso, Braque, and Duchamp (not to name drop or anything).

If you have only a few days to explore and only so much time to fill your Instagram feed, The Gallerie dell’Accademia (originally called the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia) should be your first and most extensive stop. The museum is mainly comprised of pre 19th century Venetian artwork, but also displays famous pieces by non-Venetian artists, such as Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Perfect for a rainy day. 

The Academia was originally founded in 1750, in what was once a 12th century monastery, thus the omnipresent Catholic themes, icons, Madonnas, and biblical imagery. The ornate ceiling can only be described as grandiose and, as you glide from room to room and gaze from wall-length depictions of The Resurrection to water-coloured dancing satyrs and nymphs, you completely forget to reach for your phone. Stark white marble statues with a porcelain touch stare blankly in various head-less or body-less forms. Names like Veronese, Canaletto, Tintoretto, Titian, and Bellini grace the placards placed beneath. One painting is an almost exact view of The Grand Canal, even today, with only one noticeable difference — the tide is about half as high as it is right now. If there was ever a testament to global warming…

I finally toured around San Marco, took in a bird’s eye view from the Campanile Bell Tower, and got to lean over the Bridge of Sighs with my beau, extortionately priced gondolas floating by underneath. The very next day, water began shooting out of pipes, edging into restaurant foyers, while the overflowing canals forced us to wade through sometimes knee-deep water in brightly coloured Goldon plastic boots, which were exactly ugly enough to be chic. 

I’m not saying you wouldn’t fall in love with Venice if you were to visit solo, but there’s a reason people save it for their honeymoon. The aesthetic and intricate detail of it all make you want to stare at basically every building, church, or canal that your eyes touch. The Venetians apparently never missed an opportunity to add a baby cherub or engraved etching to something as simple as a stone wall. Even Burger King boasts chandeliers and a mini courtyard overlooking the canal. Vegan un-friendly pizza parlours take you back down to Earth, while carnivalesque tourist shops brimming with Venetian masks take you back to Eyes Wide Shut. Sighs seem to echo in every walkway; every romantic cliché in the book comes alive. In Venice, art transcends the galleries and romance seems to seep languorously into every room.

All images are my own.

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