When Amanda and I first discussed me writing today’s blog, I had suggested writing about some obscure 18th century music that had been recently discovered in the North East of England, but I also mentioned that I was going to Venice. Amanda kindly gave me a choice, and because Venice is Venice, you are getting Venice.
Because Carnival finished a few days before I arrived and the paving stones still were littered with confetti, I include a picture of the mannequin from the lobby of my hotel. The dress was absolutely stunning. Carnival of course died out in the early decades of the 20th century and was revived in 1979. Even the mask making had be re-learnt. It is possible to buy high-quality masks based on traditional designs, based on the Commedia dell’Arte. These are held in place either by ribbons or in the case of some traditional women’s masks, by clamping a little piece with your lips. When wearing a mask, women were expected to be silent. The Venetian tradition of mass gives rise to the masquerade balls.
More than any other city, Venice still evokes the spirit of the past. To travel to Venice is to step back into another world, primarily because there are no cars. Motorboats are strictly regulated and once you are in the back streets the main noise is silence or the sound of voices. Gondolas do ply their trade, but most people walk.
One of the main differences between today’s gondolas and the gondolas that Byron, Shelley, or a whole host of other Regency aristocrats would have taken is that the wooden shelter, or felze, is no longer used. It’s possible to see an early 19th century gondola in the courtyard of Ca’Rezzonico, one of the few palazzos on the Grand Canal open to the public, and dedicated to the 18th century. Its double story ballroom with its painted frescoes and magnificent chandeliers is highly evocative. But I was surprised to see how much trompe l’oeil was used rather than actual plaster!
Both of the famous cafes on St. Marks’s Plaza–Florian’s (1720) and Quadri’s (1775) has painted interiors but they only date from the 1850s. It is still possible at both cafes to get proper bittersweet hot chocolate. Personally, I preferred Quadri’s, but it was a close run thing. You are served a pot of hot chocolate, a jug of warm milk, and sugar. It is up to you to make the chocolate how you want it. My husband reported that the coffee was also very good. Quadri’s was known as the Austrian cafe during the occupation, and its upstairs restaurant has been serving meals since 1844.
So much of the 18th century is preserved because after Napoleon conquered the Venetian Republic in 1797, many Venetians lost their money. It was only through Canova’s efforts at the peace conference that many of Venice’s treasures, including the 4 horses, were returned. Some paintings were only returned in the 1970s, and the Louvre still holds a few. Unfortunately Austria did retain control of the city until 1866, when the citizens joined the new Kingdom of Italy.
Venice, because of its art, has always been an important stop on the Grand Tour. For example, most of Caneletto’s paintings were bought by Englishmen. This might have something to do with the British consul at the time, Joseph Smith, also being Caneletto’s agent. (As an aside for Diane, in 1717 Smith married one Catherine Tofts, who sang at Drury Lane and Haymarket before going to Venice in 1711). With its Carnival, its gaming houses (the Ridotto closed in 1774, but gaming continued in private houses, and today Venice has one of the few official casinos) and general atmosphere of frivolity because life is short, Venice exerted powerful influence on the men and women who visited it, and still does.
Michelle Styles’s latest UK release is Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife, and is set in 1813 Northumberland. Vist her website here for more details!
What a perfect combo post! I love Venice and I love Michelle Styles’ writing!
Ahhh Venice! Sigh! Fabulous post, Michelle. I visited that lovely out of time place years ago, but now I want to go back!! Thank you for the visit, Michelle! And I can’t wait to read your latest. LOVE your books!
Loved the aside to me, Michelle. You knew I’d love a tidbit like that.
I visited Venice in 1998 or so, with a friend and her sister in law, who spoke fluent Italian and had once been a student there. She took us far off the beaten path, through a labyrinth of streets and passageways to a quaint little restaurant where I had the best wine and cheese EVER. I remember thinking that I’d better not get separated from her because I’d never find my way out again.
My visit was before I was writing Historicals, but I still loved the history of the city. I just would have gotten so much more of it knowing what I know now.
Must go back!!
Michelle, I am sooooo jealous! I adore the history and atmosphere of Venice, it’s so mysterious and romantic. 🙂
I was just watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (love that show) where he was in Venice, eating risotto at a little place on Burano, and cheese and prosciutto in someone’s garden. Sigh.
Thanks for returning me to Venice, one of my favourite cities on the planet! I’ve always wanted to see it during Carnevale, but never have done. We’ve considered spending Christmas there, but so far I haven’t been able to drag myself from home at that time of year. And anyway, I really like it best in May.
Hey how did one get in and out of one of those gondolas with a covering? It looked easy in “Casanova”, but now I’m not so sure.
Er, enquiring minds and all that 🙂
Oh I am so glad that other people love Venice. I have fallen utterly and completely for the city.
Kimber — It is great to see you here.
Louisa — I have only been back a few days and I want to go back.
Diane — I read that tidbit and I just KNEW you would like it. It was apparently a real love match.
Ammanda — I didn’t get to Burano as there is so much to do in Venice itself. But the food is fantastic. Have you read the Donna Leon mystery series? There is a new walking guide to Venice based on her hero — Brunetti.
I suspect Carnevale is crazy. It is supposed to be very busy. I hear November is magical though.
Leanne — You can’t see from that picture but if you looked the other way, there is a door, facing the place where you could sit out. so you got on the gondola, opened the little door and went in.
Because I know Ammanda likes 18th century costumes, I have put a couple more on my blog (http://michellestyles.blogspot.com/) that I took at the hotel.
I also put the other view of the gondola in hopes you can see the tiny door…
Welcome Michelle! Lovely post.
The costume dress reminds me of Cirque de Soleil costumes I saw on exhibit about ten years ago. Venice and it’s traditions still have such a strong influence and mysterious pull. Someday I’ll go!
Jane — you must go! But not during the high season as I think that must be dreadful.
There are so many costumes and masks shops in Venice. We bought a proper plague doctor’s mask and a Harlequin (what else!) mask from a man just over the Rialto bridge in San Polo. He had been masks since the carnvale restarted in 1979 and also had his masks feature in Eyes Wide Shut. The masks have a depth to them with subtle shading. He also had these photos up with various celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Tom Hanks. But he was ever so interesting to speak to.
Fascinating post, Michelle! I visited Venice once for only a few hours, but I think I’ve spent far longer sitting in the National Gallery staring at the Canalettos. 🙂 Simply gorgeous.
Only a few hours Cara? You need days to properly appreciate. Think of the time people on the Grand Tour spent there.
Interestingly there are very few Canelettos in Venice. Most were sold to Englishmen!
“I also put the other view of the gondola in hopes you can see the tiny door…”
I really think they ought to allow us writers to practice getting in and out of them, for research purposes. :))
Great costume pics on the site, too! I do love 18th century fashion, I think it’s my favorite period for clothes (though in the long run it must be more comfy to wear Regency styles!). I’d like to try that Brunetti walking tour–those are great books
Well I want to hear about the obscure 18th century music and now I’m going to have to hunt the story down myself…
I so want to go to Venice, particularly after this post and after reading Donna Leon’s mysteries, which I love.
Yes, I definitely think we need to invite Michelle back to talk about the music…
I got to sing in one of the churchs in Venice. We in the choir loft above the church with the men on one side and the women on the other. I know there’s a name for this kind of music but it escapes me now. Maybe Louisa can fill us in here.
Reading your post just brought that memory back to me. Thanks for sharing your memories and your talents.
Skidding in here at the last possible minute. A frantic day today and then a playdate-gone-bad made my migraine come on strong. The meds are just taking effect, so I thought I’d might be able to dash off a quick note here.
Michelle, welcome to the Riskies. This look at Venice was marvelous! When I saw that first picture of a panniered pink dress, I’m like oh-ho-ho Ammanda’s going to be all over this one. Then I read Venice was the topic of the post, and knowing what a fan of Venice she is, this post had the hallmarks of Ammanda directly from the wings, stage left.
Michelle, I went off to your blog and read your detailed trip reports there. What a fabulous travel journaler you are. You brought the city to me–I’ve never been there. Thank you!
I really do hope you’ll return to do a post on music.
Ammanda, is Bourdain’s show on on Wednesdays? On the Food Network?
While I knew about Ammanda and costume, but then I also happen to like costume so it was a good excuse…One downside to Venice was that all the tickets to the English Heritage workshop on Regency handbags had gone…I am on the waiting list so hopefully they will do another workshop but this one had been ideally placed at Belsay Hall.
I would be delighted to come back sometime and do obscure 18th music as John Garth and Charles Avison were once popular and then forgotten, only to be rediscovered because of a musician finding a collection of 18th century concertos in a back cupboard.
If you ever get a chance to see the Francesco da Mosto programmes on Venice — do. They are excellent.
Santa — How marvellous that you sang in one of the churches. There were a number of different concerts on when we were there, but we went out to eat instead…I can reccomend Al Covo (where Brunetti eats in Death in A Strange Country), Corte Scunto which has a three course fish appetiser and Da Arturos in the Street of the Assassins which is Joel Silver’s favourite restuarant(producer of Matrix, Lethal Weapon 2 etc). In fact so favourite, he flies the staff out to LA every year to cook for his friends. The waiter showed us his holiday photos full of various Hollywood stars enjoying the food. And the food we had was excellent.
But after being to Venice, I can understand why the men came back from the Grand Tour changed and how hard it must have been for them.
“Ammanda, is Bourdain’s show on on Wednesdays? On the Food Network?”
It’s on the Travel Channel, and I think it’s on Monday, though I am not sure. (I always forget when it comes on, the catch it by accident!). It’s great!
Venice is one of the places I’ve never been in Europe that is high on my list of “Places to go next.” Thanks for such an evocative post.
I’m late, late, late!
*waving to Ms Styles*
I’m having part a giggle and part an indignant huff on the “women were expected to be silent while wearing a mask” thing.
Yes, definitely go before it sinks!
The acqua altas are becoming more frequent which helps to undermine the city.
Also the non tourist population is in severe decline. It is now under 60,000 and therefore less than what may be viable for a thriving city. But apparently there are now more children living in Venice proper…
waves back aztec lady.
Ah yes, the masks and being silent. Sometimes, you have to laugh or you would just cry.
Guardi’s paintings like this one of Ridotto:
are probably best for seeing the masks. If you were not a nobleman at the Ridotto, you had to be masked. Women were also able to gamble there as long as they were masked. How you gamble, and don’t speak is not really explained…