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:



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?

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, whose headquarters 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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas from Venice! 2017

Merry Christmas from Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Merry Christmas from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Cosmos Captured in a Venetian Glass Bead - The Murano Glass Museum's Collection

Perle di vetro a lume soffiate, 19th Century
(Venice, Italy) The intricate beauty of Venetian glass beads has fascinated the world for centuries. Worn as jewelry and used to decorate fashion and tapestries, another aspect of the beads is not as well known: they were also used as currency, known as "trade beads."

We have all heard the story about how the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan from Native Americans for a mere $24 worth of beads and trinkets. There is an excellent article called Keep the Change: The Beads that Bought Manhattan by Aja Raden in the Huffington Post excerpted from her book, Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and how Desire Shapes the World. It's so good, I suggest you read the entire article. Here is a taste:

Perle di vetro a lume, 19th Century
"The fact that the Dutch paid for New Amsterdam in beads is not surprising or even unique. Venetians had used trade beads as currency in Africa and Indonesia for a very long time before any­one ever ventured to the New World. In fact, many of the bead makers in Holland were Venetians. Glass beads were not only lovely, but glass was a rare commodity outside of Europe.
In fact, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, beads were valuable and accepted pretty much as universal currency. They were actually created for that purpose and used kind of like Renaissance-era traveler’s checks. It was just as difficult to trade using unrecognizable foreign currency back then as it is now. And, sure, gold and jewels are welcome everywhere, but the jew­els were mostly coming from those distant lands in the first place, making them ubiquitous and far less valuable to their original sellers than to their European counterparts. And though every­body values gold, it’s heavy, difficult to transport in quantity, and easily stolen.
Glass beads, on the other hand, were easy to transport, easy to standardize for value, and most important, they were rare— and therefore valued—everywhere but in Western Europe. There’s a distinct advantage to trading something more valuable to your customer than it is to you. Glass beads were particularly valuable, one might even say invaluable, rare, and exotic, in the New World, where glassmaking technology didn’t exist and no one had ever seen anything like them."
Perle di vetro rosetta, 19th Century
Which brings us to the exhibition, The World in a Glass Bead, at Palazzo Giustinian, the Glass Museum on Murano, which has perhaps the largest collection of glass beads in the world, consisting of 85 sample cases containing 14,182 beads, plus a whole lot more.

In 1861, Abbot Vicenzo Zanetti, a historian and son of a master glassmaker was granted permission to create the glass museum on Murano inside Palazzo Giustinian. Zanetti had a passion and obsession for Murano glass, and did much to breathe new life into the ancient glassblowing profession, encouraging entrepreneurs and fighting for workers' rights. He also painstakingly collected glass beads produced in Murano and Venice between 1820 and 1890, cataloguing as many as he could find.

About 25 years after Zanetti's death in 1883, some "genius" had the "brilliant" idea to move the collection from the museum into a warehouse, losing the records of the history of the beads.

Perle di vetro a lume a inserzione di murrine, 19th Century
Enter Augusto Panini, who has traveled extensively throughout West Africa, deepening his knowledge of the ancient Mali culture, specifically focusing on glass beads and the role they played in commercial and cultural relations between Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Last month, I had the good fortune to attend a private dinner at which I met Augusto Panini, who presented the host with a beautiful book entitled Il Mondo in un Perla, or The World in a Bead -- all the gorgeous photos in this post were taken by Augusto Panini -- which provided an in-depth look at the exhibition that opened on December 8th at Palazzo Giustinian.

The World in a Bead by Augusto Panini
Panini spent five years researching and photographing the glass bead collection of Abbot Vicenzo Zanetti, gathering together the history that had been lost. Finally, more than 150 years after Zanetti's death, the glass bead collection is back at home inside Palazzo Giustinian, meticulously catalogued by Augusto Panini, as Venetian glass makes yet another comeback.

The World in a Glass Bead is curated by Augusto Panini and Chiara Squarcina, the Director of the Glass Museum. Squarcina says the title "stems from my own personal view of the bead as a multi-faceted cosmos in which skilled hands, particularly those of women, have communicated a concept of grace and perfection giving rise, each time, to a perfect and ideal world."

The World in a Glass Bead runs through April 15, 2018. Go to the Venice Glass Museum for more information.

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8: The Madonna of the Sun and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Harley's Ninth - illustrated by Philippe Lardy
(Venice, Italy) When I created the teen-age protagonist, Harley Columba, in my first novel,  Harley, Like a Person, I wanted her to have a deep connection to John Lennon, so I made her birthday the same day that John Lennon was assassinated, December 8th. At that time, I had no idea what  the significance of that day was in terms of Christian history, nor in the history of many other religions.

In my second novel, Harley's Ninth, Harley, who is an artist, has an idea for a goddess of her own creation, and decides to capture her idea in a sketch for an oil painting. She calls her goddess, The Madonna of the Sun. I think Philippe Lardy, a Swiss artist who lives in Paris, and who illustrated the cover, caught the image beautifully. From Harley's Ninth:
I flip open my sketch pad and take a piece of charcoal out of its case. I prop my sketch pad on the ledge of the building. I sketch a woman reclining in the hollow of a mountaintop. Her hair is long, and shaped as if it is the veil of the Virgin Mary. She has wings, Indian-feather wings. The bottom half of her body is nude. Her knees are bent up in the air. Her feet are bare -- with spindly, elegant toes like fingers and semi-circular arches. Suspended between her thighs is a glowing sun; yellow beams shoot out between her legs and into the atmosphere. Inside her womb is a golden egg. The woman's eyes look sideways, right at the viewer. Her eyes are mysterious and wise. There is a tiny smile on her lips, serene and confident. I will call my painting The Madonna of the Sun.
Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto (section) - 1305
Years later, after moving to Venice, I learned that December 8th is a national holiday here in Italy, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of the most important Marian feast days in the Roman Catholic Church, and is celebrated world-wide. It celebrates the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was conceived.

Some scholars think that the great artist Giotto di Bondone captured the moment of the Immaculate Conception in his Meeting at the Golden Gate, when Mary's parents; Joachim and Anne, who were long-married but childless, first met each other after receiving the news from an angel that they would have a child who would grow up to be the mother of God. You can read more about the moment in a post I wrote about Giotto:

The Most Powerful Kiss in Art: Do you know what MAGISTER GIOTTO in Venice is? 


These days, with so many women speaking out against those that abuse their power, and with Time Magazine naming their Person of the Year: "The Silence Breakers -- The Voices that Launched a Movement," I hope that the creative female energy will finally have her moment in the Sun.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
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