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The Courtauld Institute of Art

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A Ten-Year Long Reflection on La Serenissima

September 30, 2019

This article was previously published in the special edition, VENICE (July 2019).

 

Let’s be honest, I barely remember that trip to Venice in October of 2009. I tell myself that it’s because it was a quick four-day holiday. I guess my family needed a few days to disconnect from the franticness of Rome. I do seem to have some sporadic photographic snippets of the city in my brain; although those might actually be more bodily feelings than actual memories. Upon reflection, I realize that these feelings have been formed through other unrelated experiences and have been masked as being from my nine-year-old self in Venice. In reality, that trip is a memory that I have constructed to fit in with the narrative that my family continuously recalls. The way I view and think about the city has drastically changed over these past ten years. 

 

The one thing that excited me the most about this family trip was going on a gondola. I remember my pleas to my parents to fulfil my fantasy. I was desperate to go on this romanticized trip where a peculiarly dressed gondolier would guide the boat. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the exact trajectory that the gondolier took us on. Passing below the Ponte dei Sospiri is the only image that I have impressed in my mind. I was fascinated by its white simplicity and I could almost hear the sighs of the convicts. I realize now that I was amazed by how something so terrible could be made so beautifully and still remain harmoniously cohesive with the rest of the city. 

Gentile Bellini, 'Procession in St. Mark's Square', 1496, Tempera on canvas, 3.67 x 7.45 m, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice (Image: Gallerie dell'Accademia) 

 

This innocent fascination is something that I do not possess anymore. If I see the Ponte now, I know that instead of fully immersing myself in its architectural space, I would subconsciously begin over-scrutinizing each and every detail of it. It is the way I have become accustomed to viewing things. I don’t think I would ride the gondola, or even want to for that matter. Now, I just see it as an overpriced attraction made purely for touristic enjoyment, an inauthentic source of Venetian culture. I can say that my innocent excitement as a nine-year-old has transformed itself in a perpetual state of cynicism.  

 

My growth has not hindered all of my experiences. Piazza San Marco is another fogged-up memory I can somewhat recollect. Unlike the gondolas, I have quite a bleak memory of the Piazza. Visiting Venice mid-October was not the best idea regarding weather. The Square was cold, windy, and grey. The empty metal chairs sat outside the varying cafes did not help with the hostility Piazza San Marco imbued in me. All in all, it wasn’t somewhere I really wanted to be. I could only feel discomfort, which is my singular vague memory of the Piazza.  

 

I don’t have any other realistic image or feeling of St Mark’s upon which to base my opinion. I can only picture it with Gentile Bellini’s Procession in St. Mark’s Square (1496) in mind. The majestic golden flakes on the Basilica and the warmth of the colour scheme have completely changed the way I imagine the Square. Even though I know that it is not the same as it was during the fifteenth century, I subconsciously picture it with this powerful harmony and prosperity that sets it apart from any other square in the world. My disappointment as a child has transformed into amazement for the architectural work of the Piazza. 

 

Riding gondolas and experiencing Piazza San Marco helped me realize both the cynicism and the excitement that arose in me through my different experiences over the past ten years. Nine-year-old me would have never thought that I would want to avoid gondola rides, or that I would actually end up appreciating and enjoying Piazza San Marco. Reminiscing on the trip has led me to understand how my desires and passions have shifted over the course of this decade. All I am left with is the curiosity of how I might physically experience the magic of La Serenissima differently after all this time.  

 

 

 

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