Venezia in its own light


There are few doubts that Venice (or Venezia, as the locals call it) is a magical place. The magnificient architecture, the canals, the calli  – narrow and winding alleys – leading to unexpected views… everything concurs to create a really unique experience for those visiting this city. The more technically minded urbanists even know the science behind its unreal atmosphere: it’s all about the way light is reflected between the water and the baroque decorations of the buildings and landmarks. What begins just as an optical trick is perceived in a much more profound way, and it lead several commenters to write about “the poetry of Venetian light”. Among those better equipped to appreciate it there is of course a slew of artists who lived in or simply visited Venice. Tintoretto, Canaletto, Tiziano, Tiepolo, Bellini, Mantegna… the list would make a who’s who of high art. While in Venice they all did what they did best, and let the place inspire them to create new wonderful works. The results are exhibited in museums all over the world. They are masterpieces – but what about their origins?

A painting may take months of works, or weeks at the least. While the maestros imbued them with astounding technique, their works frequently missed the raw sense of marvel experienced right when the power of a view had inspired the artists to select one particular image. Also, age has often darkened the paint, so what we see today is but a shadow of the original intent. To catch that we have to look elsewhere. Enter the rarely glimpsed world of drawings. Both preparatory studies for paintings and complete works in their own, drawings tend to be considered somehow lesser art and they are victim to the frailty of the paper they were created on. Both conditions make them a sort of unknown territory even to many art lovers – but there are exceptions.

Between December 2014 and March 2015 Venice has been home to a breathtaking exhibition called La poesia della luce (‘The poetry of light’, indeed), featuring one hundred and thirty drawings created between the Sixteenth and the Nineteenth century in the city itself. Dozens of Italian and foreign artists were selected for their special attention to the Venetian light we mentioned above, and experiencing their works right where they were actually conceived makes for an unforgettable event, leading to appreciate them even better. The extremely delicate works were never exhibited in Italy together. They belong to several collections, the larger of which is owned by the National Art Gallery of Washington. Who knows when we’ll be able to live such a splendid event again – but in the meantime, Venezia and its special light will always be there for us.