Among the many reasons we travel to Venice is its profound links to Constantinople/Istanbul. But before we get to that, a little prelude.
One of the themes of this study abroad is – as we started to see in Florence – craft; the deliberate and meaningful connection of the artist, artisan, craftsman and craftswoman to his or her tools, to the relationship of that connection to the material at hand, and the manner in which those relationships result in a crafted object or thing – something that is transformed from the base to the precious, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from material to experience. Our work in Rome is about the craft of drawing the city and all that it entails – seeing, experiencing, understanding, translating – of taking in the urban landscape and repositioning it (through pencil and paper) into a new cartography of space. As part of this, we learn about how Rome was made – built in tufa, travertine and basalt, with domes and towers, piazzas and bridges; how this built environment was willed into being through the efforts, struggles and exhortations of architects and laborers, princes and popes, pilgrims and travelers. Rome was (and is) a crafted city, and we can see in our experience of it, how that craft – through the hands and vision of maestros like Bernini and Borromini, Bramante and Raphael, Michelangelo and Sangallo – is made manifest in and through material. Our drawings are an attempt to understand the implications of that craft – and will result in a crafted thing itself – a new map of the City.
In Florence, we saw the beginnings of that trajectory, not only in the works of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, of Vasari and Ghiberti, but echoed in modern expression through the craft of the Florentine architect Andrea Ponsi and his drawings, models, buildings. In Venice, as in the great cities of Italy, the evidence of this craft is everywhere – in the buildings and bridges, in the gondolas and their forms, in the frescoes and paintings of Titian and Tintoretto, in the gold domes of San Marco and its undulating floor, called by some Venetians, Il Mare (The Sea). As in Florence, we saw a modern (and timeless) version of this craft in the workshops of Saverio Pastor – one of the last remaning forcolė craftsman (one of 5) in the city, and in the atelier of Gianni Basso, Stampatore, the only traditional printer in Venice – and possibly, all of Italy. Maestro Saverio spent a morning with us – talking to us about the art of making forcole (the oar-locks used by gondoliers, boat races, fisherman), about the process of harvesting wood, drying it (3 years), and the methods of shaping it – using bandsaws and more traditional tools, into the crafted objects in use for over 1200 years in La Serenissima. We followed with a visit to Gianni Basso’s studio in the Canneregio, where he showed us his workshop (no computers), and talked to us about the art and craft of printing and letter-setting. As a special treat, we got to see his museum in progress next door, with 200 year old type collections, printing plates, books and lithographs. Basso has been called “The Guttenberg of Venice.”
In between these workshops, we popped into Carlo Scarpa’s Querini Stampalia, to see the work of the modern master craftsman – in his details (my goodness, that door!), his steps, and garden – the remarkable synthesis of landscape, material, detail, building and experience. Students wandered the Venetian streets and canals (with throngs of Carnevale visitors) into the Olivetti Museum, the Accademia, The Correr Museum, the beautiful gate and garden of the University Institute of Architecture of Venice. As an extra special treat, the Accademia had a temporary exhibition (Il Designo) with works by even more masters – with a special section dedicated to 16 never before seen heliograph prints of Scarpa’s drawings for the Accademia -complete with his annotations, notes, dimensions and scribbles.
Venice is and will always be marked by its uniqueness, its ephemerality, its material defiance against the sea and her tides, and by her unique skyline. It is known by its canals and its monuments – San Giorgio Maggiore, where Cosimo de Medici stayed for a while on his banishment from Florence, Palladio’s Il Redentore, commissioned by Marc Antonio Barbieri – the Venetian consul in Istanbul – who would become familiar with the work of the Ottoman architect Sinan, and whose church on the Giudecca, some historians note, has a connection to Sinan’s Selimiye Church in Edirne.
It is more familiar however because of Piazza San Marco – what Napoleon called the most magnificent drawing room of Europe, with its campanile, the palace of the doge, by gondolas bobbing in the water, looking out to San Giorgio, the Lido, and to the sea. Venice is perhaps most familiar because of San Marco and so we went there first – so we could stand beneath its golden ceiling and on its rippling floor, topped with monumental equestrian statues taken from the courtyard of the Hagia Sophia during the fourth crusade, by the statue of the tetrarchs in an outside corner – a statute which once graced Constantinople’s Philadelpheon… so we could stand here in this Byzantine space in the Lagoon, that was commissioned, so the historians say, by the Emperor and his court in Constantinople.