Tuesday, November 11, 2014

St. Augustine and His Dog in Venice

Willard Spiegelman, the editor-in-chief of the Southwest Review at SMU in Dallas,writes about Vittore Carpacio's Cycle for the Scuola de San Giorgio Degli Schiavoni in Venice for The Wall Street Journal's Masterpiece column. I thoroughly appreciate and agree with his first paragraph:

After a first visit, every tourist to a famous place begins to turn from the hot spots, the three-star must-sees and the crowds—to yearn for intimacy, something out of the way. Nowhere is this quest more natural or essential than in Venice. Forget St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto. Forget Murano and its glass. Look for the big rewards that come from small packages.

Between the Bellini family, which came before him, and Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, who followed, the most important Venetian artist was Vittore Carpaccio (1465-1525). He bridged the turn to the new century. His large cycle depicting the legend of St. Ursula is one of the prizes of the Accademia. (These rooms were closed on the days I visited the museum, owing to “weather,” whatever that meant.) But for sheer intensity, variety, elegance and charm, nothing can beat his nine paintings that hang above eye level, beneath a coffered ceiling on the ground floor—they were on the second story until a mid-16th-century rearrangement—of the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the Dalmatian Confraternity. This lovely spot is both a (long) stone’s throw and a world away from bustling Piazza San Marco.

"After a first visit" assumes that the tourist or traveler goes back to the same city again to see it beyond the tourist's highlights--something about the city or location is so attractive that we want to go back and explore further.

St. Augustine in his study receives a vision of St. Jerome as the latter dies. He stops writing, looks out the window--and his little dog looks up at him, wondering what's outside. As Spiegelman concludes:

We are not in north Africa in the fifth century. We are in Venice, at the turn of the 16th. La Serenissima is the queen of the Adriatic, the point of contact between the riches of the Orient and the western Mediterranean. The Renaissance has begun.

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