Nel suo libro Fondamenta degli incurabili Josif Brodskij scrive che Venezia è «la città dell’occhio»; e, in effetti, nel corso dei secoli la Serenissima sviluppa una propria evidenza e visibilità che la distinguono in modo particolare da ogni altro luogo del mondo. Questo vale per l’arte del Settecento, che spesso fa del guardare uno dei soggetti principali della pittura, nonché per la letteratura che a sua volta tratta questioni di importanza fondamentale come l’efficacia e l’influenza della percezione visuale, le dinamiche dell’osservazione e il gioco di prospettive. Ma il tema della percezione di una visualità peculiare della Venezia settecentesca possiede anche un’essenziale dimensione storica e politica nonché sociologica e antropologica – esemplare il caso del mascheramento inteso come strategia d’attrazione o di rifiuto dello sguardo: essa ha un’importanza decisiva per la creazione del “mito visuale” di Venezia che influenza l’immagine affascinante della città fino ai nostri giorni.
Venedig, schreibt Joseph Brodsky in seinem Essay Ufer der Verlorenen, «ist die Stadt des Auges»; und tatsächlich hat die Serenissima im Laufe ihrer Geschichte eine eigene Anschaulichkeit und Sichtbarkeit entwickelt, die sie von anderen Orten unterscheidet. Dies gilt für die bildende Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts, die oft das Sehen selbst zum eigentlichen Thema der Malerei macht, ebenso wie für die Literatur, die ihrerseits Fragen wie die nach der visuellen Beeinflussung, nach den Dynamiken des Beobachtens und des Perspektivenspiels verhandelt. Doch das Thema einer spezifisch venezianischen Visualität im 18. Jahrhundert impliziert auch historische, politische, soziologische und anthropologische Fragestellungen, wie etwa die Maskierung als Strategie der Blickerzeugung und Blickverwehrung belegt, die für die Herausbildung des bis heute faszinierenden “Seh-Mythos” Venedig eine zentrale Rolle spielt.
In copertina: Giandomenico Tiepolo, Il cantastorie, 1765, Roma, collezione privata.
Before the construction of a railroad connection to the terraferma and the filling up of many rio, gliding on the water in various kinds of boats represented the predominant form of locomotion in Venice. It encouraged a “staging” of the cityscape for moving spectators, e.g. incoming foreign ambassadors, to whom the Piazzetta was slowly revealed through a continuous shift of perspective. Similar strategies can be observed in Venetian Renaissance painting: by the use of elaborate compositional devices, painters such as Carpaccio, Titian and Tintoretto guided the public through the decorated spaces of churches or scuole. Certain depictions of female nudes, like Titian’s Venus of Urbino or his Mellon Venus, seem to have been literally revealed with the aid of curtains. In contrast to Alberti’s window metaphor, which suggests a pictorial unity ideally conceivable at a glance, painting in Renaissance Venice privileges a processual (and potentially endless) proto-cinematic perception. The simultaneous emergence of the oil-sketch and the term “schizzo” in Venice around 1550 testifies to a local aesthetics of transition and fluidity.
The concept of inganno dell’occhio strongly influenced the Venetian monumental painting of the 18th century. In the works jointly executed by Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna and Giambattista Tiepolo, illusionism reached its highpoint. Yet there are different genres and degrees of illusionism. This article examines conscious visual interruptions as reflections of a multi-faceted context. This includes a newly awakened interest in optics, in particular in the theories of Isaac Newton. Consequently, fascination with the operating principle of the eye and reflections on the visual process are central themes, for instance, also in Francesco Algarotti’s Newtonianismo per le Dame, and give meraviglia – which should capture the attention of the beholder – a new quality. New media such as the laterna magica and peep-boxes influenced viewing habits and had an impact on the evaluation of painting. In the ballroom of Palazzo Labia, the viewer’s imagination is stimulated by the fragmented portrayal of individual motifs. At the same time, the choice of illustrated instances of illusionism increased, as dramatic moments of action were intentionally omitted. Nevertheless, allegories and themes drawn from ancient history and mythology became the object of criticism. The revaluation of bearing visual witness and the criticism of rhetorical concepts led people to question the value of allegorical pictorial programmes and increased the appreciation of genre scenes. The mural paintings in the Valmarana villa and foresteria show a wide range of forms of illusionism and work purposefully with visual interruptions, which reveal the illusionism and confront the viewer with the relativity of his sight. In several of Giandomenico Tiepolo’s works, such as, for example, Mondo Nuovo, the act of seeing, or rather the pleasure of viewing, becomes the actual theme of the painting combined with a criticism of the new medium.
Tra vita e veduta
Starting from a page of Goethe’s Italian Journey, the contribution tries to identify the intrinsic link between life and theater, underlining the need for artificial, seductive and strange elements to transform the mere reproduction of reality into an aesthetic representation on the stage. Between life and painting, the representation of Venice, which finds its highest expression in the 18th century, is illustrated by following the traces of Goldoni, Gozzi, Longhi and Tiepolo, to the end of this chain of portrayals: – a splendid description by Ippolito Nievo. In a passage that is the very opposite of the one provided by Goethe, who describes the city upon his arrival, Nievo portrays Venice upon his departure as an old theater curtain, discolored by dust and blackened by the stage lights.
«Venice, town of the eye» is an established term in literature, referring to our faculty of seeing. But seeing can be an unconscious perception, as well as a very conscious form of contemplation, with consequences in the field of the arts. We can make a distinction between a “recognizing seeing” and a “seeing seeing” (to borrow expressions used by Max Imdahl in 1972). The former is preconditioned and has much to do with pleasurable perception, for example seeing Venice, while the latter is unconditioned and stimulates the act of cognition. Hence, “seeing seeing” is essentially the mode of perception of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Comparing the different types of Venetian painting with those in other places, especially in France, shows significant differences and substantiates the suspicion that Venetian art was scarcely a part of the European Enlightenment. As far as artistic standards are concerned, the Venetian Republic – unlike Milan or Naples – would not appear to have played any active part in the Italian Enlightenment, owing to its restrictive social system.
Venedig und die Kunst des Pasticcio
Pasticcio is a term that was first introduced into art theory in the 17th century as an antonym for eclecticism and to the benefit of connoisseurship. This was particularly the case in France, where Roger de Piles adopted the term to describe the differences between the original and a copy. During the 18th century, the Pasticcio technique was favourably regarded, particularly in Venice. This will be illustrated by examining three case studies from the art of painting: firstly, the reception of Veronese (Ricci, Tiepolo); secondly, the architectural fantasy of veduta painting (Marieschi, Canaletto, Algarotti); thirdly, the division of labour used in the paintings of “British worthies” commissioned by Owen McSwiny. It will be shown that the term Pasticcio stood for a modus operandi for a creatively elective eclecticism in the 18th century.
The essay deals with Algarotti’s teachings on optics and painting. It explores Algarotti’s art expertise and his sojourns at European aristocratic courts. A central role in Algarotti’s texts is played by Venice as well as by the camera obscura technique. Algarotti is interested in the fictional part of human vision as well as in architectural fantasies. Thus, he expands the rationality of the Enlightenment with a theory of illusionary formation.
In the Venice of the long 18th century both Gasparo Gozzi (in his Osservatore veneto) and Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi wrote “ritratti”, literary portraits of their contemporaries. However, while the imaginary gallery of the salonnière does indeed bring together the guests of her famous salon (Foscolo, Alfieri, Byron, Canova and others), the portraits in Gozzi’s periodical are identified only with common first names because they do not depict individuals but rather characteristics, attitudes or behaviors. Without losing sight of the obvious differences in the conception of a portrait depicted «senza pennello», this paper is primarily concerned with the question as to what extent there are still important connections between these different texts – all published in Venice under the same title Ritratti. Thus, despite Albrizzi’s multiple references to Lavater’s physiognomy – in contrast to which in Gozzi’s texts the outward appearance hardly matters – there emerges in both cases a reflection on seeing and the gaze which includes, and at the same time portrays, the seeing and writing subject as well as the reading and “seeing” addressee. In different ways, the painters and viewers of the Ritratti become «spectateurs de la vie» (Montaigne) in the «teatro all’aperto» of contemporary Venice – just like the moralists or Lichtenberg.
During the 17th and 18th century “optics” (in the broadest sense of the word) became a very popular subject. It was discussed – scientifically as well as philosophically – in the academic circles of Paris, Vienna and – last but not least – Venice, where the old “state university” of Padua could boast of important discoveries in this field. For instance, in ophthalmology (up to that time a minor, nearly despised working field for surgeons), a famous department was established in 1785. As most notably witnessed by Casanova, in enlightened literary salons from Paris to Naples, a fascinated lay public started discussing glasses, microscopes, telescopes, magnifying glasses, mirror-tricks and, with increasing eagerness, the anatomy and physiology of the eye. In a more superficial way (but no less passionately!), admirers of the “opera lirica” became attracted to the increasing sophistication of opera glasses. The so-called polemoscope (“lunette de jalousie”) – today forgotten but in a certain way immortalized by a short comedy of Casanova (1791) – made it possible to secretly observe one`s (female?) theatre neighbour thanks to the (invisible) deflection of the beam path within the binoculars. In the academies which emerged in many Italian towns in the 17th and 18th century, the philosophical question “What is seeing?” was associated with exponents of “sensualism” like David Hume and John Locke, whose influence was enormous. Also theological theories, based on old Platonic influences, were reiterated and newly elaborated. The rise of the camera obscura (in earlier times a kind of luxury toy for nobles) influenced contemporary painting in Venice (Canaletto, Carlevarijs, Bellotto). The paper intends to present an overview of different social, scientific and medical aspects of the “culture of the eye” in Venice and other European centres during the Enlightenment period.
The article is based on the observation that in Venetian paintings of the 18th century eyeballs are often conspicuously displayed. In completely different contexts – in mythological pictures as well as in religious paintings – eyeballs turn out to be a motif that can stimulate a reflection on vision. The contribution focuses on two artists: Antonio Balestra, who in numerous paintings depicted the scene in which Juno embellishes a peacock with the eyes of Argus, and Giambattista Tiepolo, who in his altarpiece for the Cappella Cornaro interprets eyeballs, the traditional attribute of Saint Lucy, in an innovative and provocative way.
This essay examines the revival of Paolo Veronese in the 18th century. Prime examples stem from Sebastiano Ricci, Giambattista Tiepolo, and Giambattista Piazzetta. Focusing on The Family of Darius Before Alexander, at the time one of Veronese’s most famous paintings, this essay sheds new light on the visual exploitation of formal analogies, iconographic alterations and conceptual innovations as a means of addressing the subject of modernity by the younger generation. In short, Sebastiano Ricci is presented as a self-conscious artist, who emphatically modernizes the historical model. Tiepolo, on the contrary, displays an earnest interest in the historical position of Veronese as one of the founding fathers of the Venetian school of painting. Hence, he analyzes and accentuates precisely the formal principles of Veronese’s style within his own works. Lastly, there is Piazzetta’s Death of Darius, essentially composed as a counterpart to The Family of Darius Before Alexander by Veronese in Palazzo Pisani. However, this dark and soon-to-be partly damaged painting presents itself as a polemic response to Veronese, whose painting was regarded as a particularly fresh and shining example of Renaissance art.
For a long time, Pietro Longhi’s genre scenes were understood as rather ambiguous works of art, especially with respect to their questionable belonging to modern culture. On the one hand, the painter’s matter-of-fact realism and his emphatic penchant for everyday life scenes made him the Carlo Goldoni of painting, an astute observer of people’s costumes, customs and conventions. On the other hand, his medium-sized canvases were regarded as products of a waning Venetian culture, as visual recordings of a specific lifestyle in the Serenissima that should finally come to an end when Napoleon conquered the Republic in 1797. Departing from this rather contradictory evaluation in art historical research, this contribution attempts to take a fresh look at Longhi’s genre paintings: they are to be understood as visual media of self-observation and self-description of Venice in the 18th century, that is to say as paintings that not only portray given social realities, but also stage them with genuinely pictorial means. In order to analyse Longhi’s artistic strategies, different aspects of his oeuvre are brought into perspective, such as his ways of narrating anecdotes that often deal with situations of seeing and being seen or his idiosyncratic depiction of interiors.
Goldoni e il teatro delle spie
In the 18th century, Venice is a city under scrutiny. The state maintains a dense network of spies who constantly provide it with information. The identity of these agents is secret, but their existence well known. Residents are aware that they are under surveillance and adjust their behavior in public spaces accordingly, as an episode in Giacomo Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie (1789/90-1797) shows. In his early comedy La bottega del caffè (1750), Carlo Goldoni takes up the issue of state control, but by no means with critical intent. He rather emphasizes the necessity of state espionage, whose main purpose is to separate public from private space. Therefore, in his text Goldoni establishes a crucial distinction between a “right” form of observation that respects this boundary and a “false” one that permanently mixes the public and the private sphere. This distinction is paradigmatically reflected in the coffeehouse owner Ridolfo and his gossiping guest Don Marzio. In his late masterpiece Sior Todero Brontolon (1762), Goldoni’s position is radically different. This play can be read as an allegory of a state control mania that knows no measure, denies people’s needs and demands and tries to cut itself off from the outside. The different versions of the play indicate that Goldoni was witnessing the cultural isolation of the Republic with growing concern.
I conflitti sulla visibilità delle donne e lo spazio urbano
The essay investigates the “status” of the female body in Europe in connection with its visibility in the public space of the 18th century. In this period, the expansion of the public sphere led to the development of a culture of sensibility that enabled people to live in a mixed-gender society. The urban culture of the 18th century welcomed female participation in the public sphere thanks to the growing need for exchanges between men and women. Nonetheless, there remained spaces that were monopolized by men or largely defined by exclusively male practices. Most European contexts, therefore, were marked by the coexistence of two distinct levels: there were mixed spaces but also public spaces reserved for men; this seems to take on different aspects and nuances depending on the national character and the particular construction of the male and female identities in local cultures at that time. The fact that women had access to cafés – the most prominent setting for the mingling of classes, the exchange of information and political debate – is revealing precisely of significant variations in the way in which the public sphere was constructed in relation to gender culture in the English, French and Venetian contexts.
Gritti’s novel was plural from multiple points of view. More than “mine” (the reference here being to Mr. Tommasino, the “author” of the “memoirs” mentioned in the subtitle), it was a “story” which also involved seven other narrators. Moreover, the structure of the novel is also presented as polyphonic, since apparently many persons contributed to it, in addition to the alleged “author” Pifpuf, a “publisher” and other avatars of the latter, from the printer to a proofreader and the authors of the notes. Finally, the novel was also at the center of a “pseudo-literary quarrel” revolving around opposing visions that stemmed not so much, or not only, from an assessment of its contents, but from fierce competition in the journalistic field. On the one side of the dispute stood Francesco Griselini, who in previous years had founded a real “empire” in Venice (as the editor of four literary periodicals) at the expense of two prominent newspapers, which had been put out of business. On the other side stood Gritti and his friend Alberto Fortis, who was probably also the co-author of the novel. Above all, this was a generational “brawl” that pitted the young Gritti and Fortis – not yet in their thirties at the time – against fifty-year-old Griselini.
La Venezia “australe” di Zaccaria Seriman
In Viaggi di Enrico Wanton alle terre australi…, which appeared in two consecutive editions in 1749 and 1764, the Venetian writer Zaccaria Seriman proposes a type of satirical novel with a background of morality and education, which was rather new for the Italian public. He accomplishes this by replacing the typical adventurous and erotic topics of this literary “genre” in the late 17th century – most notably explored by the French – with a much more satirical-philosophical discourse of commitment and educational ambition modeled on Swift’s Gulliver. The essay traces the two parts of this imaginary journey in the Southern Lands. In the first part the protagonist Enrico gets to know and criticize the social and moral defects of a Kingdom of the Apes, which stands for mid-18th-century Venice. In the second part he then comes to praise the Kingdom of the wise Cinocefali (Dog-Headed Men), which clearly reflects the enlightened England of those same decades, in all its public and private aspects.
Venice plays a central role in Nievo’s narrative worlds, both as a literary theme and as a social and political reality, as his novel Angelo di bontà demonstrates in a particularly original manner. In this first narrative testimony of his reflections on the Serenissima and the significance of the old Republic in Italian history, the cliché of decadence, which is still associated with 18th century Venice today, is reinterpreted according to the proposed reading matter. By presenting the lagoon capital as the «City of the Eye», in which the common stereotype initially seems to be proven true, the text develops into a sophisticated and ironic as well as morally instructive portrayal. On the one hand, the aim of the narration, which separates visual stimuli from the biased connotation of superficiality, is shown by assigning sensory perceptions a moral function. On the other hand, the text systematically appeals to the visual imagination of the reader by juxtaposing and interweaving the themes of diverse paintings, so as to “combine” them, as it were.