My parents used to tell me that true beauty comes from within, so I should never judge people by how they look on the outside. Suddenly these words came back to me when my father showed me more of Venice’s treasured art—this time, in churches.
If I had stayed outside, I wouldn’t have seen how Venice’s artists are using oil paints, light, and color to bring their paintings to life—truly a Renaissance in art! Now I understand why my father keeps talking about these men, some still living—Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, Giorgione, and Giovanni Bellini.
Inside San Rocco church, Tintoretto used light and shadows in his dramatic paintings, San Rocco Healing Plague Victims and San Rocco in Prison Visited by an Angel.
The church of Saints Giovanni and Paolo displays several of Veronese’s paintings, including his Adoration of the Magi, as well as Lotto’s Alms of St. Anthony, Tintoretto’s dramatic Crucifixion, and paintings by Bellini and Titian. These are just a few of the magical recent paintings housed in this city’s churches.
Venice’s Renaissance is very much alive to everyone who knows where to look and has the chance to visit. I’m so glad I’m one of those fortunate people!
True to his promise, on Sunday my father took me on a tour of Andrea Palladio’s buildings in Venice. But first he brought out a book and showed me an engraving of the Pantheon, built in ancient Rome. “Remember this, Lucia, and you’ll see how ancient Rome inspired Palladio’s designs.”
Sure enough, when I saw the buildings, I recognized some details from ancient Rome, and will mention them as I describe each of building.
San Francesco della Vigna—My father says this site was once a vineyard, but now, thanks to Palladio’s façade design, looks like a temple from ancient Rome, with its giant, high columns and a triangular pediment just below the roof. Who would have guessed this grand church belongs to the humble Franciscan monks?
Convento della Carità—With its three stories, each with a different type of columns and arches, this grand building looks more like a Roman palace than a monastery.
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore—Although we could easily view this huge church from across the lagoon, a gondola ride brought us to the island of San Giorgio, where we could see the church in detail. It’s still under construction, but from what I could see, the front looks like it will be similar to San Francesco della Vigna, with tall columns and the triangular pediment near the top of the façade.
Finally, our gondola arrived at the Church of the Redeemer. Venice’s Senate commissioned this church in 1576 to thank God for the end of the Plague that killed at least a quarter of our city’s residents. This church, too, is still under construction, but already its façade—with its columns and high triangular-shaped pediment—reminds me of the Pantheon. After it’s finished and the high scaffolding is torn down, this church will have a great dome with a statue of the Redeemer at its apex—a wonderful thank offering to God!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside the Doge’s Palace to see the area that Palladio renovated after a fire. Papa tells me this renovation is magnificent, and I hope to see it someday.
Now I understand why Palladio is described as the architect of the Rinascimento/Renaissance: his buildings make me want to believe that ancient Rome has been reborn in Venice!
“You’re asking me how the Rinascimento/Renaissance affects your life?” Papa grinned at me. “Lucia, the Renaissance is right before your eyes here in Venice, if you know where to look! I’ll show you.”
My father promised that after Mass next Sunday, he’d take me around Venice, by foot and gondola, and show me the buildings designed by Andrea Palladio, the great architect that Venice claims as its own.
What makes Palladio an architect of the Renaissance? Here’s how my father explained it: Palladio looked back to ancient Roman architecture as his inspiration, and incorporated its best features into his own buildings. He spent years carving monuments and sculpture before his employer, Gian Giorgio Trissino, sent him to Rome to study ancient architecture and the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius.
Palladio returned to Venetian territory and designed buildings using classical Roman style. His employer was so impressed by the new designs that he gave the young Andrea a new surname, Palladio (Greek for “Wise One”).
Papa says the Venetian Republic loves Palladio’s style because Venice is a worthy heir of the ancient Roman Empire.
Our tour won’t take me to see the many buildings Palladio designed before he came to Venice, but Papa assures me there will be plenty to see in our city.
“One more thing, Lucia. He was a writer as well as an architect.” My father pulled a book from his shelf and showed me Palladio’s guide to Rome’s classical ruins, containing the architect’s own sketches. Papa told me that Palladio’s other written work, Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) revealed his design secrets and gave advice to builders, so every architect in Venice wants a copy. As soon as people view his buildings, they can see that Palladio is the “Wise One.”
I’m counting the days until my tour, and will report on it next time!
“These studies sustain youth and entertain old age, they enhance prosperity, and offer a refuge and solace in adversity; they delight us when we are at home without hindering us in the wider world, and are with us at night, when we travel, and when we visit the countryside.”
In this passage, Cicero was talking about the studia humanitatis/humanities. Petrarch, my homeland’s famous poet, discovered this speech, Pro Archia, and I owe my wonderful education in the humanities to both of these great men of letters.
My tutor tells me how education has changed since the time of Petrarch. Instead of studying logic (as students did 200 years ago), we focus on history, Greek, moral philosophy, and poetry, as well as the traditional subjects of grammar and rhetoric.
Why the changes? These days, educated people believe Cicero’s words that “history is the witness of the times, light of truth, teacher of life, life of memory, and announcer of the past,” and that poetry teaches us good habits and guides our character.
I’m fortunate to live in this enlightened age, and doubly fortunate, as a girl, to be able to study these subjects.
My father and my tutors keep telling me how fortunate I am to live here, where we speak the Italian tongue, and now, after our philosophers, writers, artists, and so many others have progressed beyond the ways of the past. They say we’re living in a time of rebirth (rinascimento).
I first heard about rebirth in church, when the priest read a Bible story about a man named Nicodemus, who asked Jesus how he could be born again. Jesus replied that if Nicodemus wanted to see God’s kingdom, he must be born again by God’s Spirit. I had to ask my parents what that meant–what a wonderful mystery!
So thankfully, God’s gift of spiritual rebirth has been available for centuries to anyone who believes.
But this new idea of rebirth is different. I asked my father and my tutors what rinascimento means, practically speaking. How is my life different than if I’d been born before this movement began?
My tutors admit that for people without an education, not too much has changed, but a revival of learning has transformed the world of ideas and arts since Petrarch began to write poetry in the common tongue (instead of Latin) back in the 1300s. Scholars began to translate works by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and a new interest in human achievements (not only religion) has flourished ever since.
Paintings now show real people in true-to-life settings (sometimes from Greek mythology, as well as Bible stories). Artists portray their subjects’ emotions.
My father tells me that, like the great Leonardo da Vinci, scientists conduct experiments and physicians study anatomy. If ancient theories and treatments are proven ineffective, they’re discarded.
My tutors tell me they teach different subjects than earlier generations of students would have learned—but that’s too much to talk about now. I’ll write more about my studies next time.
The excitement of another Venetian Easter has passed, and my thoughts have turned again to what I’ll do when I finish my schooling. I’ve wondered if I’d ever find a woman whose career I’d want to emulate, but then my tutor recommended I study poetry with Modesta da Pozzo, a rising young poet in Venice. I’ve loved to read and write poetry since my first schoolmaster introduced me to it. From the ancient Greeks to my compatriots Dante, Petrarco, and Boccaccio, I enjoy them all.
When I met Modesta da Pozzo, I was shocked to discover she’s only six years older than me. Her parents died when she was very young, but her extended family looked after her well. She credits her interest in poetry to her grandfather (who gave her books and urged her to read and write poetry), her brother (who taught her what he learned at Latin school), and her uncle (who took her in and supported her efforts as a poet after her grandparents died). They all did a wonderful job—I’ve never met a woman as talented and thoughtful as Modesta. She’s not only a gifted poet who writes in Latin and the common tongue, but she also plays the lute, sings, and sews.
Now Modesta will help me improve my own verse. Someday maybe schoolgirls will read my poems and remember me, just as I’ll never forget Modesta.
“I want to show the world, as much as I can in this profession of music, the vain error of men who believe they alone possess the gifts of intellect and artistry, and that such gifts are never given to women.”
This quotation greeted me when I opened a book of madrigals (poems set to music for several voices) in a bookshop near my home. My father needed to pick up a book, and, knowing my love of books, took me along. Even though I’m not much of a singer, the author’s name (Maddalena Casulana) drew me to the madrigal collection. Soon I discovered three more books of her madrigals.
I had never heard of a woman composer, but my father said he recognized Maddalena’s name, that she had visited Venice. According to Papa, women have been writing music for years, but in places I wouldn’t know about. He told me Venice’s convents are full of composers, and he’s heard rumors about this city’s famous courtesans, who also write and perform music.
I went home happy to know that Maddalena Casulana found success as a published composer. I hope other women have such illustrious careers, but doubt that I’ll be one of them. Although I play the harp, I’m no composer. Someday I’d love to hear Maddalena’s madrigals sung in Venice.
“Have you heard about an illustrious young lady in Venice, not much older than you? Nobles and emperors compete to sit before her. Shall I tell you more?” My father had just delivered glum news about my prospects for a university education, and I knew he wanted to cheer me up.
One of Venice’s great painters, Jacopo Tintoretto, had a favorite daughter he called Marietta. (People also called her “la Tintoretta,” because her grandfather was a fabric dyer.) By dressing as a boy, she could stay with her father and learn at his side.
Marietta must have learned well, because Emperor Maximilian and Spain’s King Philip II requested her as a painter at their courts. But Marietta’s father didn’t let her leave Venice, so she’s still in our city, busy painting portraits for the nobles.
I enjoyed hearing about a successful Venetian woman, and I’m glad Marietta is getting the attention she deserves. But Papa’s not an artist, and I can’t hope someday to become a respected physician like he is—so I’m still searching for my place in the world.
I know I’m fortunate my father allows me to study with a tutor (most girls don’t get this chance), and I dream about attending the University of Padua in a few years. My father says it’s the best university in the world, and he should know, since he took his medical degree there. Not only that, Padua is a short boat ride from Venice and has an amazing botanical garden.
The university’s motto is Universa universis patavina libertas (Paduan Freedom is Universal for Everyone). But as far as my father knows, no woman has ever graduated from a university.
I hear that most young Venetian women become wives, nuns, shopkeepers, lace-makers, weavers, or laborers in a workshop—but not one of those choices appeals to me.
How I wish for the freedom to study at Padua! If I can’t attend, somehow I must find a way to keep learning!
“The Church created the Holy Office of the Inquisition to protect God’s people from wrong ideas about God and the Church.”
The priest’s words sounded comforting when I was seven years old in Catechism class, but I learned to fear them a few years later. Thanks to the Inquisition, my beloved father lost his position as a professor of medicine and went to prison for several years.
When we moved to Venice, I thought we had escaped the Inquisition’s reach. After all, Venice is far from the Church’s home in Rome and has a reputation for independence. The city has even stood up to the pope more than once.
But times have changed. Even before I was born, Venice began to cooperate with the Church. Three members of the local Inquisition are nobles from our city, so they’re involved in the Inquisition’s trials (and my friends have told me rumors about the gruesome things that go on there). As if Venice didn’t employ enough workers to keep the city safe!
When I asked my father if I should fear the Inquisition, I wished I hadn’t. His face turned pale as chalk, and he walked away.
Now I wonder why Venice needs the Inquisition. Does it protect us or force us to constantly look over our shoulders?