Category Archives: Museums

In the Doges’ Palace

We’re near the end, now. And we’re right back where we started, at Piazza San Marco.

For centuries, Venice was a dominant—sometimes the dominant—force in the commercial and cultural life of Europe, playing a role similar to that of New York City in the 20th century. The Doges’ Palace was Venice’s ultimate power center.

The Palace is adjacent to Saint Mark’s Basilica, and its entrance is just around the corner.

The Courtyard

You approach the palace grounds through this dim passageway…

…which opens to the central courtyard, and a magnificent assemblage of architecture. It’s a much smaller space than Piazza San Marco, but every bit as awe-inspiring..

Emerging from that shadowy entrance into this exquisite space is similar to going from Kansas to Oz.

“Much have I travelled in the realms of gold…”

Beautiful as the exterior is, it doesn’t prepare you for the grand rooms of the Palace.

This is why I keep going back to Europe. It takes centuries of civilization for a society to create an environment like this.

In the Armory

Every palace needs an armory.

The Reason I Came to Venice

There’s one more room in the palace still to visit: The Chamber of the Great Council. It gets a separate posting.

Ca’ Rezzonico, Where I Fantasized about Stealing the Furniture

New day, new palace.

Ca’ Rezzonico, another magnificent 18th century palazzo, fronts on the Grand Canal. It’s now the Museum of 18th Century Venice.

Like every other great building in Venice, it comes with a story.

Work on the palace began in the mid-17th century, but the original architect died, and the owners ran out of money, so the building was left incomplete. Giambattista Rezzonico, a merchant of Venice, bought the palace a hundred years later, when his family’s wealth and power was at its peak. The building was completed in 1758, in time to welcome a visit from Rezzonico’s younger brother, Carlo, who had been elected Pope under the name Clement XIII. At Ca’ Rezzonico, you can still see the large papal throne Clement used when he visited.

Fifty years later, the Rezzonico family was extinct, and the palazzo went into a slow decline. Along the way, it was the final residence of the poet Robert Browning, who died there. Eventually, in 1935, it was sold to the Venice Town Council.

Ca’ Rezzonico now houses some finest 18th century furniture in the city. I eyed many of the exquisite pieces with covetousness in my heart. If I could have figured out a way to stuff some of the furniture into my now-depleted knapsack and smuggle it back to Washington, I would have done so in a second.

Unfortunately, and not for the first time, I was unable to bend the laws of physics and the universe to my will. The furniture remains in Venice. But I do have some pictures…

Tapestry chairs.

A perfect desk.

OK, I definitely have dibs on this door.  It grabbed my attention the second I entered the room.

If I had a door like that, I would probably only walk through it when I was formally dressed, and I’d certainly require a background check before I’d let anyone else use it. And they’d have to wear gloves.

I wonder if I could find a young Arts major in DC who would be willing to do something similar to a door in my condo? Seriously.

This painted chest belongs close to the door.

Cichetti at Cantinone Gia Schiavi



Let me tell you about cichetti.

Cichetti are finger food—small snacks, usually just a bite or two on a piece of bread, eaten standing up in a cicchetti bar or a restaurant. It’s common practice to spend an early evening moving from one venue to another, sampling as you go.

They’re served through the day, so it’s also possible to put together a lunch composed of a few cichetti. That’s what I did.

Venetians tend to take light breakfasts and have late lunches. In between, a couple of cichetti make for a good mid-morning snack.

Cantinone Gia Schiavi is a wine bar and a wine shop that has a reputation for making some of the best cichetti in Venice. Entering it was like going to a party—it was packed with people drinking wine and socializing. No seats or tables; everybody stood and mingled.

I selected the half-dozen cichetti in the picture above, and carried them outside, to eat by the canal.

After lunch, I walked over to the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice’s great art gallery, and spent the rest of the day there.

“Sissi” — Museo Correr and the Empress of Austria

Museo Correr, the museum of the art and history of Venice, sits on the side of Piazza San Marco farthest from the Basilica.

I had a special reason for making Museo Correr one of my first stops in the city. When I was in Vienna a few years ago, I became fascinated by the brilliant, tragic, and beautiful “Sissi”, Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She was born the same year that Victoria took the throne in the United Kingdom, and even now, more than a century after her assassination, she has an almost mythical status in the shards of the old the Austro-Hungarian Empire. An independent free spirit, Sissi was the Princess Diana of her time and place.



During her visits to Venice, her apartments were in what’s now Museo Correr. Nine of the rooms have been partially restored.

I’d been hoping for preserved period rooms.  I didn’t quite get that, but some of the galleries had hints of what might have been.

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana

Exploring the galleries at Museo Correr eventually leads you to Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, the National Library of St Mark’s. And then you look up.

Miracle Nightmare on Seventh Street”

I kept going back to those pictures of the Cherry Blossom Pop-Up Bar that I posted yesterday, trying to figure out why they seemed so familiar. Sometime this morning, I finally made the connection.

They reminded me of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s “The Roses of Heliogabalus”, which I saw at the Leighton House Museum the last time I was in London.

There’s a grim story behind the bright, pretty scene portrayed in “The Roses of Heliogabalus”. According to legend, the Roman emperor Heliogabalus (sometimes known as Elagabalus) had a false ceiling installed over his dining room, and filled the space above it with rose petals. When the ceiling was released, the mass of petals would fall to earth, smothering his unwanted guests.

Since the mass murder of barroom patrons is frowned upon by the Liquor Control Board, I have no doubt that the management of the Cherry Blossom Pop-Up Bar will stick to the more traditional way of letting its clientele know when it’s time to go, by blinking the lights and shouting “Last Call!”

Still, it might be a good idea to leave a little early, just in case.

Bruegel Comes to Bath

Oh, to be in England.

The Holburne Museum in Bath has opened what looks like a glorious exhibition called Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty, which is designed to “unravel the complex Bruegel family tree, revealing the originality and diversity of Antwerp’s famous artistic dynasty across four generations through 29 works, including masterpieces from the National Gallery, Royal Collection Trust, the National Trust, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Ashmolean Museum and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.”

I’m a fierce admirer of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and a somewhat less fierce admirer of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, but I’m embarrassingly ignorant of the relationships among the many members of their extended Flemish artistic family. I wish I could see this exhibition, but I’ll probably have to settle for the catalogue.

Here are some pictures from the exhibition:

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, "Visit to a Farmhouse"

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Visit to a Farmhouse”

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, "Spring"

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Spring”

Jan Brueghel the Elder, "A Stoneware Vase of Flowers"

Jan Brueghel the Elder, “A Stoneware Vase of Flowers”

Jan van Kessel the Elder, "Three Butterflies, a Beetle and other Insects, with a Cutting of Ragwort"

Jan van Kessel the Elder, “Three Butterflies, a Beetle and other Insects, with a Cutting of Ragwort”

(All of the above photographs are from the museum’s website. The image at the top of this posting is Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s “Wedding Dance in the Open Air”.)

In Bruges Bath

The last time I was in England, I spent a delightful day in Bath, exploring the Roman Baths that gave the city its name…
…meeting some charming, friendly people at the bright and airy Bath Abbey…

Bath d1

…and hoping to run into Jane Austin, although that wouldn’t have done me any good, since we’ve never been formally introduced.

There’s never enough time, is there? A visit to a place like Bath should last at least the length of a summer. I wish I could have stayed longer, and I hope to return some day, but I had promises to keep….

Pictures from an Exhibition

O, to be in Liverpool
Now that February’s there…

The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool has opened an exhibition called “Victorian Treasures”,  which “brings together more than 60 outstanding Victorian paintings and watercolours from the art collections of National Museums Liverpool. The exhibition explores the work of leading 19th-century classical artists such as Frederic Leighton, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Edward John Poynter. It also showcases work from pioneering Pre-Raphaelite artists including John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt.”

With my love of Victoriana in general, and the Pre-Raphaelites in particular, I wish I could be there.

The painting at the top of this posting is John William Waterhouse’s “The Decameron”, which is part of the exhibition. Here are a few other paintings from the show:

"Confidences", by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

“Confidences”, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

"Dolce far Niente", by Charles Edward Perugini

“Dolce far Niente”, by Charles Edward Perugini

I’m going to remember the title of this picture. “Dolce far Niente” can be translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”.

"Madeline after Prayer", by Daniel Maclise

“Madeline after Prayer”, by Daniel Maclise