Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hello, Good-bye: Palazzo Ducale, Bridge of Sighs

Here's something that hasn't been seen for nearly 3 years: the southeast corner of the Palazzo Ducale. Finally, the famous early 15th-century sculpture of the drunkenness of Noah above the corner capital beside the Ponte della Paglia is once again visible to us all as a warning of the kind of embarrassment too much celebration can lead to. (Not that it's ever been heeded.) Also thankfully visible again: the second of the two older gothic windows with tracery that predate the 1574 fire--like an eye finally uncovered after a three-year-long eye-chart exam.

Gone, finally, are all those awful clouds--and all those even more awful ads, paid for by those awful advertisers who deserve only scorn and a lasting boycott for their participation in the defacement of what Ruskin called "the central building of the world."

Why can't more advertisers do this?
In fact, though the Venetian civic group 40xVenezia approached numerous advertisers about designing billboards more respectful of the buildings on which they are placed, only one company has responded to date: the kitchen design firm Scavolini.

You can see Scavolini's sensible effort to the left. It manages to suggest that the advertiser is a partner in the renovation of a valuable piece of history, instead of a vile cold-hearted opportunist preying upon La Serenissima's poverty to thrust himself upon her. If only more advertisers would follow the example of Scavolini...

In any case, that's the good news. The bad news, as you can see above, is that scaffolding has now gone up in front of the Bridge of Sighs. The fabric covering the scaffolding is transparent, instead of the usual opaque--and without ads! (at present)--but I imagine some visitors may be disappointed with this compromised view for the next, oh, 2 or 3 years. Though I'm not. I'd trade an obscured Bridge of Sighs for the departure of that gargantuan storm of ads any day.

Alas, when it comes to the Libreria Sansoviniana--praised by Palladio as the finest building since antiquity--there appears to be no similar trade-off in the works. The south face of that marvelous facade, the narrow side that so beautifully frames the Piazzetta as you cross the basin of San Marco in a vaporetto, is being covered with scaffolding. Okay, I thought, that must mean the billboard abomination right around the corner, on the library's long side, will be coming down.


It appears that the south-eastern corner of the library will likely be subjected to the kind of wrap-around advertising that polluted the southeast corner of the Palazzo Ducale for so long. It's a shame, as it means that even from the Punta della Dogana the view of the Piazzetta is likely to be splatted with ads. 

And people used to think those filthy mobs of pigeons were bad! When it comes to defacement, man (especially in pursuit of profit) always and easily trumps beast.


  1. I do hope that Scavolini received huge acclaim (and lots of orders!) for their billboard, and that the Venice Council is maybe getting the message about the ads. I understand the money imperative and that restoring these precious buildings is ultra expensive - but surely the 'partnership' message is more beneficial for a company than some hideous defacement that instantly makes you think that you wouldn't buy that particular product in a million years.

  2. I wonder why whoever is in control of the billboards did not, from the very start, state that the ads could only take a certain format: ie, that the Times Square look was not an option, and the company would have to design something for the surroundings. Surely, the placement would have been just as valuable (and costly), wouldn't it, if that was the rule by which all companies were playing? But, then, I guess, it's been universally agreed that almost no restrictions of any kind are ever supposed to be place on corporations...

  3. Thanks for the news, both good and bad. No doubt most of these things are a complete eyesore, and it's compounded by the fact that the restorations usually end up lasting several years longer than projected!

  4. It's funny that when the Accademia was finally unveiled last spring I was excited to think that there might be one less giant crane above the Venetian skyline. But the one used for the Accademia is still there AND a new one has gone up not far from the Giglie stop on the Grand Canal! But I remind myself that cranes on the horizon and renovations are much better then Ruskin's day, when almost nothing was being renovated (or only v. poorly) & major buildings seemed likely to collapse in utter disrepair.