Thursday, April 5, 2012

Flock of Angels in S. Maria dei Carmini (& Memories of Wood Nymphs)

The acknowledged masterpieces inside Dorsoduro's church of Santa Maria dei Carmini are altarpieces by Cima da Conegliano and Lorenzo Lotto, and each is stunning--and rather pricey to see, as the necessary illumination for the former costs 50 centesimi, while the latter sets you back a full euro, and you could easily drop 4 or 5 coins into each light box before getting your fill.

But if you're also in the mood for something a little more redolent of Spring, as I was two days ago on a rainy Monday afternoon, you may get a sore neck from craning your head back to peer at the ceiling high above a side altar but it won't cost you a thing. Up there you'll find the fresco Gloria di Angeli by Sebastiano Ricci, painted in 1709. It has the gold background of the great Byzantine paintings you can see around Venice, but with none of that era's solemnity--or, as Ruskin would no doubt say, piety.

Well, sometimes piety only takes you so far...  As Ruskin's poor wife could attest.

But perhaps Ruskin would have had a point, as I'll admit that one of the things I found myself distantly (and perhaps nonsensically) recalling while looking at Ricci's fresco was a mural of wood nymphs painted in the 1930s by Howard Chandler Christy for an Upper West Side Manhattan restaurant I knew a dozen years ago as Café des Artistes. A very poor and partial image of this mural is below:

The restaurant closed in 2009, then reopened last year as Leopard at des Artistes. I don't know a thing about this new restaurant except that it serves Southern Italian food and the Italian owners had the good sense to preserve Chandler's series of murals. 


  1. Well darn, I was just at and in Carmini a few months ago. Alas, I lack your keen powers of observation, but isn't it wonderful to have reasons to return again and again? I was really struck by the paterae...

    Don't know if you are ever on the Slow Travel forums, but you are amassing a fan club. Check out the Donna Leon new book thread in the Italy forum.

    1. It's impossible to see everything in the humblest church of Venice, much less one as large and with as much stuff as Carmini, and you're right, this is a good kind of problem to have. I'm always amazed to realize the kind of things I quickly pass over in Venice (or miss entirely) because of the all of the other even greater things to see: some "lesser" painting of the 16th C, for example, which would occupy pride of place in most museums in the world. I think the Ricci might be dismissed as merely decorative...

      I will have to check out the Slow Travel forum: thank you for the heads up. I'm happy that anyone finds the time to read this blog, there are so many excellent ones on Venice alone.

  2. And, whenever I get into a church in Venice with the wonderful artistic displays on the ceiling, I wish I could rent a barouche from a hospital, and have someone push me around as I lie supine, enjoying the art, and eating grapes peeled by my attendant/slave.

    (I would then return the favour).

    1. That is a wonderful fantasy, Yvonne--and I'd even be willing to forego the peeled grapes, if I was able to lie flat on my back without being chased out of the place.

      I'll admit that, in spite of knowing how appalled Italians are by the sight of anyone sitting anywhere on the ground, I actually sat down one afternoon to look at Tiepolo's Pulcinella frescoes in Ca' Rezzonico. I was hoping to be able to sit and take them all in for a good long extended period, but a guard walked in soon enough... And, yes, she was appalled.

    2. PS I once worked as the personal assistant to the founder/publisher/art director of an award-winning design magazine who would sometimes take his business phone calls while lying on his back underneath his desk with his feet up on his chair... This actually made complete sense to me.