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Books – Venice

Venice Guides and Travel writing

Venice Rough Guide Venice and Veneto: Great introduction to Venice.  Its restaurant and hotel suggestions are good, but it really shines in describing the city, and offering suggestions for many days’ walks — much better in fact, than several ‘walking’ guides we also consulted.  Good maps complement a sensible layout of this maze of a city.

The ‘Brief History’ does an excellent job, and prepares you for delving deeper with an extensive reading

“Nobody arrives in Venice and sees the city for the first time. Depicted and described so often that its image has become part of the
European collective consciousness, Venice can initially create the slightly anticlimactic feeling that everything looks exactly as it should.
The water-lapped palaces along the Canal Grande are just as the brochure photographs made them out to be, Piazza San Marco does indeed look as perfect as a film set, and the panorama across the water from the Palazzo Ducale is precisely as Canaletto painted it. The sense of familiarity soon fades, however, as details of the scene begin to catch the attention – a strange carving high on a wall, a boat being manoeuvred round an impossible corner, a window through which a painted ceiling can be seen. And the longer one looks, the stranger and more intriguing Venice becomes “

—– John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

This is a delightful book — both for the opinions expressed and the wonderful pomposity with which they are presented.   It’s impossible not to learn about art and architecture from this book, but it also (perhaps not intentionally) makes Woody Allen’s or Steve Martin’s New Yorker pieces seem like downers.  The man has no humility and there is no opinion other than his. For example – “I have said that the two orders, Doric and Corinthian, are the roots of all European
architecture.  You have, perhaps, heard of five orders: but there are only two real orders; and there can never be any more until doomsday.”
  Yet somehow the clarity and vitality of his description allows you to continue reading.   I was fortunate enough to pick this up in Venice, so I was able to search out his examples of the 5 worst buildings in Venice, and similar Ruskinisms.  — Some examples:

“The work of the Lombard was to give hardihood and system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom;  that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of worship.  The Lombard covered every church which he build with the sculptured representations of bodily exercises – hunting and war.  The Arab banished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and proclaimed from their minarets, ‘There is no god but  God’.  Opposite, in their character and mission, alike in their magnificence of energy, they came from the North and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream; they met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is VENICE.”

“…this solitude was anciently chosen by man for his habitation. They little thought, who first drove the stakes into the san and strewed the ocean reeds for their rest, that their children were to be the princes of that ocean, and their palaces its pride;… Had deeper currents divided their islands, hostile navies would again and again have reduced the rising city into servitude; had stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and refinement of Venetian architecture must have been exchanged for the walls and bulwarks of an ordinary seaport. Had there been no tide.. the narrow canals of the city would have become noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. Had the tide been only a foot or eighteen inches higher in its rise, the water-access to the doors of the palaces would have been impossible… Eighteen inches more of difference between the level of flood and ebb would have rendered the doorsteps of every palace, at low water, a treacherous mass of weeds and limpets, and the entire system of water-carriage for the higher classes, in their easy and daily intercourse, must have been done away with. The streets of the city would have been widened, its networks of canals filled up, and all the peculiar character of the place and the people destroyed.”

Ruskin’s Venice : The Stones Revisited by Sarah Quill (Photographer)
This makes the perfect and beautiful companion book to John Ruskin’s eccentric views of this city. Using Ruskin’s text as a guide Quill also wanders the city capturing Ruskin’s ideas, while producing her own view of this captivating island fantasy.

John Julius Norwich — A History of Venice

shorter than his Byzantium trilogy, but just as readable

Fiction & Essays

  • Vikram SethAn Equal Music – set in Venice, portrays the intimate workings of a string quartet.
  • Thomas Mann – A Death in Venice
  • Blue Guide to Venice
  • Geoff Dyer – Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
  • Jan Morris The World of Venice
  • Joseph Brodsky – Watermark – essays by the poet from a winter spent in Venice
  • Jason Goodwin – The Bellini Card – Yashmin the eunuch leaves his beloved Istanbul to investigate a mysterious painting in Venice. One of a series of mysteries set in 19th century Ottoman empire
  • Dorothy DunnettNiccolo Rising (House of Niccolo) one of several of her books that take place in Venice
  • Ian McEwan – The Comfort of Strangers – the eeriness of Venice and its moldering nobility set the backdrop for this twisted tale. The movie with Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken is unforgettable
  • Download royalty free images of Venice