Venice is a city where appearance has always mattered and this shows in the façades of the buildings. A triumph of make-up: whether it expressed the immense wealth of a family or the sublimation of devotion, if not illegitimate appropriation of cultural heritage, the façade is indeed an essential key to understand the inner nature. So don’t be afraid of being superficial 🙂
Hard to choose which façade to tell about. There’s such a variety: marble, gold, rough limestone, frescoes. Polished. Dramatic. Rational. Patchwork. Crooked, collapsing, perfectly linear, heavy, overwhelming. Or simply like a fragile veil of lace.
So here is my choice.
A façade for eternal glory: the Church of San Zulian and Tommaso Rangoni
When you reach Campo San Zulian, it’s quite ununsual you look at the church. Your eyes are attracted by the stores around you and distracted by the crowds moving in different directions, either to Rialto or to St Mark’s square. Up there, on the façade of the church, the bronze statue of Tommaso Rangoni sitting on his sarcophagus looks away from you, too.
Originally from Ravenna, he moved to Venice by 1532 and was recognized as a very influential intellectual. He dealt with astrology, medicine, he was patron of Tintoretto (and it does not surprise to see his portrait in the paintings) and held a close relationship with the best known architect of the time, Jacopo Sansovino. Sansovino designed the church of San Zulian where Tommaso Rangoni chose to be buried and conceived of its façade as “a tomb monument, transported from the inside to the outside wall of its church”.
Three inscriptions in three sacred languages, quite a rarity, govern the composition. The one in Latin reminds us it was with honest work he could pay for this temple of devotion. The one in Greek that he brought prestige to the universities in Bologna, Rome and Padua. The one in Hebrew instead tells he loved science and that he found a way to live more than 120 years.
So honesty, hard work, science and education… And a long, long life!
Neon light for an artistic Renaissance after the war in Sarajevo: Joseph Kosuth and the Querini Stampalia Foundation
You need to go there when it’s dark and then you will see these words glittering. In 1992 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sarajevo was destroyed and five years later in Europe ten cities arranged art exhibitions aiming at reconstructing the lost collections. Here in Venice nine artists brought their ideas and one shines in the night on the façade of the Querini Stampalia Palace.
You stand in Campiello Querini Stampalia and the neon light tubes forming some words light up. Where do these words come from? Joseph Kosuth’s installation was inspired by John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice. In his first volume, The Foundations, in 1851 when Ruskin was visiting Venice with his wife Effie, he talked about the material of ornament. He led quite a solitary life those days, somebody pointed out, while she didn’t. He wrote that the function of ornament is to make you happy, “whatever God has created”. Forms of earth, forms of water, fire, air and shells. But also fish, reptiles and vegetation… And of course mammalian animals and man.
Fragmenting the ornament’s elements as in Ruskin’s words, Kosuth used the façade of the Querini Stampalia to write on and suggest forms with words. The darkness is defeated and the façade of an ancient palace in Venice recollects the beauty of art and re-enlivens the lost museum in Sarajevo. When Giovanni Querini wrote in his will, at his death his family’s heritage would be for public use, who knows if he expected it would one day provide room for meditation upon war and loss?
If “public use” turns into “open to public”: the Fondaco dei Tedeschi
When inaugurated in 1508 the façade of the warehouse of the German merchants (Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Italian) was a splendour of bright and vivid frescoes by Giorgione and Titian. After it burnt down in 1505, the Venetian Senate made sure it would be quickly rebuilt: the economic profits that Northern European merchants brought to Venice were really high, no waste of time could be allowed. The Senate also pointed out, the reconstruction had to be as cheap as possible… So no marble, only frescoes by Giorgione and Titian. Well, ok, their idea of cheap was indeed disarming… 🙂
Here are some remains of the frescoes by Giorgione and Titian:
In 1938 the building became the post office of the city of Venice. In 2008 you could still see the brands of those medieval merchants and their brotherhoods carved in the stone. Public property, public use. Then the building was sold to Benetton Group and with the intervention of Rem Koolhaas it was turned into the largest commercial mall in Europe, opening on the 1st of October, 2016. The cost was 53 million euros. The restoration 36 million euros.
No more plaster peeling off, no bricks emerging below or shades of dirt on the limestone pillars. So new.
This polished, but blank façade worries many in town. Will the historical heritage be lost in the luxury of the new mall? Will its new name, T as “travel” Fondaco dei Tedeschi, shopping gallery of the DFS (Duty Free Shop) Group controlled by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, ensure space for the ones that live in Venice, too? Originally meant for “public use” and then turned into “open to public”, the new property has promised the City Council they will guarantee this public use at least for ten days a year. In the end, T is also like Ten, i.e., 10 days a year.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy