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Title: Venice
Author: Menpes, Dorothy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  [Illustration: CROSSING THE PIAZZA]



     Published May 1904
     Reprinted 1906, 1912



     ARRIVAL AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS                           3

     HISTORY                                                17

     A GLIMPSE INTO BOHEMIA                                 39

     ARCHITECTURE                                           55

     ST. MARK'S                                             77

     PAINTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE                            91

     STREETS, SHOPS, AND COURTYARDS                        125

     THE ISLANDS OF THE LAGOON                             149

     SOCIAL UPS AND DOWNS                                  173

     GONDOLAS AND GONDOLIERS                               193


     1. Crossing the Piazza                     _Frontispiece_

                                                   FACING PAGE

     2. Grand Canal, showing Tower of St. Geremia            2

     3. A Pink Palace                                        4

     4. Palazzo Pisani                                       6

     5. The Salute at Sunset                                 8

     6. A Ruined Palazzo                                    12

     7. Palazzi on the Canal                                14

     8. Giudecca                                            16

     9. San Giorgio Maggiore                                20

     10. Off the Giudecca                                   22

     11. St. Maria delle Misericordia                       26

     12. The Custom House and Church of Santa Maria della
     Salute                                                 28

     13. At Chioggia                                        30

     14. Church of San Geremia                              32

     15. The Bridge of Sighs and Straw Bridge               34

     16. On the Grand Canal                                 36

     17. The Bridge of Sighs                                38

     18. Palace in a By-Canal                               42

     19. The Orange Door                                    44

     20. An Unfrequented Canal                              50

     21. St. Mark's Basin                                   52

     22. Hotel Danieli                                      54

     23. Porta della Carta                                  56

     24. Grand Canal looking towards the Dogana             58

     25. A Famous Palazzo                                   60

     26. Entrance to the Grand Canal                        62

     27. Panorama seen from St. Mark's Basin                64

     28. The Dogana and Salute                              66

     29. Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni                    68

     30. Santa Maria della Salute                           72

     31. Palazzo Mengaldo                                   74

     32. Ospedale Civile                                    76

     33. St. Mark's                                         78

     34. Palazzo Danieli                                    80

     35. Francesca                                          82

     36. St. Mark's Piazza                                  86

     37. Scuola di San Marco                                88

     38. A Quiet Waterway                                   90

     39. Canal Priuli                                       94

     40. Osmarin Canal                                      98

     41. A Sotto Portico                                   102

     42. A Narrow Canal                                    108

     43. Bridge near the Palazzo Labia                     110

     44. The House with the Blue Door                      112

     45. Canal in Giudecca Island                          114

     46. The Orange Sail                                   118

     47. A Quiet Rio                                       120

     48. Humble Quarter                                    122

     49. Rio di San Marina                                 124

     50. A Squero or Boat-building Yard                    126

     51. The Weekly Wash                                   128

     52. A Back Street                                     130

     53. The Wooden Spoon Seller                           138

     54. Work Girls                                        142

     55. Chioggia Fish Market                              150

     56. Chioggia                                          154

     57. In Murano                                         158

     58. Mrs Eden's Garden in Venice                       160

     59. Timber Boats from the Shores of the Adriatic      162

     60. By a Squero or Boat-building Yard                 164

     61. In a Side Street, Chioggia                        166

     62. Santa Maria della Salute                          168

     63. Rio e Chiesa degli Ognissanti                     174

     64. A Campiello                                       176

     65. Fishing Boats from Chioggia                       178

     66. A Woman of the People                             180

     67. Chioggia                                          184

     68. The Fish Market                                   190

     69. Midday on the Lagoon                              196

     70. A Traghetto                                       200

     71. Marietta                                          204

     72. Bambino                                           208

     73. A Squero or Boat-building Yard in Venice          212

     74. Under the Midday Sun                              214

     75. The Rialto                                        218



There is no city more written about, more painted, and more
misrepresented, than Venice. Students, poets, and painters have
combined in reproducing her many charms. Usually, however, Venice is
described in a hurried, careless way: the subject is seldom gone
deeply into, and studied as it should be, before attempting to compile
a book. It is only one who has been there, and observed the life and
characteristics of the people for years, who can gain any true
perception of their character. Those who have not been to Venice must
needs know by heart her attractions, which have been so persistently
thrust before the public; but unless half a dozen really excellent
books have been read concerning her, the city of their imaginations
must be a theatrical Venice, unreal and altogether false. Normally one
feels that the last word about Venice has been said--the last chord
struck upon her keyboard, the last harmony brought out. But this is by
no means the case. There are chords still to be struck, and harmonies
still to be brought out: her charm can never be exhausted. The last
chord struck, no matter how poorly executed it may be, goes on
vibrating in our ears, and all unconsciously we are listening for
another. How strange this is! Why should it be so? What other cities
impress us in the same way? Oxford perhaps, and Rome certainly. These
are the only two which come to my mind at the moment. They are the
cities of the soul, round which endless romantic histories cling,
endless dear and glorious associations. Perhaps the reason why one
never tires of books on Venice, or of pictures of Venice, is that they
none of them fulfil one's desires and expectations--they never express
just what one feels about her--there is always something left unsaid,
something uninterpreted; and one is always waiting for that. It is
impossible to express all one feels with regard to Venice. One feels
one's own incompetence terribly. Try as you may, you can only give one
day, one hour, one aspect of sea and sky, only the four seasons, not
all the myriad changes between;--only four times of the
day--dawn, mid-day, twilight, and night--not the thousand melting
changes, not the continual variations. It is not a panorama, not a
magnificent view permanent before one's gaze. The cloud forms will
never be quite the same as you see them at a certain moment; the water
will never be again of that particular shade of green; the reflection
of a pink palace, with the black barge at its base laden with golden
fruit, will never again be thrown upon the water quite in that same
way; there will not always be that warm golden light bathing sea and
sky and palace; that particular pearly-grey mist in the early morning
will never recur, never quite that deep blue-black of night with the
orange lights and the steely water.

  [Illustration: A PINK PALACE]

When one lives in Venice one becomes absolutely in sympathy with the
place. One feels her beautiful colour; but it is quite another story
when one comes to reproduce it. Words cannot describe nor brush
portray it. Thousands have attempted to paint Venice; but few have
succeeded. The Venetians themselves, loving their country, painted her
continually; but even they could only give one aspect of her. The
pictures of Venice by Venetian masters are chiefly of her pomp and
glory, her State functions and her water fêtes. However, one finds
marvellous glimpses of landscape work in some of the great
masterpieces--sweeps of sky above the heads of some of the Madonnas,
skies in which one can feel the shimmer of light so characteristic of
Venice, the blending of the tones and the flaming glory of the sunset
sky. Turner, too, caught the radiant, shimmering, bright and
opalescent qualities of the lagoon scenery; but even his palette could
not cope with the ever-changing colour.

One must be either hot or cold with regard to Venice. You cannot be
lukewarm. The magic of her spell begins to work upon you immediately
you arrive. Most of us imagine what the place will be like before we
reach it. We people it in our dreams, and visualise it for
ourselves--canals, palaces, streets, the general appearance of things.
This imaginary city has no foundations save those which are supplied
by pictures and stories.

  [Illustration: PALAZZO PISANI]

One's first impressions are always those which one remembers longest,
and one's first impressions of Venice are surpassingly beautiful. In
the train, arriving, you catch glimpses of flashes of light in the
darkness, more strangely fantastic than anything you could
imagine; you traverse a long causeway stretching over the lagoon; you
see the water on either side of you, jet black, stretching on
indefinitely; the train seems to float on air; you cannot see the
bridge--nothing but sky and water. You arrive at a large terminal
station, and step into the gondola which is to take you into Venice.
Into most cities one arrives in a whirl and shriek of engines amid
smoke and bustle; but Venice is different. One arrives in a gondola.
The water is of a clear pale green; the banks are scrubby grass and
mud. One watches the silver prow of the gondola as it shoots forward,
the sea air blowing keen and salt. You realise that you are in a wide
canal, and that there are buildings on either side of you, looming up
white and gaunt, with here and there a lantern glimmering at their
base. It is strange to see a city rising thus out of the sea. Venice
seems double: one sees it in the substance and in the reflections on
the water.

After gliding along for some time you turn up narrow water lanes,
devious and branching, running by low stonework, very complicated in
their turnings. There are doors with water creeping up their steps,
striped posts looking like spectres, and arches everywhere. Strange
figures, like phantoms in a dream, appear in the gloom; black
gondolas, like funeral biers, lie silently at the base of the houses;
and the water laps dully at the steps. The silence of the waterways is
deathlike after the rush and noise of a long journey; each shape that
passes looks ghostly in the dim light; it is like a city of eternal
sleep, a city of death. What a perfect background it would make for
melodrama or for tragedy! No crime or intrigue could be too terrible
to happen within those unfathomable shadows! A brigand might pass
within that heavy half-opened oak door silently and unnoticed. A
corpse with a stiletto buried in its breast might be gliding by in
that black gondola. One would be quite surprised and somewhat shocked
on lifting the felce to discover a fat and florid tradesman returning
from supper with a friend. Venice is not a fitting background for such
a sordid everyday scene. She is much better suited to the romances of
Maturin, Lewis, and Ann Radcliffe; to the Great Bandit, the stories of
the Three Inquisitors, the Council of Ten, masked spies, and pitfalls.

  [Illustration: THE SALUTE AT SUNSET]

In the daytime one recognises Venice as the Venice of Canaletto, of
Bonington, and of Wild. There is that same vague, luminous
atmosphere, full of rays and mists; the coming and going of gondolas
or galiots; the landing-place of the Piazzetta, with its Gothic
lanterns ornamented by figures of the saints, fixed on poles and sunk
into the sea; the vermilion façade of the Ducal Palace, lozenged with
white and rose marble, its massive pillars supporting a gallery of
small columns. With all this one has been familiar through the
pictures of the masters whom I have mentioned; but the real Venice is
still more beautiful, still more wonderful, still more fantastic.

If you climb up on any height and look down upon the lagoon, you will
see a sight never to be forgotten. You will imagine that it is a dream
which has taken shape, a vision of fairy-land. The sea is dotted with
craft of all kinds. There is a continuous movement of boats--gondolas,
sailing vessels, and steam-boats pouring forth volumes of black smoke
and making a disturbance on the peaceful lagoon. The water is limpid,
the light radiant; a row of stakes on the lagoon marks the channels
which are navigable for ships. There is the island of San Giorgio,
with its red steeple, its white basilica, surrounded by a girdle of
boats, and looking like a sheet of burnished silver. There is the
Giudecca, a maritime suburb of Venice, turning towards the city a row
of houses and towards the sea a belt of gardens; it has two churches,
Santa Maria and the Redentore. There is San Clemate, at the back of
the Giudecca, a place of penitence and of detention for priests under
discipline; Poreglia, where the vessels are quarantined; and the
little island of St. Peter, almost invisible in the distance. The only
black cupola is that of St. Simeon the Less. Those of the other
churches are silvery. The clouds and the islands seem to mingle one
with the other, and are as baffling as the mirage in a desert. On a
fine day in Venice there is a certain brilliant crystalline clearness
sharpening every outline; every tower and dome stands out sharp and
clear against the sky, making the colours burn. There is colour
everywhere: even the islands in the distance are blue and distinct.
There is colour in the groups that saunter by, in the sapphire water,
and in the cloudless heavens. The air is warm and still; the streets
are full of people, walking and loitering at the doors of the shops;
sunbeams dance on the rippling water; spring is everywhere. As evening
comes on the colours grow richer and deeper; scarlet clouds float
across the amber sky; the canal takes on the hues of the upper air,
and is a rippling mass of liquid topaz and molten gold, in rapid
succession changing from gold to orange, and from orange to deepest
crimson. In the soft hazy light, against the rose tone of the sky, the
cupolas of the islands and the palaces seem to float, shimmering with
the hues of mother-of-pearl, mysterious, dream-like, not like solid
stone. The soft lap of the water breaks the silence; the vaporous
mists float upwards. Across the light drifts a line of fishing boats,
their great brown sails set. A streak of flame-colour strikes on the
windows of Venice, a flush of orange and rose. Then in a second the
sun is gone, and a brief space of doubt ensues, when day hangs
trembling in the balance; then night settles on the lagoon. A hundred
bells ring out over the city, clashing and clamouring together in one
brazen peal. Soon the peal subsides. The evening breeze springs up
mild and sweet from the sea, and the soft and mellow cry of "Stali! Ah
Stali!" is heard everywhere. It is the hour when all that is poor and
unlovely melts into ethereal beauty. The water is a deep blue-black,
save for rippling trails of light from the lamps, which shine like
golden stars from the prows of the gondolas. The moon rises, nearly
full, and is veiled by hazy clouds; the outlines of the bell towers of
the palaces are pale and delicate in the soft light. The stillness of
the water streets is soothing, and the prattle of the city falls
gently on the ears.

No matter how prosaic or how unimpressionable one may be, one soon
grows into sympathy with the atmosphere of Venice. It is almost
impossible to avoid becoming sentimental as one floats in one's
gondola at night, with the twinkling stars above and the twinkling
splashes below. One almost unconsciously builds romances round the
palaces tottering to decay. Venice is always ready to charm and allure
you. It is hard to believe that somewhere there is a working, active,
busy life going on. But indeed no one in Venice seems to be in
earnest. It is as if the present time does not count, as if it were
but an echo of what passed long years ago. People work without aim or
energy, and when they suffer it seems as if they were but mumming. A
sweetness and a docility steal into one's soul, and one feels that one
can do nothing but drift on for ever in this pleasant idleness. Harsh
voices become modulated; cross-grained, querulous natures are
sweetened; even the flat-faced, spectacled tourists, when they
step from the railway station into a gondola and glide into the mystic
water city, alive with a myriad glistening lights, develop
unconsciously, and despite themselves, into delightful people.

  [Illustration: A RUINED PALAZZO]

On the day when I arrived in Venice, as I was wandering down a lane
beyond the Canareggio Canal, I found myself in the Jewish part of the
city. It is a fetid and pestilential place. There is about it nothing
pleasant, or wholesome, or attractive. The stonework is cracked and
rotten. The houses, streaked with dirt, bend over into the water with
the weight of years. Most of them are nine stories high, grimy and
dirty, and speckled with green spots. There is not a straight line
anywhere, and not a whole pane of glass--paper is the substitute. Now
and then one sees a patch of plaster on a house; but for the most part
the plaster has fallen away, revealing the crumbly red bricks beneath.
It gives one a sickening feeling--this terrible poverty, solitude, and
neglect. Everything is strange, sullen, mysterious. Men and women with
curved noses and eyes set like burning coals in their pale faces glide
noiselessly along with furtive glances. The children are half naked,
and play about on benches in the streets. I have seen poverty-stricken
Jewish quarters before, but never anything so sad as this. The
sordidness and terrible despair of it make one's heart ache. There are
no green fields and trees to alleviate the misery of the people. Yet,
I suppose, the condition of the Jew was worse in the old days.
Certainly the injustices and insults which once were prevalent do not
occur now. The Christian to-day is on more or less friendly terms with
the Jew. They meet one another on the exchange; they talk together,
and partake of each other's hospitality.

  [Illustration: PALAZZI ON THE CANAL]

The Christian may despise the Jew; but he has the grace to keep the
feeling to himself, for the Jew possesses a great part of the trade of
the city, and in money matters has ever the upper hand. He is
educated, intellectual, patriotic, and calls himself a Venetian. If he
is rich he lives in a fine new house on the Grand Canal and is owner
of other houses. An instinct of the poorer class of Jews in Venice is
to set up pawnshops and lend money to tradesmen in times of necessity.
The Jews are decidedly useful. In the old days they were driven into
exile; but they were soon called back. They were made to wear a yellow
badge, distinguishing them from Christians. They were not allowed
to buy houses or lands, or to exercise any trade or profession
excepting that of medicine. They were given a dwelling-place in the
dirtiest, unhealthiest part of the city, and called it a Ghetto,
meaning a congregation. It was walled in. The gates were kept by
Christian guards, who were paid by the Jews, and opened the doors at
dawn, closing them at sunset. The Jews were not allowed to emerge on
holidays or feast days, and two barges full of armed men watched them
night and day. A special magistracy had charge of their affairs. Their
dead were buried in the sand on the seashore. Thither the baser of the
Venetians made it a habit to go on Mondays in September, to dance and
make merry on the graves. The Jews were made to pay tribute to Venice
every third year.

In spite of all hardships and deprivations, they flourished. As the
Christians became poor, the Jews waxed rich. They were not again
expelled from the city. They were never disturbed in their Ghetto by
actual ill-treatment and violence, excepting on one occasion, when a
charge was brought against them of child murder. So the Jews lived
peacefully in their own quarter until, with the advent of modern
civilisation, their prison walls crumbled away, and some of them went
forth from the Ghetto and fixed their habitations in different parts
of the city. Many Jewish families, however, cling to the spot made
sacred for them by so much suffering and humiliation. Even to this
day, although the Jews are distributed everywhere throughout the
length and breadth of Venice, never a Christian comes to dwell in the
Ghetto. Very many Jews still live there. Some of the women are
handsome, with Oriental grace, delicate, sensitive, highly bred. The
only time when the Ghetto has at all a picturesque appearance is the
autumn. Then the air is filled with white floating particles, feathers
of geese, which seem to be plucked by the whole force of the populace.
You see on every doorstep groups of Hebrew youths plucking geese, and
on looking into the interior you will observe strings of the birds
suspended from the rafters, while an odour of roast goose greets your
nostrils wherever you may go.

  [Illustration: GIUDECCA]


With her pomp and pageantry, her wealth of art, her learned academies,
her schools of painting, and her sumptuous style, Venice at the prime
of her life was great, dazzling, splendid. Her navy was supreme. Her
nobles were the richest in Europe. This opulence and this pride led to
her downfall. She was unable to resist the temptation of building
herself an empire on the mainland, thereby causing jealousy among the
other Italian States. Rome became fearful of her own safety, and, with
the intention of crushing the Republic, formed the League of Cambray.
Rome did not achieve her object; but Venice was weakened by the blow,
and misfortune after misfortune fell upon her. The passage round the
Cape of Good Hope was discovered; which took commercial trade with the
East out of her hands, and left her no longer the mart of Europe.
Then came the great battles with the Turk, in which both blood and
money of Venice flowed in vain. Europe was either powerless or too
indifferent to help. Gradually the strength of Venice was broken. She
declined and sank. Still, the rigidity and the power of endurance of
the Venetian constitution were marvellous. She kept a semblance of
life long after the heart had ceased to beat. The constitution of the
State was the most elaborate imaginable, and not easily brought to
nothing. Nevertheless, although there were occasional flashes of the
old brilliancy of Venice, her day was over. The last of her Doges
yielded the State to Napoleon without a blow. Laying the ducal biretta
on the table, he called to his servants, "Take it away: I shall not
use it more."

  [Illustration: SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE]

When the first refugees came from the mainland and started life on the
islands of the Archipelago, the mud-banks of Torcello and Rivoalto,
they little thought that they were founding a city which was to be the
admiration of the whole world, that her navy would ride supreme in all
known waters, that Venice was to be the pride of the Adriatic. When
those early people, the Veneti, from whom the Venetians take their
name, drove in their first stakes and built their wattled walls,
they could not have foretold that this was to be the greatest of
mediæval republics, the centre of the commerce of Europe. Nature
helped Venice handsomely. Had the channels been deeper, men-of-war
might have entered and conquered the city. Had the waves been
stronger, the airy structure that we know as Venice would have been
supplanted by the ordinary commercial seaport. Had there been no tide,
for sanitary reasons the city would have been uninhabitable. Had the
tide risen any higher than it rose, there would have been no water
entrances to the palaces, the by-canals would have been filled up, and
the character of the place spoiled.

One's imagination is inclined to run riot in Venice. One gilds, and
romances, and fills the city with pomp and pageantry, ornamenting the
canals with State barges, the piazza with noble men and fair women,
and the Ducal Palace with illustrious Doges. But far more interesting
is it to see Venice as she really is, in her own simple strength.
Think of the more rugged Venice, that city built by strong and patient
men against such terrible odds, and in so wild and solitary a spot. In
order to gain some idea of Venice as she was in those early days, it
is well to go out in a gondola at low tide, when the canal is a plain
of seaweed. As your gondola makes its way down a narrow channel, you
have some conception of the difficulties with which the founders of
Venice had to contend. To the narrow strips of land, long ridges
guarding the lagoon from the sea, ill sheltered from the waves, the
few hundred stragglers came. Their capital, Padua, had been destroyed
by the northern hordes, and they took shelter in the islands of the
lagoon. So desolate and wind-swept were these islands that one can
scarcely imagine men disputing possession of them with the flocks of
sea-birds. They were impelled by no whim, however: they were exiles
driven by necessity. Here they looked for a temporary home, lived much
as the sea-birds lived, and were quite fearless. The soil, composed
chiefly of dust, ashes, and bitumen, with here and there a layer of
salt, was rich and fertile. This was in the fifth century of our era,
of which period there are but few Venetian records.

  [Illustration: OFF THE GIUDECCA]

Still, one thing is certain: the Veneti were not a primitive or
barbarous people. Fugitives as they were, they were for the most part
of high birth and associations. They had character and intelligence.
In their mud huts they possessed a social distinction and a
political training such as would have graced the most sumptuous of
palaces. In quite early days they began to put their heads together
and to form a definite system of polity. Year by year the little
community was added to. Battle and bloodshed continued on the
mainland, and men and women flocked to the islands. It is curious to
notice how rank and social distinction assert themselves. Blood will
out. Wherever human beings are gathered together, whether on the
islands of the Adriatic or on those of the South Seas, and however
sorry their plight or great their general misfortune, different grades
will become visible. Men and women will place themselves one above the
other, the master and the man, the mistress and the maid--such is the
law of humanity all the world over. Calamity did not in the long run
have much effect upon the higher class of refugees, and the position
of the lower classes was not bettered. Sympathy had levelled social
distinctions for a time; but that was not for long. Soon, in the
natural course of events, when the little colony grew into a city, and
the origin of the Veneti had faded almost into a tradition, the
various ranks became distinct. True, they lived as sea-birds live, one
kind of food common to both, and one kind of house sheltering both;
but the poor man and the rich did not live in equality.

As the community grew in importance they began to cultivate their
islands and to build unto themselves ships. By force of necessity,
they became expert in all matters of navigation, as agile on the water
as on land, fearless. They acquired a better means of navigation and a
wider knowledge of the lagoons than any other State possessed. Then
they began to be attacked. With great courage and determination,
Venice resisted all her foes--Gothic, Lombard, Byzantine, and Frank.
Her position was peculiar, vague. She acknowledged a certain
allegiance to the Court of Byzantium; yet by her acts she recognised
the supremacy of the kingdoms on the mainland. Neither Byzantium nor
Ravenna, and not Padua, could claim the lagoons. Venice was
marvellously diplomatic. She drew from East and West exactly what she
wanted to make her a nation by herself. While she pretended allegiance
to several empires, she was in reality struggling for independence. In
the stillness of the lagoon and the freedom of the sea air, the germs
of individuality grew and flourished. They had a congenial soil and
fitting nutriment. It is wonderfully interesting to watch the
progress of the little State--the diplomatic way she went to work:
how when she was weak and unable to stand alone she feigned allegiance
to a stronger Power, yet never bound herself by written word; how she
played one Power against the other; and how in the end, when
sufficiently strong, under the shelter of her various foster-mothers,
she struck out for freedom boldly.

There is a letter from Cassiodorus, Prefect of Theodoric the Great,
which throws light upon the relations of Venice with the Goths.
Theodoric endeavoured to veil his power over Venice under the guise of
alliance or of hospitality. At the time of the famine in 520 he came
to their rescue with provisions. This gave him a certain hold over the
Venetian people. It imposed upon them a debt which was not to be
easily discharged. A letter written by Cassiodorus in 523 is neither
more nor less than a demand to the Venetians to bring supplies of oil,
wine, and honey, which the islands possessed, to the Goths. The
letter, which is of florid style, is one long sneer veiled in delicate
flattery. Cassiodorus explains that the Venetians own certain ships,
that they are well built, that the sea is an easy path to them; and he
begs that the vessels will transport the tributes of Istria to the
shores of his country. By this letter one realises that the Venetians
had already a reputation as pilots and mariners, and knew well how to
thread in and out the channels of the lagoons. Theodoric was a
generous and powerful neighbour, and the only homage the Venetians
could give the Goths in return was their water service; but they felt
their weakness and dependence deeply, and were continually waiting for
an opportunity to better their position. Consequently, when the war
broke out, after Theodoric's death, between his successors and the
Greek Emperor, the Venetians struggled to make themselves of value,
and took an active share in the operations. They sided with the
Lombards, and conveyed a large reinforcement of Lombard mercenaries to
their destination. That was the beginning of their intimate connection
with Constantinople. Two churches were erected in commemoration of the
services of the islanders. These were built of costly materials,
probably obtained from buildings on the mainland which were partially
destroyed by the invaders. The Venetians were enabled to transport
these treasures in their ships.


Much to the anger of the Paduans, Venice was growing very rapidly, and
was gradually, by sheer competence, absorbing all the coast and
river trade. Longinus paid a visit to Venice, begging that she would
procure means of transport for his people. This was granted; but he
endeavoured to force the Venetians to accept the suzerainty of his
master, which was immediately refused in a grand and sovereign manner.
The Venetians declared that, amid much toil and labour, and in the
face of many hardships from Hun, Vandal, Goth, and Lombard, God had
helped and protected them in order that they might continue to live in
the watery marshes. They proudly stated that this group of islands was
an ideal habitation, and that no power of emperor or prince should
take it from them. It was impossible to attack them, they maintained,
unless by the sea; and of that they were assured masters. This
reception must have impressed Longinus. In place of a weak little
State requiring the protection of his country, he found the Venetians
a fierce and self-reliant people. He could obtain only a very vague
promise from the diplomatic Venetians. They would acknowledge the
Emperor as overlord, they said, but only on their word of honour: they
would take no oath of fealty. Still, the rule of the Lombard over
Venice was of longer duration than that of any other State.

A great trouble beset Venice at about this period. When the first
settlers began work on the islands, each little group had a separate
life, its people retaining as far as possible the customs, the
religion, and the constitution of their ruined homes on the mainland.
The largest townships which sprang up on the Lido were Heraclea,
Jesolo, and Malamocco. These gradually grew together into a federation
of twelve communes, each governed by its own tribune; and the tribunes
had regularly a general assembly for the settlement of such business
as affected the common interests of the lagoon. Jealousy and civil
feuds, however, sprang up among the islanders, as one after another
endeavoured to acquire supremacy. Heraclea tried to take the lead, and
to destroy Jesolo; but she in her turn was attacked, and razed to the
ground, by Malamocco. The civil trouble well-nigh caused the
destruction of Venice. The tribunes intrigued; family rose against
family, clan against clan; and there was terrible bloodshed. For
nearly two years and a half the Republic was in anarchy. The
constitutional evil sapped the general prosperity, obstructed trade
and industries, and brought property to havoc. Had it continued much
longer, the people would have frittered their strength away in
private quarrels, and the State of Venice might never have emerged;
but pressure from the mainland was brought to bear on Venice, and it
became necessary for the various committees to consolidate as one body
and sweep away the perils that were confronting them. The Lombards
were becoming bolder and bolder. The Monarchy grew and grew, and at
last the Republic of Venice feared that it might desire to add the
islands of the Adriatic to its dominions.


This awoke Venice from lethargy. It was the peril of the sea that
formed and completed her. The pressure was very severe. East and West
were beginning to ask her very plainly to choose on which side and
under whose protection she intended to place herself, and they did not
intend to wait long for an answer. Venice, subtle and diplomatic, put
off the evil hour as long as she possibly could; but her policy became
obvious soon. She could no longer feign fealty first to one Empire and
then to another, and meanwhile struggle for independence. The time had
come for action. The critical moment was at hand. Either she must put
herself under protection of the East or of the West, or declare her
independence. Any course was dangerous, perhaps fatal. Out of the
three possible issues, Venice chose the most perilous, severing
herself from both East and West. The result was fortunate. Thrown upon
her own resources, she saved herself by energy.

King Pippin invited Venice to join in a war. Venice refused, and
prepared to defend herself, trusting in the courage of her men and the
intricacy of the lagoon. From north and south King Pippin could
concentrate his forces upon Venice, and victory seemed easy; but he
had forgotten the natural defences of the sea-bound city. He did not
know the shoals and deeps of the sea home. A life's study would
scarcely have taught him. A certain noble assumed the lead of the
Venetian people. He commanded them to remove their wives, children,
and goods to a little island in mid lagoon--Rialto, impregnable from
land or sea. This done, the fighting men took up positions on the
outlying islands, and awaited the attack of the Franks. Pippin seized
on Brondolo, Chioggia, and Palestrina, and tried to press his squadron
on to the capital; but the shoals stopped him. His ships ran aground;
his pilots missed the channels; and the Venetians pelted them with
darts and stones. For six months Pippin struggled; but the Venetians
kept him at bay by their network of canals and their oozy
mud-banks. They shook off every assault. In the summer there came a
rumour that an Eastern fleet was approaching. Pippin tried one more
appeal to the Venetians, begging them to own themselves his subjects.
"For are you not within the borders of my kingdom?" he said. "We are
resolved to be the subjects of the Roman Emperor," they answered, "and
not of you." The King was forced to retire. This great victory seemed
to have the effect of consolidating the Venetians effectively. They
agreed thenceforward to work together for the common cause. War had
completed the union of Venice. She had emerged from her trial an
independent State. There was no more internal discord. Venetian men
and Venetian lagoons had made and saved the State. The spirit of the
waters, free, vigorous, and pungent, had passed during the strife into
the being of the people.

  [Illustration: AT CHIOGGIA]

This triumph was really the birth hour of Venice, and the people look
back upon it with joy. The victory over King Pippin is cherished to
this day as one of the finest events in history. The Venetians
realised the peril of the sea from this attack. Also they realised the
peril of the mainland from the Hunnish invasion. They then effected a
compromise, and chose as the future home of their State a group of
islands mid-way between the sea and the land, then known as Rialto,
but thenceforth to bear the proud name of Venice. Venice in this union
of her people declared her nature, so infinitely various, rich,
pliant, and free, that to this day she awakens and in some measure
satisfies a passion such as we feel for some person deeply beloved.
Her people then struggled to attain from infancy to manhood. For the
first time they had learned their own power, and union gave them
strength. They began to create their Constitution, that singular
monument of rigidity and durability which endured, with hardly a break
in its structure, for ten centuries. They built with vigour and
enthusiasm that incomparably lovely city of the sea. The aristocracy
of Venice emerged. Her empire extended, following the lines of her
commerce, in the East. St. Mark was substituted for St. Theodore as
patron saint. The crusades were used as a means to conquer Dalmatia,
and to plant the lion in the Greek Archipelago. Venice clashed with
Genoa, and emerged victorious. Wealth flowed into her State coffers
and her private banks. The island of Rialto proved the advantage of
its situation, and established a claim for gratitude as the
asylum of Venice in her hour of need. The Venetians had seen that the
mainland was unsafe, and the attack of Pippin showed that there was
danger on the sea. Thus, experience leading to the choice of the
middle point, in 810 the seat of the Government was removed to Rialto
under Angelo Badoer as Doge. Rialto became a sacrament of
reconciliation between Heraclea and Malamocco. It was the glory of
Venice that of all parts of Italy she alone remained unscathed by the
foreign ravages of the fifth century and the conquest of the eighth.
Venice alone was left out of all Italy's ruin. She alone escaped pure
and undefiled.

  [Illustration: CHURCH OF SAN GEREMIA]

This marvellous period of her history--the repulses of the Franks and
the creation of her State--requires no embellishments; yet the
Venetians loved to gather a mythology of persons and events.
Cannon-balls of bread, they say, were fired into the Frankish camp in
mockery of Pippin's hope of strong Rialto surrendering. Then, again,
there are the stories of the old woman who lured the invader to his
final effort when half his forces were lost; of the canal Orfano,
which ran with foreign blood, and won its name from the countless
Frankish hordes that day made desolate; of the sword of Charles, which
was flung into the sea when the Emperor acknowledged his repulse and
cried, "As this my brand sinks out of sight, nor ever shall rise
again, so let all thoughts of conquering Venice fade from out men's
hearts, or they will feel, as I have felt, the heavy displeasure of
God." All these stories were absolutely untrue; but they were born of
a pardonable pride.

The Venetians held their country in a singularly powerful devotion.
Possibly this was because they were so closely shut in on these few
little islands, precious morsels of land snatched from the devouring
sea. Certain it is that they toiled for the State as no other nation
has toiled before or since. They were determined that Venice should be
great, that she should be beautiful; and century after century of
Venetians devoted their lives to this work, sinking their own
interests in hers. The Republic was before everything. Wherever one
goes in Florence, one finds traces of great and famous men of all
periods and of all crafts--painters, poets, writers, statesmen,--in
every square, in every street, you are reminded of them; their spirits
and their works live with you wherever you may go. But in Venice,
where are they? There is the city--yes: there is that; and there are
the archives, the annals of the city, histories without number,
marvellous histories;--but the familiar figures, the great men that we
honour and look for,--they are not here. Venice herself was the centre
of all their aspirations, all their affections. She was erected as
would be a treasure-heap: all the choicest and all the best were
there. One knows but little, for example, of the great painters--the
men, with beautiful thoughts, who filled the churches and the palaces
with untold splendour, glowing sunshine. Their works are left, and
their names; but no more. It seems as if they must have kept one
another down, that Venice alone might shine.


If one wishes to study the history of Venice, there is no difficulty.
Historic documents without number are accessible. Every period, every
vogue, every year, is carefully studied and commented upon by keen
observers, men of the greatest talents. These records glow with life
and energy. In quite early days, when the Republic was in its
infancy,--when there was no aristocracy, no great and powerful
State,--even the fishermen and the merchants and the salt
manufacturers had a longing to chronicle the doings of the community.
The palaces which were being built, and the churches,--all these they
wished to have chronicled for ever. Numberless historians there were,
and all nameless--men of extraordinary skill and genius.
Embellishments and fables abound; but on the whole these histories,
written with great realism, bring back a vivid picture of the State.
No Venetian ever tires, ever did tire, of the history of his country.
It is the one subject that is of endless interest to him. The trade of
Venice, her ceremonies, her treaties, her money, the speeches of her
orators--all are chronicled.

  [Illustration: ON THE GRAND CANAL]

Venice was looked upon by Italy very much as we look upon America. She
had no long and glorious history--at least, no history of anything
beyond handicraft--no literature, no ancient manuscripts. The
Florentines, on the other hand, had a great enthusiasm for ancient
history. They were proud of their descent, and gloried in looking back
to a long Etruscan civilisation. When one visits Florence, there is no
difficulty in gathering knowledge concerning her great men of any
period. Their shadows walk in her streets; their memories will never
fade. You meet them everywhere--the painters, the monks, the gallants,
the statesmen,--the individualities of the men who were the makers of
Florence. The Venetians had no sympathy with the Florentines. They
could not understand the Florentine desire to live with the past
rather than the present. There are very few names which stand out
prominently in the history of Venice, names concerning which a great
deal is known; but there are one or two stories that are picturesque
and popular, stories which are ever fresh to the Venetians. One is of
a prince, the beheaded Doge Marino Faliero,--not at all an important
incident in Venetian history, but one that is very dear to the hearts
of the people, because of its melancholy. The prince was a man of
hasty temper and haughty nature, and could brook no slight to his
dignity. Once a bishop kept him waiting, and that worthy, for his
misdemeanour, received, to the astonishment of everyone, a sound box
on the ear. Before he came to the throne, Faliero was of great service
to the State. He was offered the throne of Venice at the age of
seventy-six, and married a young and beautiful woman. The story runs
that a young gallant called Michele Steno, having been turned out of
her presence, insulted the lady and her husband by pinning an impudent
message to the chair of the Doge. The young man was brought before the
"Forty," excused on the plea of his age and impetuosity, condemned to
prison for two months, and banished from Venice for a year
afterwards. This slight punishment for so grave an offence stung
Faliero to the quick. He felt that, though he occupied the Venetian
throne, he had scarcely more power than the beggar at his gate. All
his life he had been an active, energetic man, a ruler of men; his
word had been law, and his counsels listened to with respect and acted
upon. Now he was powerless. He was insulted by the young nobles, and
had no power to punish them; his authority was entirely disregarded.
This state of things grew worse and worse. Two of his old friends also
were insulted by noblemen. At last Faliero's temper could endure no
longer. In the April of 1355 he formed a conspiracy, and tried to
assert his supremacy. Six months after his triumphant arrival in
Venice as Doge, an old man and friendless, enraged at the insults
offered to him, he struck one mad and foolish blow for freedom. The
plot was betrayed on the eve of the catastrophe. The conspirators were
strung up in one long ghastly line on the piazza. Faliero himself was
beheaded at the foot of the stairs where a few short months before he
had sworn the _promissione_ on assuming the office of Doge.

  [Illustration: THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS]


On one occasion we arrived at Venice early in the morning. I was
frightened at the darkness and the stillness, and the tall black
houses looming high above us: it seemed that brigands must be lurking
there, ready to murder us. Absolute silence reigned, except for
mysterious sounds as if melodious voices were calling a refractory
dog--"Puppy," "Puppy," "Puppy," we heard on every side. It was the
warning of the gondoliers as they passed one another in the darkness.
I longed for some accustomed natural noise. If only something would
fall and make a splash! The silence set one's nerves on edge. We hired
a gondola, and glided swiftly and silently out into the darkness, our
gondolier's ringing voice joining the chorus of "Puppy." And so
dexterously did he handle his dainty craft that, even as we turned
corners and passed other gondolas in the pitch-black darkness, not a
sound was made, not a splash. I felt like beating the water with the
palms of my hands to make a disturbance. This silent gliding went on
for about twenty minutes, until suddenly we drew up by an enormous
silver-grey palace down a side canal, one of the largest palaces in
Venice, with broad marble steps and badly-made deal doors. After some
time the doors were opened, and an old lady appeared, bowing and
talking in rapid Italian. She led us up the steps and through a
colossal hall of marble, all marble, with staircases on either side
leading on to spacious landings, into a suite of rooms that seemed
more like the state apartments of a king than those of an ordinary

One of the first things I did when I awoke in the morning was to get
out on to the roof of the palace and look about me. I always ask to be
directed on to the roof when I arrive at a new place. And there I
remained the whole morning, painting, deaf to the pleadings of my
friends that I should come down and eat. It was the chimneys that
fascinated me! From the decorative standpoint they were quite
startling. Chimneys, chimneys, everywhere, and such chimneys--grouped
into pictures in every direction! There were clusters of twos, and
clusters of threes; and wherever there were spaces that could be used
for decoration they were used to the full. Each one of these chimneys
seemed to have its own particular character. Some bulged out at the
top in graceful lines; some were square and stolid; others were light
and airy. At the base of some bloomed a blaze of flowers from the roof
gardens. Each one was different. When I learned that a book had been
published on the chimneys of Venice I was not in the least surprised.

  [Illustration: PALACE IN A BY-CANAL]

When my friends were able to tear me away from chimneys we got into
our gondola and allowed the gondolier to take us where he pleased, to
drift about in the by-canals. I wanted my impressions of Venice to be
quite haphazard. We glided in the gondola past marble palaces--green
palaces, pink palaces, blue palaces, all toned and variegated with
age. Venice struck me as being a highly-coloured city, the most
brilliantly coloured I had ever seen. It was not, as most cities are,
merely a background for brightly-dressed figures: the buildings
themselves were coloured, and the gondolas and the figures were black
and sombre. Every wall, every doorway, was coloured. We glided past a
series of crazy old doorways of blues, greens, and vermilions. Each
door was broken with many changes of colour, and the red, rusty
ironwork above, just where it caught the sun, was of a rich golden
sienna. Certainly Venice is the most highly-coloured city in the
world. How different from the impressions one finds in Bond
Street--the vicious water-colours in which the artist always insists
on orange and vermilion sails and crisp, flowing reflections that have
been painted on slanting tables: the water-colours that are so sought
after and so saleable! That Venice is vividly coloured I admit; but
there is a scumble over the city. Age has toned it. The pink palace
reflected in the green water is totally unlike the pink palace of the
blobby water-colours. There are blues, and violets, and old-rose
tones, and a certain bloom in it that these artists never seem to
give. And to a certain extent these pictures handicap one: one feels
annoyed to think that Venice should be so caricatured. You see the
Bridge of Sighs at daybreak; you see the Salute by moonlight; and
somehow you cannot forget these eternal water-colours. There is a
certain resemblance, sufficient to irritate.

  [Illustration: THE ORANGE DOOR]

Indolence was upon us. Already we were becoming apathetic. There was
something about the atmosphere that encouraged a delightful
languor. The residents said it was the sirocco. The sirocco seemed
answerable for many deficiencies: it was always being blamed. Later,
when we came in touch with the artists, we found that it was the
normal excuse for not working. We discovered groups of them sitting
about in the square drinking, and when we asked them if they had done
any work they all said, "No: there is a sirocco on now: of course, we
can't work." Venice is overrun with artists; yet how few you see at
work! Here and there you will find a stray one in a gondola painting,
but very rarely. We were drifting about idly. Our gondolier was quite
a part of the picture--young, very handsome, with a musical voice. And
I began in a dreamy way to muse as I watched him. My thoughts went
back for the moment to the Thames--to an old gentleman toiling in a
punt. He was once a handsome young gondolier like this one, gracefully
piloting a gondola through the canals of Venice; but now he had grown
old on the Thames. There is no doubt that the gondola is made for
Venice: it is futile to try it elsewhere. And then the colour is
right. The gondola ought to be black. It became so naturally and as a
matter of economy. People used to spend too much money on their
gondolas, and colours had to be forbidden.

I was in a dreamy mood, and I began to wonder what became of the
handsome young gondoliers--they were all handsome and all young. They
could not remain so for ever. What became of the old ones? I soon
learnt. When gondoliers grew to be too old for their tasks they
drifted on to the landing-stages. There we saw them, with marvellous
crooks, catching the gondolas and drawing them into the proper places.
I examined these sticks, and was surprised to find that some of them
were of very great value. The gondolier prizes and decorates his stick
just as a bootblack tends his stand: only, where the bootblack has
coppers and bits of tinsel, the Venetian has pure gold coins dating
back to the time of the Doges. This love of collecting and cherishing
beautiful things is characteristic of the peasant people of Venice.
Women will spend their savings in inches of gold chain, which they
join together into long strings, and sometimes a woman will have
festoons of gold chain collected for two or three generations. It is
their way of investing money.

We drifted along all the afternoon through the canals, being hooked
on to different landing-stages by these old gentlemen; and we came to
the conclusion that this was really the end of our handsome gondolier.
We were anxious to meet the artists of Venice, and had been told of a
certain restaurant, the Panada, where they generally congregated.

In the evening, then, we landed, and went thither to dine. The artists
who went to the Panada, we had been told, were those who had "let
themselves go" more or less--who had been taken hold of by the sirocco
and had settled down to loafing. When they first arrived in Venice
they went to wine-shops, little dark places, and dined off macaroni
and harsh drink. The Panada was more or less organised for the
convenience of artists. In the first place, you were not bored by
having to tip waiters--a duty that is always trying to an artist who
is in between two exhibitions. And nearly all the Panada artists were
in that condition. They had nearly all had exhibitions in Bond Street
which had been "great artistic successes"--in other words, they hadn't
sold any pictures. Another point about the Panada that appealed to the
artist was that his bills could run on indefinitely. The bills did
run: in fact, the only things that seemed to be at all active in
Venice, in spite of the sirocco, were the bills. The Panada was a
paradise! Who could resist it? The cooking was excellent, as cooking
must always be where painters are, for they are very particular
people. The Panada was perfect; the Panada had a sanded floor; the
Panada was the noisiest restaurant in Italy. It was our first
experience of Bohemia, the painter's world, in Venice; and we sat
there, over our untouched dinner, fascinated--fascinated by the
general noise and confusion, fascinated even by the unsavoury smells.
It was not clean; there was a great deal of smoke, and so much talk!
The guests seemed to be screaming and talking at once in all the
languages of the world. Two words I heard continually--"breadth" and
"simplicity." Here and there was a little talk of "mediums" and
"technique," but not much. It was generally broad principles that were
discussed. There was no mistaking these groups of men. They were
artists to their finger-tips in everything save work. They dressed
like artists, talked like artists, and behaved like the artists one
reads about in novels: the Ouida artists. They wore neckties reaching
down to their waists, collars two sizes too large and cut very low;
their hands were always a little soiled, and their finger-nails never
quite clean. The waiters also were soiled. They were very toney
indeed, and very apathetic--toes turned inwards, heads bent slightly
forward. They were dejected from want of variety: there was no
uncertainty in the Panada as to tips. They came in on the aggregate
and received lump sums; but there was a general depression about the
people that waited. All were soiled at the Panada--the waiters, the
artists, and the linen. But we very soon began to talk of this dirt as
tone, and then it didn't seem to matter so much. Everything seemed to
be worked on more or less artistic principles. There were quaint
decorative dishes. The puddings were pink; the butter was stained; and
altogether it required great habits to enjoy food at the Panada. By
perseverance, I was told, it was possible to acquire an appetite.
There were tables of different sizes, and groups of artists belonging
to different sects--some antagonistic, some sympathetic: Dottists, and
Spottists, and Stripists. Sometimes when the Dottists and Spottists
happened to be friends for the minute they would join their tables
together and make one long one. But this was only now and then.
Usually the groups in the Panada were formed of twos. Often genius
sat alone. Now and then, when a big picture was sold, the restaurant
was very festive: the artist had a dinner-party, to which everyone had
been invited. But generally it was a small water-colour that was sold,
and the party went off to a small café down by a side canal. There was
one man who got himself up to look like King Charles, and he was King
Charles to the life! Long hair rested on his shoulders, and an
enormous tie adorned his neck; his trousers and waistcoat were
fringed, and his boots and beard were pointed. He had a coat of velvet
that through age had become marked with an opalescent mottle. If he
stood in front of an age-toned palace you never knew which was coat
and which was palace. He possessed no earthly goods, but paid his way
all over the world by painting portraits. He would either cut you out
in black paper for fivepence or draw an elaborate portrait in pastel
for one franc fifty. This celebrated man came up to us, and began to
paint our portraits. Before we knew where we were he had cut out,
dry-pointed, and stippled us; and melted away, leaving behind him a
whole tableful of works of art, side by side with his bill. Then
another man introduced himself to us, and explained that this was
quite the usual thing for "King Charles" to do. He pointed out
how romantic and interesting it all was: he seemed quite convinced
that the place was full of romance.


For us Bohemia had lost its romance. We felt that we had been green,
grass-green, and that (to use a vulgarism) the gilt was off the
gingerbread. The room was becoming stuffy; the Bohemians were noisy
and dishonest; and the waiters, no longer toney, were dirty. So we
paid our own bill and "King Charles's," and left the Panada and
romance for the open air.

In the piazza the band was playing the popular music that one knows so
well from the barrel organs. Instinctively one thought of London,
Soho, and performing monkeys. But this impression was swept away when
I saw the picture that presented itself before me in St. Mark's. What
an extraordinary change had come over the piazza since dinner! A swarm
of locusts might have settled upon Venice--a dark, seething mass,
clustering round the walls of St. Mark's and filling up every inch of
space. They were pilgrims from Russia, thousands of them--men, women,
and children--on their way to Rome--poor peasants who had saved up for
this pilgrimage during their whole lifetime, sleeping the sleep of
the righteous, their bodies pressed close against the holy walls of
St. Mark's as though for sympathy. It was a dark-coloured crowd, all
dressed in black, with big capes and long boots and little astrachan
caps,--a strong silhouette of black against the brilliant background
of St. Mark's. It was a marvellous picture, and pathetic. These
peasants seemed to be waiting for a greater, deeper joy, when they
would be transformed to new creatures and fly back to their native
land on the wings of a beautiful faith. The moon herself shone down
upon them caressingly, lighting up many a weary, travel-worn face,
turning their sombre hues to silvers, and greens, and violets. St.
Mark's, with this dark mass of people at her base, seemed almost
flippant by contrast.

  [Illustration: ST. MARK'S BASIN]

This was a night of contrasts! The dirt and filth of the little
restaurant, with its noisy Bohemians: and then the quiet night, a
clear, bright, silvery blue night such as one only sees in Venice; the
weary pilgrims and the sumptuous cathedral; the dainty lightness and
gracefulness of St. Mark's and the broad, simple, strong tower rearing
her head into the sky--the Campanile, now, alas! no more than a
memory. It was a picture such as you see but once in a lifetime. This
building of precious stones, one of the most beautiful in the
world, so rich with gold and mosaic, jewels, marbles, and lapis
lazuli, that even in the cold blue light of the moon and a few dim
gas-lamps it seemed to be dancing and sparkling with colour,--this,
and the sleeping peasants in their rags--what a contrast!

Then, again, what a contrast suddenly to turn from these dark groups
to the jewellers' shops and the huge windows full of glittering
Venetian glass! To see the gaily-dressed crowds sipping their coffee
outside Florian's famous café that had never been closed during three
hundred years! Here was nothing but brightness and gaiety. An
excellent band played in the middle of the piazza. Smartly-dressed
young men and military officers in pale blue uniform strolled about
the square, quite conscious that they were being regarded favourably
by girls and their mothers sitting at the coffee-tables. Florian's was
an ideal place for the artist. It was never shut. It was quite the
fashionable thing to drink coffee there after dinner, and one had the
chance of talking to one's friends and acquaintances. Fascinating
fruits were brought round to us--grapes, and figs, and almonds dipped
in caramel sugar and stuck on to sticks. The men smoked cigars as long
as those smoked in Burma. So capacious were they that they put them
on little stoves in the way a woman heats her curling-tongs, and by
the time they had drunk their coffee the cigars were probably alight.

When the band had stopped playing we went to Bauer's to drink beer.
And so ended a typical day in the life of an artist in that most
fascinating city on the waters.

  [Illustration: HOTEL DANIELI]

Thanks to the kindness of Mr. Bozzi, the manager of the well-known
Danieli's Hotel, who often piloted me about the intricate network of
streets, I became familiar with many of the unfrequented quarters,
which, as a rule, remain absolutely unknown to the tourist.

  [Illustration: PORTA DELLA CARTA]


In architecture one finds a history of Venice. It is the most definite
expression, the most faithful embodiment, of the local genius. It
presents realistically the daily life and thought and work of a bygone
race. The intense love of the early Venetians for colour shows itself
in the gleaming gold, the veined marble, and the white sculpture.
Another of their affections is symbolised by the frequent introduction
of children in the sculptured works. There are children of all
periods, of all appearances, illustrating various of the changes in
thought and in ideals that were continually coming to pass. Those of
the earlier time are sturdy, strapping youngsters, with a purposeful
look about them; whereas the children of the fifteenth century are
fat, chubby, and uninteresting.

In the early stage of her history Venice was a Greek rather than an
Italian city, and her buildings were of Byzantine type. That is
easily explained. During her first great period Venice was connected
by sea with Constantinople and the East, but cut off by the lagoons
and marshes from Lombardy and the rest of Italy. Only a few of the
Byzantine buildings remain. The period is principally marked by the
precious stones and coloured marbles encrusted in the brickwork, and
by the ancient reliefs inserted in the blank walls of churches and
houses. Among Byzantine buildings St. Mark's comes first. The existing
building began to be constructed at the close of the tenth century;
and Byzantine architects worked at it for nearly a hundred years. It
was largely remodelled afterwards, and was altered in decoration
during the different reactions of architecture; but the bulk of it
belongs to the early period, and is in the pure Byzantine style. Parts
of it remind one greatly of St. Sophia in Constantinople, on the lines
of which, I believe, St. Mark's was partially modelled. There were
many Gothic additions in the shape of pinnacles and pointed gables
above the chief arches, just sufficient intrusion of the Gothic
element to add a touch of bizarre extravagance; and in the sixteenth
century many of the old mosaics were superseded by jejeune Renaissance
compositions, of no decorative value, incongruous with the
general scheme. Nevertheless, the church as a whole, as I have said,
still remains essentially Byzantine. The main fabric of the façade
represents the original Byzantine Romanesque building, and is in
almost every particular similar to the picture of the church given in
the thirteenth-century mosaic. The turreted pinnacles and the false
gables are Gothic additions of the fifteenth century--merely screens
of decoration with no roof behind. The building is truly Oriental. In
the shape of a Greek cross with four equal arms, it faces west, and
has a high altar and a presbytery at the east end. It was first of all
the domestic chapel of the Doge's Palace, and then the shrine of the
body of St. Mark the Evangelist. Everywhere one sees the motto, "Pax
tibi, Marce, Evangelista mea" ("Peace to thee, Mark, my Evangelist").
There are the symbols of all the four evangelists,--Luke, a bull;
Mark, a lion; John, an eagle; Matthew, an angel. There are scenes from
the life of Christ--the Adoration of the Magi and Annunciation to the


Venice in the Byzantine period must have been a city of great
architectural wealth and splendour,--far in advance of other Italian
towns, although, of course, destitute of the engineering glories of
France and Germany. One can tell this by the few remaining Byzantine
palaces,--very few of them are purely Byzantine. There is the
magnificent Palazzo Loredan, one of the most beautiful of all the
palaces on the Grand Canal, and a splendid example of the Byzantine
Romanesque period. It has about it a distinct tinge of Oriental
feeling; the capitals of some of the columns are exquisitely
beautiful, and there are not many Gothic alterations. Next to this
palace comes the Palazzo Farsetti, Romanesque of the twelfth century,
simpler in style and with less ornamentation. It is really more nearly
pure Romanesque than Byzantine, and shows no Oriental influence
whatever. It is graceful and dignified. The "Fondaco dei Turchi," a
very early Byzantine Romanesque palace, assumed its name in the
seventeenth century, when it was let to the Turkish merchants of
Venice. Originally a twelfth-century palace, it has recently been so
much restored as to have lost all its air of antiquity and the greater
part of its earlier interest, although it still represents
symbolically the splendid homes of the Byzantine period. It is much
like St. Mark's, and is the only surviving example of a building all
in one style. The arches, the capitals, the shafts, the parapets
and decorative plaques, are modernised, to be sure; but they are
typical if not original, and give one a very good idea of what the
Grand Canal must have been like before the invasion of the Gothic
style and the Renaissance.

  [Illustration: A FAMOUS PALAZZO]

One gleans a very good idea by means of these palaces of how extremely
civilised and peaceful Venice must have been at that early period. In
northern Europe the homes of mediæval nobles were dark and gloomy
castles built mainly for defence, having single heavy oak doors
studded with nails, and great iron gates and drawbridges; there were
no openings in the ground floors, and the windows above were small and
grated. For Venice such fortifications were unnecessary. Her palaces
were airy and graceful; for she was protected from the outside by her
moat of lagoons, and from the inside by her strong internal
Government. These ancient buildings, the "Fondaco dei Turchi" and the
rest, were even then gentlemen's palaces, always open and undefended,
the homes of pleasure, with free means of access, broad arcades,
plenty of light, and presenting a general air of peace and security.

It is interesting to notice the later Venetian architecture (as
exhibited in the Libreria and the Procuratie Vecchie), developed from
this early open and airy style. The native Venetian ideal seems to
have traversed all styles, and persisted through them all in spite of
endless architectural changes. The Grand Canal was the street of the
nobles--the finest street in the world, in the way of architectural
beauties. From end to end there are palaces of all periods, from the
Byzantine time to the eighteenth century, and all are palaces of the
ancient Venetian nobility. The Grand Canal is to Venice what the
Strand is to London and the Rue St. Honoré to Paris. It is the most
wonderful street in the world. There is nothing so bizarre, so
fairy-like, to be seen in any other city through the length and
breadth of the globe. It is a marvellous book wherein every family of
the Venetian nobility has signed its name. Every wall tells a story;
every house is a palace; each was erected by some well-known
architect. Pietro Lombardo, Scamozzi, Sansovino, Sammichele (the
Veronese), Selva, Vissenti--these were the men who drew the plans and
directed the construction of the houses; but unknown architects of the
Middle Ages built some of the most picturesque.


There were palaces of all styles. After a palace of the
Renaissance comes one belonging to the Middle Ages in Gothic Arab
style, much like the Ducal Palace, with balconies, lancet windows, and
trefoils. Then there will be a palace adorned with great plaques or
medallions of differently coloured marbles; anon a great bare sweep of
rose-toned wall. All styles are here--Byzantine, Saracen, Lombard,
Gothic, Roman, Greek, and Rococo--fanciful capitals, Greek cupolas,
mosaic and bas-relief, classic severity combined with the elegant
fantasy of the Renaissance.

It is a gallery open to the sky, full of the art of seven or eight
centuries. Think of the genius and money and talent expended on this
one street by brilliant artists and munificent patrons! The Grand
Canal was originally one of the navigable channels by whose aid the
waters found their way, through the mud-banks, past the mouth of the
Lido to the open sea. It is the original deep water which first
created Venice. Up this canal the commerce of all countries used to
reach the city in the days of her splendour. The Rialto, the most
beautiful bridge in Venice, bestrides the canal in a single span. It
was built by Antonio da Ponte. There are two rows of shops upon it;
and one of the most picturesque scenes in the Grand Canal lies round
about it--old houses with platformed roofs, bulging balconies, and
stairways with disjointed steps.

It is interesting to watch how Byzantine architecture gave place to
Gothic when Venice began to conquer on the Italian mainland. Thus
Gothic architecture came in, and the conquest of Padua and Verona
completed it. The term "Gothic" is very elastic; but there are certain
points by which one can tell whether a building is Gothic or not. It
is Gothic if the roof rises in a steep gable high above the walls; if
the principal windows and doors have pointed arches and gables; if it
has a steep roof; if the arches are foliated--that is to say, if the
shapes of different leaves are cut into the stone to form a species of
delicate tracery like lacework, letting in the daylight. Foliation is
especially characteristic of Gothic architecture; some of the windows
in Westminster Abbey are foliated. Gothic architecture is very rough
and loose and irregular; yet it has a wonderful tenderness and
variation of design. Changeableness and variety are the great
requirements of perfect architecture. One should be enabled to derive
just as much pleasure and instruction from looking at a perfect piece
of architecture as from reading one of the finest of classic
books. Gothic architecture is essentially truthful and naturalistic.
The architects of this period were peculiarly fond of vegetation,
which is a sign of gentleness and refinement of mind. Gothic is
principally independent. It juts out continually with many pinnacles;
there is nothing broad, or uniform, or smooth, about a Gothic
building; it is variable, rough, and jutting, though, nevertheless,
graceful in the extreme. The materials were rougher then than in the
time of the Byzantine architecture, and to atone for this it was
necessary to introduce much workmanship.


The artists were enthusiastic in their love of Nature, and felt deeply
all her changing and complex moods. For example, you may see the
difference between a Renaissance and a Gothic palace by imagining the
surroundings of the former, its background, gone. It would then be
deprived of its charm; whereas if you took a Gothic palace and placed
it anywhere, it would still be beautiful.

The Ducal Palace expresses the Gothic spirit to perfection. It was the
great work of Venice at this period. The best architects, the best
labourers, and the best painters were employed in beautifying it. At
one time the palace fell into decay, and it was obvious to everyone
that it should be rebuilt and enlarged. But the alteration would be
extremely expensive. Therefore a law was passed preventing anyone
suggesting such alterations unless he had previously paid one thousand
ducats to the State. At last a man arose who cared not for the
thousand ducats, and suggested the necessary alterations. The palace
was then rebuilt. It was palace, prison, senate-house, and office of
public business, all in one. There were thirty-six great pillars
supporting the lower stories alone, all decorated in the richest
possible manner. There was no end to the fantasies of the sculptors at
that period--exquisite curves, studied outlines, graceful but complex,
solid and strong and beautifully proportioned braided work; lilies and
flowers of all kinds intertwined. Much of the sculpture is snow-white,
with gold as a background; some of it has glass mosaic let into the
hollows. The cross is used a good deal; also the peacock, the vine,
the dove.

  [Illustration: THE DOGANA AND SALUTE]

The palace of Semitecolo has some beautiful early-Gothic windows,
having false cusps in the arches, so as to make the head a trefoil.
One sees here the gradual growth of the arch until it culminates in
the Doge's Palace type. There are beautiful balustrades to the
balconies, original and belonging to the period. In the
early-Gothic palaces one notices a certain softening of the
angles--that is to say, in the fine fourteenth-century Gothic
buildings. The early Gothic architecture has no cusps to the arches;
it shows a transitional form between Venetian Romanesque and Venetian
Gothic. There are first-floor arcades early-Gothic, with a somewhat
Oriental curve in the arch derived by the early Venetian Gothics from
Alexandria or Cairo. The capitals of the columns are characteristic of
the period: there are dainty balconies with graceful, slender columns,
and cusps to the arches.

These Gothic palaces were built by a people who were laborious, brave,
practical, and prudent; yet they had great ideas of the refinement of
domestic life, and the Gothic palaces remain to-day much the same as
when they were newly built--marble balconies, great strong sweeps of
delicate-looking tracery, clustered arches. It is the Gothic window
that is so perfect, so strong,--built, too, with material that was by
no means good.

There is so much rivalry, vanity, dishonesty, in the present day, that
houses are badly and cheaply built; even in the best of them, bad iron
and inferior plaster are used. How many of them, I should like to
know, will be standing fifty years hence? Mr. Ruskin is much against
our modern windows and the manner in which they are quickly
constructed out of bad materials, and the bricks all placed one on top
of the other slanting anyhow. The doors of Gothic palaces are all
semicircular above. At one time the name of the family was placed over
the entrance, and a prayer inserted for their safety and
prosperity,--also a blessing for the stranger who should pass the
threshold. Inside the houses there is always a large court round which
all the various rooms circle, with a beautiful outside staircase
supported on pointed arches with coned parapets and projecting
landing-places. In the court there is always a well of marble superbly


The centres of the early Renaissance architecture were Florence,
Milan, and Venice. Venice is the only city in which important examples
of all three periods of the Renaissance are to be found--the early
period, the culminating period, and the period of decay. The
Renaissance found better expression in Venice than elsewhere in Italy.
In fact, when Florence and Rome had entered upon quite another period,
Venice continued it for fully twenty-five years longer. The Venetians
were ambitious, exceedingly so; and this ambition was a source of
great trouble to the rest of Italy. The balance of power seemed, in
their opinion, to be weighing too heavily in the direction of the
Queen of the Adriatic; and the peace of the peninsula, they felt, was
not by any means assured. The greatest period for Venice was at the
end of the fifteenth century, when she had conquered all the land
about her from Padua nearly to Milan, and seawards to Dalmatia and
Crete. In the market-places of Padua, Vicenza, Verona, and Brescia,
the Lion of St. Mark was set up as a sign of the subjugation. Even now
one can trace the influence of Venice upon the art of these various
places. But the Venetians certainly learnt a great deal from the
people whom they conquered. Other influences were brought to bear upon
Venetian architecture--as, for example, the Lombardi family, who
probably belonged to some part of Lombardy. Venice seems at this time
to have gathered unto herself many fine suggestions from the rest of
Italy. In fact, Venice absorbed talent from the rest of the world. In
quite early days she adopted Byzantine and Arabic architecture; then,
in the sixteenth century, she took unto herself the art of the
Milanese, who enriched the city with their work.

A truly Renaissance building did not appear in Venice until sixty
years after the first was erected in Florence, and then, strangely, it
had little of the Florentine character. This, after all, is not
extraordinary when one comes to think of the bitter war between
Florence and Venice in 1467. She took her style of architecture from
the countries which she had conquered and naturalised, such as the
district of Lombardy; and in her turn she influenced them. The
adoption of the Greek forms of Roman architecture which originated in
Florence gradually spread and reached Venice; but the Venetians did
not struggle, as did the Florentines, to revive and purify Roman
architecture. Simply the tendency of the general taste inclined in
that direction, and gave to their own Venetian forms of architecture a
certain classic air. In the general form of the work of this period
one cannot detect the classical influence; but, if you examine into it
carefully, you will notice in small details, such as a capital, that
some classical subject has been introduced in place of the usual
symbolical one. You will also detect in purely Gothic composition
signs of the new art influence. For example, in the mouldings there is
an introduction of cupids among the foliage, and all the strange
fables and gods of the heathen are represented there. This was the
period when people were becoming more learned. Later, buildings were
erected on purely classical lines; yet they still kept to the Gothic
arch. Bartolomeo Buono of Bergamo was one of the greatest architects
of his time. In 1520 the work of another architect was noticeable--that
of Guglielmo Bergamasco.

The question of the church exterior was one of the most difficult
problems of the early-Renaissance architect, and he never solved it
quite. The churches of Venice nearly all belong to the Renaissance;
there were many of them rebuilt under the influence of either
Palladian or Jesuit style. Palladio was a great architect; but he had
nothing of the Catholic feeling. He was really more suited to build a
pagan temple than to build a Christian church. The Jesuit style,
moreover, is horrible, with its stumpy columns, bloated cherubs,
unhealthy affectations, and fiery ornaments. It is a display without
beauty or grace, merely overloaded and heavy. The church of the Scalzi
is of extravagant richness. The walls are encrusted with coloured
marble; there are frescoed ceilings by Tiepolo and Sansovino; bright
tones prevail--more appropriate to a ballroom than to a house of
prayer. One can quite imagine a minuet under such a ceiling. Many of
the churches in Italy are built in this style, and are compensated
only by the number and interest of the valuable objects which they
contain. Almost every church has a museum such as would honour the
palace of a king. There one sees Titians, Paul Veroneses, Tintorettos,
Palmas, Giovanni Bellinis, Bonifazios. The church of the Scalzi has a
broad staircase in red brocatelle of Verona, with truncated columns in
marble, gigantic prophets, stone balustrades, and doors of mosaic. The
Romanesque churches are really beautiful, with their pillars of
porphyry, antique capitals, images standing out upon a glitter of
gold, Byzantine mosaics, slender columns, and carved trefoils. The
church of Santa Maria della Salute has been made famous by the picture
of her by Canaletto in the Louvre. One of the most beautiful things
within is a ceiling by Titian. Venetian arabesque ornament of the
Quattri cento is tenderly sculptured, and the friezes are undercut in
a reverent and delicate manner.


One of the most beautiful palaces of the Grand Canal is the Palazzo
Corner-Spinelli. It is especially noticeable because of the number of
windows in the basement,--there is no observable order in the placing
of them. Then, again, there are contrasts in the shape of
balconies. Some are small and curved inwards; others are long and
straight. In 1481 the palaces became of a more advanced character. The
central windows were grouped together; but this last feature is
characteristic of Venetian architecture of all periods. One of
Sammichele's finest works is the Palazzo Grimani, on the Grand Canal.
It was carried out by others after Sammichele's death; nevertheless,
it is very fine. It has great dignity and majesty, and is a
composition such as will be found in Venice alone.

Venice is, architecturally, the most interesting city in Italy. It
contains works of all periods, from the early Christian foundation to
the eighteenth century; and perhaps the best examples of each are
there. First there was the school of the Lombardi; next, that of
Sammichele and Sansovino, quite distinct, an influence direct from
Rome. Then came, closely following, the schools of Palladio and
Scamozzi; and a fourth is that of the seventeenth-century artists, who
did good work in Venice, but on different lines. The best example of
this late period in Venice is Santa Maria della Salute, erected in
token of the cessation of the plague. It is situated at the sea gate
to the presence-chamber of the Queen of the Adriatic. Few churches of
any age can rival it architecturally. The composition is mainly

The barocco style is nowhere so appalling as in Venice. It is most
untruthful and unprincipled in character. There is a great deal of
ostentation and bombastic pomp about it. A terrible example of this
can be seen in Doge Valiero's tomb, where the marble is made to
imitate silk and cloth wherever possible.

The Palazzo Pesaro was built, rich and gross, typical of the domestic
Renaissance, when architecture tended to decay. Technically it is a
most inferior building. The figures in the sculpture are spasmodic in
action, and restless; there is a projecting, diamond-like rustication,
far too bold in treatment. The angles are an exaggeration of the style
of Sansovino.

  [Illustration: PALAZZO MENGALDO]

There are three great causes of the decadence of Venetian
architecture. First of all, it was started by purists who were bound
too firmly to ancient usages, too much regulated by precedent,
coldness, and formality. Secondly, a more disastrous influence was
brought to bear--that of Michael Angelo, the example of freedom to the
verge of licence. This revolution was brought about partly by the
revolt of the public feeling against the restrictions of the
purists, partly by real want of knowledge and failure to understand
traditional weaknesses and systems of design with regard to
construction. The purpose and use of features was misunderstood;
uncontrolled freedom was allowed; ornament was added for its own sake,
instead of being bound up in architectural lines. By such freaks and
caprices almost every building at this time, though not ignoble in
composition, was completely disfigured. Thirdly, the architects made
the fatal mistake of using the excrescences of a weakness of the great
masters and endeavouring to raise them to the dignity of features of
design. Thus Venetian architecture withered and decayed, fading out
into a pale shadow of what it had once been. That glorious art, which
had once been so superb in the hands of the masters, sank into the
execution of feigned architecture, false perspective, and fictitious
grand façades, with bad statues in unreal relief.

  [Illustration: OSPEDALE CIVILE]

  [Illustration: ST. MARK'S]


When you arrive before the Church of St. Mark's you realise that at
last, after all your travels throughout the length and breadth of the
globe, you have before you a building in which colour and design unite
in forming perfection. Here stands without a shadow of doubt the
finest building in the world, flawless. It is impossible to imagine
that St. Mark's has been built stone by stone, that the brains of mere
men have designed it, and that the hands of mere men have set it up.
It must, you think, have been there from all time just as it
is,--formed as the bubble is formed, and the opal. It is a revelation
to look upon such perfect symmetry, such glorious colouring. Like an
opal, St. Mark's shows no sign of age. It glitters like a new jewel,
and might have been built but yesterday. Unlike most churches, it has
no sombre, frowning air. Its spires do not launch themselves into the
sky. It does not bristle with towers and arched buttresses. Rather the
building seems to stoop and crouch. It is surmounted by domes, as is a
Mohammedan mosque, and is a strange mixture of Oriental ornamentation
and Christian symbolism. Horses take the place of angels; grace and
splendour, the place of austerity and mystery. Who ever heard of gold,
alabaster, amber, ivory, enamel, and mosaic being used in the
construction of a Christian church? Who ever heard of dolphins,
tridents, marine shells, trefoils, cupolas, marble plaques,
backgrounds of vividly coloured mosaics and of gold? It is more like a
fairy palace, or an Alcazar, or a mosque, than a Catholic church; more
like an altar to Neptune than one to the Christian God.

  [Illustration: PALAZZO DANIELI]

The ultimate result of this apparent incoherence is a harmonious
whole. Reverence and Christianity are here--an absolute and living
faith. Even the most devout Catholic has no cause for complaint. With
all its pagan art, St. Mark's preserves the character of primitive
Christianity. The exterior is extremely complicated. There are many
porticoes, each with columns of marble, jasper, and other precious
materials; many mosaics on grounds of gold over each doorway;
many historic stories and legends that these mosaics represent;
many fantastic forms of angelic beasts, saints, Byzantine and
Middle-Ages bas-reliefs, magnificent bronze doors, arcades, lamps,
peacocks--so many that it is impossible to attempt to describe them in
detail. Even to tell of the delicate structure and the subtle,
ever-changing, iridescent colour is beyond me. It is almost
bewildering when one thinks that at the time St. Mark's was built
every house in every side street had much of the same extravagant
richness, beauty of colouring, and superb architecture. As Mr. Ruskin
says, it is absurd to imagine that churches were designed in a style
particularly different from that of other buildings. There is nothing
specially sacred in what we call ecclesiastical architecture. All the
houses were built much in the same way. Only, while the houses have
fallen into decay, the church has been preserved by a devoted
populace. It is not often that one sees a coloured building, a
building teeming with colour; but St. Mark's vibrates with colour.
There are no blank spaces of grey stone. Every square inch is

When one enters from the bright sun, St. Mark's appears dim and dark;
but you must not judge by that. To appreciate its beauties, the
student should visit the church day after day. Gradually they will
unfold themselves. That is what constitutes one of the charms of St.
Mark's. It is as though one were in a carved-out cave of gold and
purple, on a voyage of discovery all by oneself. At first you can see
nothing; but as your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, colours
begin to grow upon you out of the gloom. Some minutes must elapse
before you realise that the floor, which at first you took to be of a
deep-toned grey stone, is a mosaic composed of thousands of
differently coloured marbles--that you are walking on precious marbles
of peacock hues. Golden gleams above your head attract you to the
domed ceiling, and, to your delight and amazement, you discover that
it is formed entirely of gold mosaic. You are passing a dim recess,
and you see a blurred mass of rich colour; after a time you realise
that you are looking at a famous masterpiece by one of the great
Italian painters. You sit there as in a dream; and one by one the
pictures and the mosaics, the Gothic images, the cupolas, the arches,
the marbles, the alabaster, the porphyry, and the jasper appear to
you--until what was darkness and gloom appears to be teeming and
vibrating with colour.

  [Illustration: FRANCESCA]

St. Mark's carries one away from the everyday world. On the ignorant
and the uninitiated it has a marvellous effect. Men and women and
children flock to it by the thousands daily. Many and fervent are the
worshippers one sees praying before some special saint or beloved
Madonna. Some are weeping, and others kneel for hours on the cold
stones. The unhappy people of Venice have many sins and sorrows, and
there is much that is comforting to them in this rich, majestic
church. The fainting spirit is revived and the most desperate person
stimulated as he looks about him at the sparkling mosaic roof, the
rich walls, and the dimly burning lamps. There is much in precious
stones, music, sculptured figures, in pictures of heaven and hell,
that appeals to these people. An infinite and pitiful God somewhere
about them, these peasants of poor imaginations cannot understand.
They want a faith that they can cling to--almost something that they
can finger and touch. St. Mark's is to the poor of Venice like a
beautifully illustrated Bible. There, in the cupolas, the story of the
Old Testament is presented in mosaic, plainly for every eye to see,
for the youngest and least educated to understand. It touches them,
and appeals to them, and keeps their faith burning bright and clear.
There they have the seven days of creation represented,--mysterious,
weird, and primitive,--discs of gold and silver representing the sun
and the moon. There are the Tree of Knowledge, the Temptation, the
Fall, and the Expulsion from Paradise. Then comes the slaying of Abel
by Cain, Adam and Eve tilling the ground. There is a strange mosaic of
the Ark, with the animals going in two by two on a background of gold;
there are the stories of Abraham, of Joseph, and of Moses, all
quaintly executed, full of detail and without regard to anatomy. There
is no struggle to imitate Nature, and the colouring is good.

In the time when St. Mark's was built there were no cheap Bibles, and,
if there had been any, the poorer classes could not have read them.
Thus the great Church was an endless boon to them, one which could
never be quite exhausted. Many and splendid are the lessons these
mosaics and pictures taught and continue to teach. The mysteries and
beauties of the Bible are impressed upon the mind in a manner that
cannot be effaced. All the virtues are there--Temperance quenching
fire with water; Charity, mother of the virtues, and the last attained
in human life; Patience; Modesty; Chastity; Prudence; Lowliness of
Thought, Kindness, and Compassion; and Love which is Stronger than
Death. These lessons the Venetians have continually before them, to
help them to bear the troubles of this world, and giving them hope for
the peace of another. Most of the pictures in mosaic are typically
Byzantine, mainly symbolical and of the first school of design in
Venice. Upon these pictures the people of Venice live and thrive
spiritually: the pleasure is real and pure. Colour has a great
influence upon the emotions, just as music has; and colour was used in
the earliest times to stimulate devotion and repentance. There are
pictures in which the most profound emotion is expressed. When one
sees the pictures of Christ's life and passion, one cannot but be

By the medium of paintings in the churches, people began to understand
and appreciate art, and to feel the need of it in their homes. Not
only is St. Mark's an education to the poor and the ignorant: it is
also an education to the student and to the artist. Here you have
pictures of the nation of fishermen at their greatest period; also you
find legends splendidly told, such as the story of the two merchants
who brought the bones of St. Mark from Alexandria under cover of
pork, crying "Swine! swine!" You see the priests, the Doge, and the
people of Venice as they were in the days of her power.

In one of the dim corners of St. Mark's is a statue of an old man on
crutches with a finger on his lip. This is a Byzantine architect who
was sent to Pietro Orseolo from Constantinople, as the cleverest
Eastern builder of his time, to construct St. Mark's Church. He was a
bow-legged dwarf, and undertook to build this marvellous edifice,
unequalled in its beauty, on condition that a statue of himself should
be placed in a conspicuous position in the Church. This was arranged.
One day the Doge overheard the architect say that he could not execute
the work in the way he had intended. "Then," said Orseolo, "I am
absolved from my promise"; and he merely erected a small statue of the
architect in a corner of the Church.

  [Illustration: ST. MARK'S PIAZZA]

Think of the makers of St. Mark's--the great men who worked together
with brains and hands to make her what she is! The army of artists,
painting, designing, sculpturing, one after the other from generation
to generation in this great cathedral! Titian, Tintoretto, Palma,
Pilotto, Salviati, and Sebastian were among the painters whose
designs were used for the mosaics; Bozza, Vincenzo, Bianchini,
and Passerini, among the master mosaicists; Pietro Lombardo,
Alberghetti, and Massegna, among the sculptors. Then, the other
thousands, all men of extraordinary talent, of whom astonishingly
little is known, fervent workers! Throughout eight centuries they
worked, and with what care and skill and patience! At what a cost,
too, these masterpieces must have been achieved! Think of the temples
and the quarries that have been robbed of their gold, and of the
marbles, the alabaster, and the porphyry. All the saints and prophets
and martyrs are there; the stories of the Virgin, of the Passion, and
of Calvary; all the scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

The early Venetians seem to have revelled in colour and in rich
materials. The builders laid on the richest colour and the most
brilliant jewels they could find. They were exiles from ancient and
beautiful cities, and when they succeeded in war their first thought
was to bring home shiploads of precious materials. Just as the
Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Arabs had an intense love of colour, so
had the early Venetians, who used precious stones in great abundance,
even in their own private houses. A most extraordinary thing is that
there is nothing vulgar about the costliness of St. Mark's. Although
both inside and out it is rich beyond words, rich in precious stones,
rich in every way, the building is full of reserve. There is no
ostentation, no vulgarity. The jewels used in its construction do not
for one moment interfere with one's sense of the beautiful, or with
reverence and religion. They simply give a rare luxurious feeling to
the place, and in the ignorant inspire respect for a Church thus
encased and honoured with the richest in the land.

Then, again, the jewels do not form a principal part of the
ornamentation. One looks first at the exquisite workmanship; and
afterwards are noticed the precious materials, which form a
subordinate part and do not interfere with the design. It is almost as
though a veil had been swept over the whole building, both inside and
out, bringing together this wealth of colour and forming it into a
complete whole. It has the effect of a marvellous glaze--of a picture
that has had a thin glaze swept over it. Wherever you look, the Church
teems with colour; but it seems to be piercing through a veil. It is
not vivid positive colour, but colour breaking through a skin. In the
East I have seen millions of pounds' worth of jewels in one heap,
with the sun shining on them, and I was overpowered with this wealth,
I was inspired with their costliness;--but St. Mark's does not affect
you at all in this way. Rich man and peasant are alike in this
respect: they are elevated and stimulated in that building, not
because of its costliness, but because of its extreme beauty. The
technique is marvellous, but not obvious: the moment you are conscious
of technique you may be sure that the work is poor. You never wonder
how St. Mark's was built; and that is the highest tribute to the
marvellous arts which it expresses.

  [Illustration: SCUOLA DI SAN MARCO]

  [Illustration: A QUIET WATERWAY]


One of the chief characteristics of the Venetian school of painters,
and one of the most attractive to all art lovers, is their great
appreciation of colour. In most of their work colour seems to be the
chief motive. Pictures by Venetian painters never suggest drawings.
They strike you not as having been coloured afterwards, but as having
been painted essentially for the colour. One sees this throughout the
whole school. And in their paintings they do not go to extremes. There
is no exaggeration in their colouring. They do not err, as do so many
schools, either on the foxy-red side or on the cold steely colouring.
Unfortunately, much of the beautiful colouring of these pictures is
lost by age. One has to become accustomed to that ugly brown skin
which has formed upon the surface before one can realise what great
colourists these early Venetians really were. The pictures somehow
cause one to resent oil as a medium. One realises how different they
must have looked when fresh from the easel, and wishes that these
great masters could have painted with a medium more lasting--as did
the Chinese, whose works are as young and fresh now as if they had
been painted yesterday: the years have left no trace whatever: the
simple colouring is the same to-day as it was a hundred years ago.
Many of the earlier paintings, those of the Gothic Venetians, the
less-known men, are a good deal better preserved. Their canvasses have
not turned black; the glazings have not departed; and there is no
smoky film upon them, as in the case of the works of the great
masters, such as Titian, Tintoretto, and Giovanni Bellini, men who
came a hundred years afterwards. It may very possibly be that the
pigment which painters used then was purer and less adulterated.
Certainly one sees in the various schools all over the world that the
older the pictures are the better preserved they are. Age never
improves a picture--unless, indeed, it is an extremely bad one, when
time serves as a thin veil.

  [Illustration: CANAL PRIULI]

Undoubtedly these great colourists, the Venetians, influenced the
various schools of painters all over the world, and are still
influencing them. Originally they worked for the churches, and colour
was used exactly as music was used--to appeal to the senses, to the
emotions: to influence the people, to teach them biblical stories and
parables. It also educated the people to understand painting and to
feel the need of it in their daily lives.

At about this time the Renaissance began to express itself, not only
in poetry and other literature, but also in paintings; and it found
clearer utterance in Venice than elsewhere. The conditions at this
time were perfect for the development of art. Venice at that period
lent herself to art. She was at peace with the whole world, and she
was prosperous. The people were joyous, gay, and light-hearted. They
longed for everything that made life pleasant. Naturally, they wanted
colour. And Venice was not affected by that wave of science which
swept over the rest of Italy. The Venetians were not at all absorbed
in literature and archæology. They wanted merely to be joyous. This
was an ideal atmosphere for the painter. Such a condition of things
could not but create a fine artistic period. The painter is not
concerned with science and learning, or should not be. Such a
condition of mind would result in feeble, academical work--in
struggling to tell a story with his medium, instead of producing a
beautiful design. That is partly why the Venetian school has had such
a strong influence on art, even until the present day. The conditions
were perfect for the development of art, because the patrons were
capable of appreciating beautiful form and beautiful colour. Because
the public would have it, this new school of painters appeared. The
demand was created, and the supply came.

There was undoubtedly great friction among the painters of this
period, exactly as there has been lately with the modern
impressionists and the academic painters. Some of the old Venetians
resented the new school that was springing up; but they had eventually
to bend and try to paint in sympathy with the senses and emotion of
their patrons. You find this new mode of thought expressed strongly
even in the churches and in the treatment of religious subjects. The
old ideals were altered. Men no longer painted saints and Madonnas as
mild, attenuated people. The figures were lifelike and full of
actuality. The women were Venetian women of the period dressed in
splendid robes and dignified; the men were healthy, full-blooded, and
joyous. Florence, however, at this particular period was undergoing
quite a different mood. The Florentines preferred to express
themselves in poetry and in prose. That was the language the masses
understood. Painting was not popular. There has always been a literary
atmosphere about Florence, and one feels it there to this day; it is
essentially the city for the student.

When painting became so much a vogue in Venice, painters began to try
and perfect the art in every possible way. They struggled for
actuality. Art began to develop in the direction of realism. The
Venetians wanted form and colour in their pictures; but they wanted
also a suggestion of distance and atmosphere. In those early pictures
you find that painters smeared their distance to give it a blurred
look. That was the beginning of perspective. Painters of this period
seem to have been marvellously modern. They were quite in the
movement. There has never been any attempt at harking back to earlier

Venice was very wealthy at this time, and Venetian people never missed
an opportunity of parading wealth. They loved glory where the State
was concerned, and encouraged pageantry by both land and sea. They
loved to see Doge and senators in their gorgeous robes, either on the
piazza or on the Grand Canal. Then there came a demand for painted
records of these processions and ceremonials. All this was encouraged
by the State for political reasons. Pageantry entertained the people,
and at the same time made them less inquisitive. Much better, these
great officials argued, that the people should be enjoying things in
this way than that they should begin to inquire into the doings of the
State. Gentile Bellini and Carpaccio were the first pageant painters
of the period. Paolo Veronese, who came much later, also loved
pageantry, elevated it to the height of serious art, and idealised
prosaic magnificence. He painted great banquets, and combined
ceremony, splendour, and worldliness with childlike naturalness and

  [Illustration: OSMARIN CANAL]

First of all, as has been shown, it was the Church that called for
pictures--to represent their saints and to enforce biblical legends.
Painting became more and more popular. People became more and more
educated to understand painting, until at last they wanted their
domestic and social lives depicted. Also they wanted to hang these
pictures in their homes. Pictures were neither so rare nor so
expensive in those days as they are now, and people could afford to
buy them--even the lower and the middle classes. Immediately there
sprang up painters who satisfied the demand. In those days there were
no academies and no salons wherein artists fought to outdo one another
as to the size and eccentricity of their pictures; there were no
vulgar struggles of that kind. Painters simply supplied to the best of
their ability the wants of the people. Naturally, the public required
small pictures, suitable to the size of their houses. Therefore, they
needed gay and beautiful colour, and pictures in which the subjects
did not obtrude themselves forcibly. Thus, in the natural course of
events pageantry found less favour, and pictures of social and
domestic life found more. Religious subjects were rather deserted. By
the aid of books people could learn all the stories of the Bible.
Besides, they were not at that period in a devotional or contrite
mood. They were too happy and full of life to feel any pressing need
for religion.

Painting took much the same position with the Venetians as music has
with us now. The fashion for triumphal marches and the clashing of
cymbals in processional pictures had died out, and the vogue of
symphonies and sonatas had come in. No one at that time seemed quite
capable of satisfying the public taste. Carpaccio, whose subtle yet
brilliant colouring would have exactly suited it, never undertook
these subjects. Giovanni Bellini attempted them; but his style was too
severe for the gaiety of the period.

However, there was not long to wait. Soon appeared a man who told the
public what they wanted and gave it to them. He swept away conventions
and revolutionised art all over the world. He was a genius--Giorgione.
Pupil of Bellini and Carpaccio, he combined the qualities of both.
When he was quite a youth painters all over the world followed his
methods. Curiously enough, there are not a dozen of this great
master's works preserved at the present day. The bulk of them were
frescoes which long ago disappeared. The few that remain are quite
enough to make one realise what a great master he was. The picture
which most appeals to me is an altar-piece of the Virgin and Child at
Castelfranco. It is painted in the pure Giorgione spirit. St. George
in armour is at one side, resting on a spear which seems to be coming
right out of the picture; while on the other side there is a monk, and
in the background are a banner of rich brocade and a small landscape.

The Renaissance, the rejuvenation of art, seems to have slowly
developed until at length it culminated in Giorgione. He was the man
who opened the door, the one great modern genius of his period, whose
influence remains and is felt to this day. Velasquez would never have
been known but for Giorgione. Imagine this young man with his new
ideas and his sweeps of golden colouring suddenly appearing in a
studio full of men, all painting in the correct severe style
established at the period. Such a man must needs influence all his
fellows. Even Giovanni Bellini, the Watts of his day, acknowledged the
young man's genius, and almost unconsciously began to mingle
Giorgione's style with his own. We cannot realise what they meant at
that period--these new ideas of Giorgione. He created just as much of
a "furore" as when Benvenuto Cellini, in his sculpture, allowed a limb
to hang over the edge of a pedestal. He needed this to complete his
design. Since then almost everyone that has modelled has hung a limb
over a pedestal. But Benvenuto Cellini started this new era. So, in
much the same sort of way, did Giorgione. He cut away from convention,
and introduced landscape as backgrounds to his figure subjects. He
was the first to get actuality and movement in the arrangement of
drapery. The Venetian public had long been waiting, though
unconsciously, for this work; and Giorgione was so well in touch with
the needs of the people that the moment he gave them what they wanted
they would take nothing else.

In the work of Giorgione the Renaissance finds its most genuine
expression. It is the Renaissance at its height. Both Giorgione and
Titian were village boys brought to Venice by their parents and placed
under the care of Giovanni Bellini to learn art. They must have been
of very much the same age. It is interesting to watch the career of
these boys--the two different natures--the impulsiveness of the one
and the plodding perseverance of the other. Giorgione shot like a
meteor early and bright into the world of art, scattering the clouds
in the firmament, bold, crowding the work and the pleasure of a
lifetime in a few short years. His work was a delight to him, and life
itself was full of everything that was beautiful. He was surrounded
always by a multitude of admiring comrades, imitating him and urging
him on. Giorgione was ever restless and impetuous by nature. When
commissions flagged and he had no particular work in hand, he took to
painting the outside of his own house. He cared not a whit for
convention. He followed his own tastes and his own feelings. He
converted his home into a glow of crimson and gold,--great forms
starting up along the walls, sweet cherub boys, fables of Greece and
Rome,--a dazzling confusion of brilliant tints and images. Think how
this palace must have appeared reflected in the waters of the Canal!
Unfortunately, the sun and the wind fought with this masterly canvas,
conquered, and bore all these beautiful things away. Indeed, many of
Giorgione's works were frescoes, and the sea air swept away much of
the glory of his life. His career was brief but gay, full of work and
full of colour. This impetuous painter died in the very heyday of his
success. Some say he died of grief at being deserted by a lady whom he
loved; others that he caught the plague.

  [Illustration: A SOTTO PORTICO]

Of what a different nature was Titian! He studied in the same bottega
as Giorgione, and was brought up under much the same conditions. But
he was a patient worker, absorbing the knowledge of everyone about
him, ever learning and experimenting; never completing. He did not
think of striking off on a new line, of executing bold and original
work. He wanted to master not one side of painting but all sides. He
waited until his knowledge should be complete before he declared
himself, before he really accomplished anything. He absorbed the new
principles of his comrade Giorgione, as he absorbed everything else
that was good, with unerring instinct and steady power. Titian was
never led away in any one direction. He was always open to any new
suggestion. As it happened, it was just as well that Titian worked
thus at his leisure, and Giorgione with haste and fever. Titian had
ninety-nine years to live; Giorgione had but thirty-four. There is an
interesting anecdote told by Vasari with regard to these two young
men. They were both at work on the painting of a large building, the
Fondaco dei Tedeschi; Titian painting the wall facing the street, and
Giorgione the side towards the canal. Several gentlemen, not knowing
which was the particular work of either artist, went one day to
inspect the building, and declared that the wall facing the Merceria
far excelled in beauty that of the river front. Giorgione was so
indignant at this slight that he declared that he would neither see
nor speak to Titian again.

Titian does not seem to have been very much appreciated by his
patrons at the beginning of his career. He inspired no affection. He
was acknowledged as the greatest of all the young painters; but the
Republic, it would seem, was never very proud of the man who did her
so much credit and added so greatly to her fame. Even although the
noise of his genius was echoed all over the world,--although the great
Emperor himself stooped to pick up his brush, declaring that a Titian
might well be served by a Cæsar,--although Charles the Fifth sat to
him repeatedly, and maintained that he was the only painter whom he
would care to honour,--the Venetians do not seem to have been greatly
enamoured of him. Perhaps it was that they missed the soul, the purity
and grace and devotion, of the pictures of Bellini and Carpaccio.
Certainly, as far as one can judge, he did not have a prepossessing
nature. He was shifty in his dealings with his patrons and unfaithful
in his promises. He seems to have belonged to a corrupt and luxurious
society. Pietro Aretino had a very bad influence on Titian. He taught
him to intrigue, to flatter, to betray. Aretino was a base-born
adventurer for whom no historian seems to have a good word. He was,
however, a man of wit and dazzling cleverness, with a touch of real
genius. Aretino corresponded with all the most cultured men of his
time, and he had the power of making those whom he chose famous. It
was he who introduced Titian to Charles the Fifth.

Titian's pictures were much more saleable in foreign courts than in
his own country. Abroad they did not seem to have the lack of soul
which the Venetians so greatly deplored. It was the old case of the
prophet having no honour in his own country. Certainly in the art of
portraiture Titian has never been surpassed. At that period he had the
field completely to himself. Nothing could have been more magnificent
than Titian's portraits. They help to record the history of the age.
It was in Titian's power to confer upon his subjects the splendour
that they loved, handing them down to posterity as heroes and learned
persons. His men were all noble, worthy to be senators and emperors,
no coxcombs or foolish gallants. Titian was more at home in pictures
of this kind than in religious subjects. His Madonnas are without
significance; his Holy Families give no message of blessing to the

In the prime of his life he moved from his workshops to a noble and
luxurious palace in San Cassiano, facing the wide lagoon and the
islands. All trace of it has disappeared, and homes of the poor cover
the garden where the best company of Venice was once entertained. It
is said that Titian gave the gayest parties and suppers--that he
entertained the most regal guests. Nevertheless, although made a
knight and a count, and a favourite at most of the courts in Europe,
he was greatly disliked by the Venetian Signoria, who in the midst of
his famous supper-parties called upon him to demand that he should
execute a certain work for which he had received the money long
before. He seems to have been exceedingly grasping--a strange trait in
the character of a painter. One sees throughout his correspondence,
until the end of his life, a certain desire and demand for money.
Undoubtedly he often painted merely for money alone, turning out a
sacred picture one day and a Venus the next with equal impartiality.
Anything, it was said, could have been got out of Titian for money.
The Venetians never loved Titian's works, though foreign princes
adored them. He seems to have laboured, until the end of his life,
more from love of gain than from necessity. He was buried at the
Frari, carried thither in great haste by order of the Signoria,--for
it was at the time of the plague, when other victims were taken to
the outlying islands and put in the earth unnamed.

Somehow, in reading the life of Titian one is brought right away to
the twentieth century. Here is the painter with the attendant
journalist, Pietro Aretino, the boomer. Aretino was a journalist, the
first. He took Titian in hand and "ran" him for all he was worth. Had
it not been for this system of booming, Titian would probably not have
been well known during his lifetime. In the Academy of the Fine Arts
one can trace by his pictures a splendid historical record of Titian's
life, and can see plainly the changes in popular feeling and their
effect upon his work. For very many years he lived and painted
constantly, and then was killed by the plague!

There is a picture painted by him when he was fourteen years of age--a
picture which contains all the qualities, in the germ, of his later
work: marvellous architecture, pomp, yet great simplicity and luminous
colour. Here also is the last picture he ever painted--at the age of
ninety-nine. Think of the interval between the two! It is sombre,
pious. There is something pathetic about it. This great painter, whose
work showed such fury, audacity, vehemence,--the man who had
always the sun on his palette--was now painting mildly, carefully,
obviously with the shadow of approaching death upon him.

  [Illustration: A NARROW CANAL]

A marvellous picture by Titian hangs in the Academy of the Fine Arts.
It is considered to be one of his finest pictures--the masterpiece of
all his masterpieces--the eye of the peacock, as it were. This picture
was neglected for many years, hidden away in an obscure portion of a
church, and covered with a thick layer of cobwebs and dust. The
custodian had almost forgotten the subject of the picture and the name
of the painter. One day a certain Count Cicogna happened to visit the
church. Being a great connoisseur and lover of art, he noticed this
picture, and could not resist moistening his finger and rubbing it
over a portion of the canvas. To his amazement, this portion emerged
young and fresh, and as highly coloured as when it left the painter's
hands--a picture bearing upon it the unmistakable stamp of Titian's
genius! The delight of the Count can be imagined. He suggested to the
custodian, with great care and tact, that he would present to the
church a bran-new glossy picture, very large, of some religious
subject; and mentioned in a casual way that they might give him the
dilapidated old picture as a slight return. This was the Assunta. It
was painted for the church of the Frari. Fra Marco Jerman, the head of
the convent, ordered it at his own expense. Many a time when the work
was in progress he and all the ignorant brethren visited the painter's
studio and criticised his picture, grumbling and shaking their heads,
and wondering whether it would be good enough to be accepted, whether
it would be sneered at when uncovered before all Venice. They
undoubtedly thought that they had done a rash thing in engaging him.
Think of the agony of Titian, hindered by these ignorant men, being
forced to explain elaborately that the figures were not too large,
that they must needs be in proportion to the space! It was not until
the envoy of the Emperor had seen the picture and declared it to be a
masterpiece, offering a large sum of money for its purchase, that the
Frari understood its value, and decided that, as the buying and
selling of pictures was not in their profession, they had better keep


Tintoretto painted, according to the popular feeling of his period,
for the good of mankind. This we certainly owe to the Renaissance--the
desire to benefit mankind, and not only men individually.
Tintoretto felt this strongly. One sees not only the effect of this
new era of thought in his work: one sees also human life at the base
of it. Tintoretto worked for the good of mankind, and his work throbs
with humanity. There was atmosphere, reality, in it. He was, it is
true, a pupil of Titian; but it was Michael Angelo whose works had the
greatest attraction for him. He loved Angelo's overwhelming power and
gigantic force. Tintoretto's pictures seem to possess much of the
glowing colour of Titian; but he paid greater attention to
chiaroscuro. He seems to have had the power of lowering the tone of a
sky to suit his composition of light and shade. His conception of the
human form was colossal. His work showed a wide sweep and power. He
turned to religion, not because it was a duty, but because it answered
the needs of the human heart--because it helped him to forget the mean
and sordid side of life, braced him to his work, and consoled him in
his days of despair. The Bible was not to him a cut-and-dried document
concerning the Christian religion, but a series of beautiful parables
pointing to a finer life. Then, Tintoretto asked himself, Why keep to
the old forms and the old ideals? Why should the saints and biblical
people be represented as Romans, walking in a Roman background? He
himself thought of them as people of his own kind, and painted them as
such. Thus, he argued, people became more familiar with the Bible,
more readily understood it.

Tintoretto painted portraits not only of Venetians, but also of
foreign princes. Although he painted with tremendous rapidity, the
demand was greater than the supply. His paintings were popular. They
gave pleasure to the eye, and stimulated the emotions. He painted
people at their best, in glowing health and full of life. Under his
marvellous brush old men became vigorous and full-blooded. His
pictures give the same sort of pleasure as one finds in looking upon a
casket of jewels--they are just as deathless in their brilliancy. The
portrait that the popular taste called forth in Titian's day was just
about as unlike the typical modern portrait as you could possibly
imagine,--the colourless, cold, unsympathetic portrait of the
fish-eyed mayor in his robes.


At the age of fifteen, Jacopo Robusti--tintoretto, the little
dyer--was brought by his father, Battista Robusti, to the studio of
the great painter Titian. There he stayed for a little while, until
one day Titian came across, in his bottega, some drawings that
showed promise. On discovering that they were from the hand of Jacopo,
he sent the boy away. Young as he was, Tintoretto had all the
arrogance of the well-to-do citizen. He would brook no man's No, and
would not yield his own pretensions for the greatest genius in
Christendom. He did not need money: he was independent: and he started
boldly to teach himself. Boiling with rage at the affront Titian had
put upon him, he was determined to make a career for himself. He
studied the works of Michael Angelo and of Titian, and inscribed upon
his studio wall, so that his ambition might always be before his eyes,
"Il desegno di Michael Angelo, e' il colorito di Titiano." He studied
casts of ancient marbles, and made designs of them by the light of a
lamp, in order to gain a strong effect of shadow. Also, he copied the
pictures of Titian. Seeking, by every means in his power, to educate
himself, he modelled figures of wax and plaster, upon which he hung
his drapery. And always, whether painting by night or by day, he
arranged his lights so as to have everything in high relief.
Tintoretto's inventions for teaching himself were endless. Often he
visited the painters' benches in the piazza of St. Mark's, where the
poor men of the profession worked at painting chests and furniture of
all kinds. In those days there were too many painters. The profession
was overdone. Many young men who had real genius worked at the
benches. Titian was the great man at the moment, and Palma Vecchio.
But Tintoretto did not care. He forced his work down men's
throats--gave it to them for nothing if they would not pay for it. He
was always ready with his brush, and would paint anything from an
organ to an altar-piece. He worked like a giant, with tremendous sweep
and power; no subject was too great or too laborious; and always he
had a desire to do his best.

Tintoretto would not be trifled with or condescended to. He would not
have his work under-valued, and would allow no patrician, not even a
prince, to play the patron to him. He was determined not to be set
aside. He flung his pictures at people's heads, and insisted on
undertaking any great piece of work there was to do. Thus,
Tintoretto's pictures are to be seen everywhere in Venice--in almost
every church, every council-hall, every humble chapel, every parish
church, every sacristy. He neglected no opportunity to make his work
known. He worked with extraordinary rapidity. Whenever Tintoretto came
across a fine fair wall he prevailed upon the master-mason to
allow him to paint it. A fifty-foot space he would cover with avidity,
asking nothing for his work but the cost of the material, giving his
time and labour as a gift.


Portraiture was the outcome of realism, and one of the most important
discoveries of the Renaissance. People began to feel that they wanted
not only their affluence in possessions, but also their own individual
faces and features, handed down to posterity. Thus portraiture began
to creep in. At first it appeared in the churches under cover of
saints and Madonnas; gradually it became possible to distinguish one
from another--it was not always the same face. Painters took models
from life as their saints. But portraiture in painting was very slow
in reaching perfection. Sculpture had accomplished that long before;
now that the latest craze was for portraiture, it was the sculptors
who were the most prepared to take it up, and stepped forward to
execute commissions. They had plenty of material in the way of old
Roman coins and busts. Donatello and Vittore Pisano were the two men
who first offered to satisfy the new want. Donatello executed
marvellous studies of character, and Pisano medals such as have never
been seen before or since. But even these men, fine as their work
undoubtedly was, felt that the public could not long remain satisfied
merely with the sculptured portrait. They must have colour. Donatello,
therefore, began to stain and colour his busts, showing that painting,
not sculpture, was to be the portrait art of the Renaissance. Vittore
Pisano also gave up his sculpture, and turned his attention to
portrait-painting; but he was only an amateur in this direction, and
did not meet with much success. No portrait-painter of any merit was
produced in that generation. The idea was entirely new. Men had not
had sufficient time in which to study the human face. The next
generation ushered in Mantegna, who painted a marvellous portrait of
Cardinal Sciramo; but he went too far in the other direction. He
painted his man as he was--as he saw him, line for line. He painted
the soul and heart of him--and the soul and the heart were black.
Venice was revolted with such a portrait. It seemed indeed indecent
that a man's character should be laid bare in such a way. It was a
picture they did not care to hang in the Council Chamber, a picture
that was unpleasant to live with. The Cardinal belonged to the State.
His honour was their honour, and it must not be defiled. The
Venetians came to the conclusion that portraits must be painted not in
full-face but in profile. Thus the characteristics of a man, if they
be not pleasant, do not come out clearly. This accounts for the number
of profile portraits. The age wanted an agreeable portrait. This
Giorgione provided. He realised that the treatment must always be
bright, joyous, romantic. His followers trod in his footsteps: the
master's style was too strong and pronounced to be much deviated from.
Giorgione seems to have reached the topmost height of art at that
period. Even Titian, for a generation after his death, followed in
Giorgione's lines; only, Titian's work was a little more sober, a
little less sunny. He had the sense to see that Giorgione had expanded
the old rule and done something worth adopting, and for a time he
simply followed this joyful outburst. His early years fell at a time
when life was glowing, radiant, almost intoxicating in its vigour. But
youth and joy cannot last; nor could the Renaissance spirit. Gradually
the trouble and the strife from which the whole of Italy was suffering
filtered into Venice, and cast a serious aspect over art and social
life. Venice, of all the states in Italy, was the last to feel this
sobering influence. She had been defeated both in battle and in
commerce; and, although she was not totally crushed under the heel of
Spain, life was not the endless holiday it promised to be. Men took
themselves more seriously, and the quieter pleasures of friendship and
affection began to be more sought after. Religion revived in
importance. Men clung to it, as they always do in time of trouble, for
comfort and support. It was no longer a political sentiment, but a
personal one. Art declined as the sunshine and the gaiety that had fed
and nourished it ebbed away. When men began to feel that individually
they were of no avail, that they were subject to the powers round
about and above them, the death-blow of great art fell. Titian was
influenced by his environment, and his painting changed completely. He
produced pictures that would have been looked upon with scorn in his
earlier days. The faces of his men are no longer smooth and free from
care. One saw there struggle and suffering, and all that life had done
for them. But Titian was not a pessimist at heart. The joy and gaiety
in which he had been brought up formed part of his character. Whatever
changes may have happened to his country politically, nothing could
alter that entirely. And it was no doubt this early training and
the atmosphere in which he was brought up that made his pictures the
masterpieces they were. You notice the men who came after Titian--how
they began to decline. For example, Lorenzo Lotto had been brought up
in the heyday of the Renaissance; but the new order of things, the
change from national virility to national decadence, enfeebled him.
Then, again, the coming in touch with poets and men of letters,
victims flying from the fury of Spain, was a new stimulant to art. It
did not exactly improve it; but it certainly changed it.

  [Illustration: THE ORANGE SAIL]

A fine period of painting does not come in a day, nor does it end in a
day; and, although the universal interest in the Venetian school dies
with Titian and Tintoretto, it does not die unnoticed. The torch of
art flickered up many times in Venice before it was finally
extinguished. The men who came immediately after Tintoretto had not
the strength to start off on any new lines. They simply fell back on
variations of the earlier masters, showing much of the masters'
weaknesses, but few of their great qualities. Some even were so
inartistic as to attempt to pass off their pictures, on ignorant
people, as Titians and Giorgiones. However, before the Republic
disappeared there were two or three men who took the first rank among
the painters of the period, provincial artists, men whose art was
sufficiently like her own to be readily understood, such as Paul
Veronese. The provinces were not declining so rapidly as Venice was.
They were less troubled by the approaching storm. Men there led
simple, healthy lives; Spanish manners were long in reaching the
provinces, and, when they did, the people were slow to succumb. Men in
the provinces had stamina, simplicity, and courage with which to meet
the new order of things. They combined ceremony and splendour with
childlike naturalness. Consequently, the works of Paul Veronese
delighted the Venetians. The more fashionable and ceremonious private
life in the city became, the more were the people charmed with his
simple rendering.

  [Illustration: A QUIET RIO]

Gradually the taste of the Venetians turned towards pictures in humble
quarters--in the provincial towns and in the country. In the Middle
Ages the country was so upset that it was not safe for people to
venture out of the city; but with the advance of civilisation this
state of affairs was altered. People began to delight in country life.
The aristocracy took villas in the provinces, and the poorer
people wanted representations of them in their houses. The painters of
the period, Palma and Bonifacio, began to add pastoral backgrounds to
their works. But the first great landscape painter was Jacopo Bassano.
His treatment of light and atmosphere was masterly, and his colouring
was jewel-like and brilliant. It was Bassano who started that great
Spanish school which was to culminate in Velasquez. Venice did not
produce many great painters in the eighteenth century--only three or
four. The city itself remained unchanged: it was just as beautiful,
still the most beautiful and luxurious city in the world: it was the
people who changed. They became apathetic, placid, and drifting,
perfectly contented with one another and with their lots in life,
never trying to better themselves in any way. There were no
difficulties, no problems to be solved. People were just as gay as
they were serious, just as much interested in paintings as they were
in politics. This was a vegetable period.

It is strange that such a demoralising time should have seen the rise
of a great master; but it certainly saw him in Canaletto. That artist
differed from nearly all the Venetian painters in that he had complete
mastery of technique. His work is just as fine technically as that of
Velasquez or that of Rembrandt. It shows marvellous dexterity and
power. He understood his materials better than any other Venetian
painter--better even than Giorgione.

Guardi and Tiepolo followed Canaletto. In Tiepolo's work especially
you realise the character of these eighteenth-century people. At that
time Venice was sliding downhill rapidly. Her people were aping
dignity. They dressed extravagantly, not so much for the love of
colour and splendour as for swagger. They were degenerating rapidly.
Here and there lesser masters appeared; but Venetian art became poorer
and poorer, until it reached the condition of the present day, when in
Venice there is no art at all. The kind of work which the people
appreciate sickens and saddens you--those sunlit photographs glazed
with blue to counterfeit moonlight, and tricky, vicious
water-colours,--brutal pictures with metallic reflections and cobalt
skies,--all wonderfully alike, all with the same orange sail, and all
equally untrue.

  [Illustration: HUMBLE QUARTERS]

Year by year painters continue to paint Venice without the public
showing signs of weariness. Perhaps the failure of the artists to
reproduce the undying charm of that dazzling jewel of cities is
both the excuse and the reason for the pertinacity of the tribe.
Womanlike, she eludes them; manlike, they pursue. Few have seen the
real Venice, the Venice of Ruskin and Turner and Whistler. Venice is
not for the cold-blooded spectator, for the amateur or the art
dabbler: she is for the enthusiastic colourist and painter, the man
who sees, and does not merely look.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones was wont to declare that to paint Venice as she
should be painted one must needs live for three thousand years: the
first thousand should be devoted to experiments in various media; the
second to producing works and destroying them; the third to completing
slowly the labour of centuries. He would never have dreamed of
spending a painting holiday beyond Italy--that is, unless he had been
permitted to live for over five thousand years; and even then, it was
his firm opinion, no man could paint St. Mark's, which was
unpaintable--mere pigment could not suggest it.

  [Illustration: RIO DI SAN MARINA]



In the crooked and bewildering streets of Venice, which open out from
the great piazza and lead all over the city, one sees the true life of
the people. It is there that the poor congregate. The houses teem with
humanity. There the true Venetians are harboured. One comes to know
them well, and the manner of life they lead; and so gay and
light-hearted are they, it is strange if one does not like them in
spite of all their faults. Was there ever more irregularity than in
the streets of Venice? All the houses seem to be differently
constructed. Some are lofty; others are squat; some have balconies and
chimney-pieces thrust out into the street so as almost to touch the
houses opposite. Nearly every house has at one time been a palace, and
each is in a different stage of decay--houses that have once been the
homes of merchant princes, palaces in which perhaps even Petrarch may
have feasted,--inhabited now by the poorest of Venetians. The weekly
wash flutters from the balconies (the linen of Venice is famed for its
whiteness), and frowsy heads appear at Gothic windows. Worms have
eaten and rust has corrupted everything destructible. Yet now and then
one is astonished at the preservation of certain portions of the
buildings. In that labyrinth of streets one never knows what surprise
may be in store. You will come across beautiful early-Gothic gateways
covered with sculptured relief and inlaid designs of leaves; a
fourteenth-century palace with the faint remains of the paintings of
some artist with which at one time it must have been covered; lovely
remnants of crosses let into the walls; Renaissance wells of the
sixteenth century; delicately-carved parapets; a great stone angel
standing guardian at some calle head; irregularly twisted staircases
of the fifteenth century; a Gothic door with terra-cotta mouldings;
and churches without number. Some of the finest architectural gems in
Europe are here, and almost every house is invested with a strange
history. The place seems inexhaustible. As you walk in those old
streets the shadows of the mighty dead go with you--those great
men who lived glorious lives for Venice and for art. There is an
old-world atmosphere about the streets. They twist and turn, and
sometimes are so narrow that there is scarcely room for two people to
pass each other; at times they are so dark and still that the
scuttling of a rat into the water makes one start. Venice is full of
contrasts, full of the unexpected. It is as if Providence, seeing fit
that one's eyes should not become satiated with beauty unalloyed,
throws in little marring touches--shocks to your feelings, cold
douches of water, as it were--in order to give value to the marvellous
colouring and antiquity of the water city. For example, from the world
of Desdemona, where one can fancy one sees her lean from a traceried
window and catch a distant echo of a mellow voice out on the water
singing a serenade, it is rather a shock suddenly to find yourself in
the piazza of St. Mark. It is easy to lose oneself in the streets of
Venice. In a minute you can step from the past to the present, and
find yourself among the marbles of St. Mark's and the arcades of the
Ducal Palace--in the tourist's Venice, amid glittering shops full of
modern atrocities, mosaic jewellery, wood-carving, imitation glass,
and what not--Americans and other globe-trotters staring up at St.
Mark's, laughing and reading their guide-books.

  [Illustration: THE WEEKLY WASH]

For all artists and lovers of the picturesque the side streets of
Venice--_calle_, as they are called--are fascinating beyond words.
Every house has a character peculiarly its own. Each is in a way
unique and totally dissimilar to its fellows; each is proud in the
possession of relics of architectural beauties. Every street is made
up of magnificent palaces and churches, fine examples of architecture
in such rich and varied wealth and diversity of styles that one is
almost overpowered. There are old Gothic palaces, venerable specimens
of Renaissance or Venetian period. Time indeed has laid heavy hands
upon them; but it seems to have augmented their charm. This homely
aspect of Venice interests. The old houses and the rickety archways
appeal to the observer, if he be not too keen of smell. Here are
marvellous and varied combinations of rich colouring--weather-worn
bricks, grated windows, and brilliant shutters picturesque and shabby
by the lapse of time, and shops half lost in gloom. Most of the houses
are of distempered rose-colour at the top and moss-green at the
bottom. The sun shines on the roof, and the water laps at the base.
There are land-gates and water-gates to most of the houses--one
opening upon a canal, the other upon a courtyard.

  [Illustration: A BACK STREET]

I lived for six months in Venice, and have seen these streets under
every possible aspect. I have seen them in the early morning, at
mid-day, in the evening, at night, in the rain, in the sun; and I can
never decide at what time of the day they appear most fascinating.
Perhaps it is after a rain-shower, when every tone upon the old walls
is brought out and accentuated--greys and pale sea-greens and the old
Venetian red with which so many of the houses used to be distempered.
The shops in Venice are very thickly set. Most of them open right down
to the ground, and the wares, which are varied, appear to ooze out
into the street. Here is a corn-dealer's shop with open sacks of
polenta flour of every shade of yellow; there a green-grocer's shop
where vegetables are sold--such a wealth of colour in the piles of
tomatoes, vegetable marrows, and great pumpkins cut down the middle to
display their orange cores. The richer shops, however, are blocked up
several feet high, and have latticed windows.

I love to wander through these streets at night, when the squalor and
the misery of Venetian life are hidden by the darkness, and one sees
only beauty. Here are subjects for the etcher, for Rembrandt and
Frans Hals,--marvellous effects of light and shade. The streets are
pitch-dark; there is nothing to mar the lovely fair blue nights of
Venice--no vicious shaft of electric light to bleach the colour from
the sky. These side streets are lit by the candle and the lamp.
Perhaps the most picturesque of all the shops at night are the
wine-shops. There one sees, beneath some low blackened doorway, a rich
golden-brown interior. In the midst of this golden gloom one dim
oil-lamp is burning--the most perfect light possible from the
painter's standpoint: by it, the dark faces and gesticulating hands of
the men gathered round a table are turned to deep orange. This is all
one sees growing from out the encircling gloom--faces, hands, and a
few flecks of ruby light, as the glasses are raised. Every shop down
these narrow streets has its shrine to the Virgin Mary, with its
statuette, its fringes, and its flowers; and at night these shrines
are illuminated according to the poverty or the wealth of the
proprietor--some have only a tiny dip, others have a candle or a group
of candles, while well-to-do folk boast a row of oil-lamps. Rich or
poor, each has its offering, its tiny beacon. The children may go
without bread, and the mother may lack warm clothing; but the Holy
Mother must not be robbed of her due. There is certainly a wonderful
simplicity of faith about these people. The cook-shops are fascinating
by night. There are innumerable stalls; in fact, nearly all the
shopping seems to be done from stalls; even the butchers have open-air
stalls. At night chestnut-roasters, toffee-vendors, pumpkin-and-hot-pear
men hold full sway. These are generally surrounded by groups of
open-mouthed children gazing with delight at the long twisted strings
of toffee in the hands of the operator. Almost a still greater
attraction to the young folk of Venice is the chestnut-roaster; he
generally takes up his position in the courtyards, as does the
coffee-roaster. Courtyards seem to be the favourite haunts of the
coffee-roasters,--partly, I suppose, because all the doors of the
houses round about open into them, and housewives can be easily
supplied. They seem to be constantly roasting coffee berries night and
day; the whole place reeks with the fragrant odour. They are
picturesque by day, these busy workers, but far more picturesque by
night, when the gleam of their ovens shows orange in the purple gloom,
and the leaping flames light up the faces of the children round
about, handsome little faces with a certain grandeur in them--boys
with bronze cheeks, dark hair, olive complexions, black eyes, and
sometimes a touch of colour in their red flannel caps and their
multicoloured patches of garments. There is something barbaric and
fine and graceful about them, half-encircled, as they are, by the
filmy blue smoke from the ovens. A Venetian Good Friday celebrated in
a poor and populous part of Venice at night is most picturesque. The
people of the quarter--the coffee-roasters, the cook-shop men, the
footmen, and the wine-sellers--arrange to sing a chant in twenty-four
verses, a grave and sombre chant following the life of our Lord in His
Passion. Each verse takes about five minutes to sing, and there is a
pause of equal length between each two verses. During every interval
the crowd, who have been quiet, begin to chatter, the men smoke, and
the boys rush and tumble. Directly the precentor begins, silence falls
upon them once more. Most of the people in that particular quarter
subscribe to the erection of a shrine with plenty of candles and
little glass lamps. It is a picturesque sight--the yellow light from
the altar lamps falling on the group of men and women gathered round
the singers and the many heads thrust out of windows and balconies,
on the fair, devout, and serious faces of the children, on the
handsome women and the bronze-faced men.

All the world in Venice lives out of doors: they breakfast and lunch
and dine, all in the open air. All of them live in lodgings or hotels,
and principally in the bedrooms, which are for the most part
comfortless and dreary,--their only merits are a frescoed ceiling,
sometimes really fine and old, and a balcony. One can procure a marvel
of a palace in Venice for the cost of a garret in London. There is no
real home-life in Venice. Rich and poor, mothers, fathers, children,
and servants,--all take their food in the open air. There are
restaurants and cafés for the well-to-do, endless eating-houses for
the poorer classes, and sausage-makers for the gondoliers. Cookshops
swarm. There you see great piles of fish and garlic, bowls of broth,
polenta, and stewed snails, roast apples, boiled beans, cabbages, and
potatoes. Every holiday, every saint's day, has its special dish.
Carnival time sets the fashion for beaten cream or panamonlata; at San
Martino gingerbread soldiers are popular; and for Christmas time there
is candy made with honey and almonds. A certain broth consumed by the
very humblest is made from scraps of meat which even the
sausage-makers will not use: as may be imagined, the soup is highly
flavoured. In the midst of all these stalls and eating-houses it is
extraordinary how little there is eaten in Venice,--merely a mouthful
here and there,--a kind of light running meal. A Venetian, no matter
how rich he might be, would never dream of inviting you to a set meal.
There is no heavy food, no cut from the joint. If a Venetian invites
you to an entertainment, he will give you a cup of coffee perhaps, or
a glass of wine and a biscuit,--rarely more. He will never invite you
to eat a great meal; he never takes it himself. The eating-house and
the stall appear to be more or less of an excuse for gossip and the
meeting of neighbours.

If the streets of Venice are bewitching by night, they are certainly
delightful in the early morning. It is then that one receives the most
vivid impressions. There is a certain freshness in one's perceptions
at the dawn. The poor wretches who make their beds in the streets, or
on the steps, or at the base of columns, shake themselves and shamble
off. Troops of ragged "facchini" fill the streets, and quarrel noisily
over their work. The great cisterns in the market-place are open, and
the water is brought round to your house by dealers, stout young
girls with broad backs and rosy cheeks; they carry it in two brass
buckets attached to a pole, and empty it into large earthenware pots
placed ready for its reception in the kitchen. These girls, called
"bigolanti," supply the place of water-works. At this hour you see the
shops opening like so many flowers before the sun. Butchers set forth
their meat; fruit shops, crockery shops, bakers', cheap-clothing, and
felt-hat shops, show their various wares. You see peasants at work
among vegetables, building cabbages and carrots into picturesque
piles, and decorating them with garlic and onions, while their masters
are still sleeping on sacks of potatoes. Great barges arrive from
Mestre, Chioggia, and Torcello, laden with vegetables and fruit.
Eating-houses begin their trade. You see men and women taking their
breakfast, and a savoury smell of spaghettis and eels on gridirons
fills the air. Gondoliers begin to wash their gondolas, brush their
felces, polish the iron of their prows, shake their cushions, and put
everything in order for business. Picturesque old women, carrying milk
in fat squat bottles, make the round of the hotels and restaurants at
this early hour. They are good to look at, with their dark nut-brown
faces and dangling gold earrings under their large straw hats. Their
figures are much the shape of their bottles; and they bring a pleasant
atmosphere into Venice, an atmosphere of fields and clover-scented
earth, and milk drawn from the cream-coloured cows. Fishermen, a
handsome class, with weather-beaten faces, in blue clothing, come
striding down the calle, shallow baskets of fish on their heads. They
set up their stalls and display their soles and mackerel, chopping up
their eels into sections and crying, "Beautiful, and all alive!" At
this hour everyone is making bargains, and the result is a continual
buzz; but there is nothing discordant about the street cries of
Venice. A peculiarly beautiful cry is that of the man who comes round
every morning with wood for your kitchen fire. The fuel-men cut their
wood on the shores of the Adriatic, and anchor their barges at the
Custom House, leaving them in charge of mongrel yellow dogs, who guard
so vigilantly and are so extremely aggressive that never a splinter is
taken from the barges.


The street cries are full of individuality, and the tradesman brings a
little art to bear on the description of his wares. The song of the
sweep, exquisitely sad, quite befits the warning, "Beware of your
chimney!" There is nothing gay about the sweep: he is a very
melancholy person, and his expression is in sympathy with his music.
The pumpkin-vendor is coy, and his cry has a winning pathos; his is
not an easy vegetable to launch on the market, and he has developed
into a very bashful person. His cry is cooing and subtle: he almost
caresses you into buying, which is necessary, as no one in his right
senses really desires a pumpkin. The fruiterer is different. He is
handsome, fat-cheeked, and has scarlet lips, strong black hair curling
in ringlets, and gold rings in his ears. His adjuration is a round,
full, resonant roar, like a triumphant hymn; and there is altogether a
certain Oriental splendour about his demeanour. It is not necessary
for him to be subtle: there is always a sale for melons and pears,
chestnuts and pomegranates. He uses colour as a stimulant to his
customers, and dwells upon the hue of his fruit. "Melons with hearts
of fire!" he cries. Also he flatters. To a dear old gentleman passing
by he will hold up a clump of melons, some of them sliced, or a group
of richly coloured pomegranates, and say, "Now, you as a man of taste
will appreciate this marvellous colour; you are young enough to
understand the fire and beauty of these melons"; and the old
gentleman will go on his way feeling quite pleased and youthful. Some
of the cries are quaint. I once heard a man say, "Juicy pears that
bathe your beard!" and another said his peaches were "ugly but
good,"--they certainly were not beautiful to look upon. Almost the
most melodious salesmen are the countrymen who pace the streets with
larks and finches in cages, and roses and pinks in pots.

At mid-day the streets are enveloped in a warm golden light; there are
rich old browns, orange yellows, and burnt siennas--all the tints of a
gorgeous wall-flower. A ray of sun in a bric-à-brac shop attracts your
attention; and you get a peep through a window with cobwebbed panes,
high up in a flesh-coloured wall, at some of the objects
within,--brass pots and pans gleam from the walls, bits of china and
porcelain, strings of glass beads, some quaint old bookcases with
saints carved in ivory, fragments of old brocade woven with gold and
gorgeous,--all kinds of strange curiosities, looking crisp and
brilliant in the sunlight. Suddenly you are blinded by a patch of
golden yellow. It is an orange-stall placed before a pink palace
flecked with the delicate tracery of luminous violet shadow. Away down
in the interior of the stall, where the sun does not shine, it
appears almost purple by contrast to the brilliant mass of golden
fruit. The background of all these shops is neutral: the objects for
sale form the only brilliant and positive colour.

The palaces and houses are mostly pink and white. There are pinks, and
greys, and blues, and so on. It is not the painted, coloured city that
one had imagined it to be: Venice is very grey. But its greyness is
that of the opal and the pearl. I have often heard people say how
strange it is that the colours always seem brighter in Venice than in
any other city--the shutters and the doors and the shops. The answer
is not far to seek. It is because the background and the general
colouring is neutral. There are no large patches of positive colour:
even St. Mark's, choke-full of colour as it is, has no positive colour
in its composition. Take a peep into a carpenter's shop. Through the
iron grating, rusty and red with age, you see the quaint old craftsman
at work, his flesh tone very much the colour of the wood he is
planing; piercing black eyes look through and over the large
bone-framed glasses that he wears; he suggests the carpenter of Japan;
and, judging from the amount of shavings you see about the floor, you
gather that he is a dignified, not what may be called a feverish,
worker. He is, however, evidently an artist: you see dainty specimens
of wood-carving hung round on the walls. Most of the carpenters of
Venice seem to be old men. There appear to be very few middle-aged
people at all. They seem to be either young boys and girls or ancient
men and women. Whether it is that Venetians age quickly, I do not
know. The old women are extraordinary. You can scarcely imagine how
anything so crooked and foul and old and frowsy, with so little hair,
so few teeth, so many protruding bones, and such parchment-like skin,
can be human. Their faces seem to be shrunken like old fruit: I have
seen women with noses shrivelled and with dents in them like
strawberries. It is extraordinary to watch these women on their
shopping excursions. How they bargain! They think nothing of starting
the day before to buy a piece of steak, and sometimes spend a whole
day haggling over it. Some of the shopmen are swindlers,--fat, greasy
men, very fresh and brisk, who have reduced cheating to a fine art.

  [Illustration: WORK GIRLS]

It is only after living in Venice for some months that one begins to
understand the bargaining in the streets. You will see two men
talking--one the shopman, the other the purchaser--and if you
know anything of the language, and watch carefully, you will find it
the most marvellous bit of acting imaginable. They bargain; the
customer turns in scorn, and goes; he is called back; the goods are
displayed once more, and their merits expatiated upon. The customer
laughs incredulously and moves away. The seller then tries other
tactics to fog his client. Eventually he makes a low offer, which is
accepted; but even then the shopman gets the best of it, for he has a
whole battery of the arts of measurement in reserve. There is really
no end to the various possibilities of "doing" a man out of a

Beggars are a great trial in the streets. The lame, the halt, and the
blind breathe woe and pestilence under your window, and long
monotonous whines of sorrow. Fat friars in spectacles and bare feet
come round once a month begging bread and fuel for the convents. Old
troubadours serenade you with zithers, strumming feebly with fingers
that seem to be all bone, and in thin quavering voices pipe out old
ditties of youth and love.

There are lottery offices everywhere. Around them there is always a
great excitement. The missing number, printed on a card framed in
flowers and ribands, is placed in the windows daily. Some say that the
system of lottery should be done away with; but it might be cruel to
deprive the poor wretches of hope. The lottery brings joy to many
despairing people.

Venetian women are good-looking. One sees them continually about the
streets. Nothing can surpass the grace of the shawl-clad figures seen
down the perspective of the long streets, or about some old stone well
in a campiello. They are for the most part smart and clean. You see
them coming home from the factories, nearly always dressed in black,
simple and well-behaved. Their hair is of a crisp black, and well
tended; their manner is sedate and demure. There is no boisterousness
about the Venetian girls, no turning round in the streets, no
coarseness. Many of them are very beautiful. You see a woman crossing
an open space with the sunlight gleaming on the amber beads about her
throat and making the rich colour glow brighter beneath her olive
skin. A shawl is thrown round her shoulders, and her jet-black hair is
fastened by a silver pin. She wears a deep crimson bodice. The choice
of colour of these women is unerring in taste. Their shawls are
seldom gaudy, generally of blue or pale mauve; vivid colours are
reserved for the bodices.

Then, there are the bead-stringers. You see them everywhere: handsome
girls with a richness of southern colour flushing beneath warm-toned
skins, eyes large and dark, with heavy black lashes, the hair twisted
in knots low on their necks, and swept back in large waves from square
foreheads, a string of coloured beads round their necks, and flowered
linen blouses with open collars. You see them with their wooden trays
full of beads. The bead-stringers are nearly always gay. They laugh
and chat as they run the beads on the strings. They often form a very
pretty picture, as they bend over their work and thread turquoise
beads from wooden trays.

In the courtyards, some women are hanging white clothes on a line
before a yellow wall; others are leaning out of their windows,
gossiping with neighbours. Never was there a more gossiping set of
women: every window, every balcony, seems to be thronged with heads
thrust out to chatter.

Venice is divided up into campi or squares. Each campo has a church, a
butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker, and everything else that is
necessary to life, including a café and a market.

Venetian children, as a rule, are very badly reared, and many of them
die at an early age. It is a belief and a consolation that the little
ones go straight to heaven, there to plead their parents' cause and to
arrange for their reception.

May is the best month in which to see the streets. The intoxication of
spring is in the air, and in the bright sunlight the colours burn and
glow. Although you cannot see them, you are constantly reminded that
there are gardens in Venice. Suddenly over the red brickwork of a high
wall you will see clumps of tamarisk, hanging mauve wisteria, or the
scarlet buds of a pomegranate, while the scent of syringa and banksia
roses fills the air, the birds sing in the enclosure, and the perfume
of honeysuckle trails over the wall of a garden of a foreign prince.
Few crowds are more cheerful or better ordered than a Venetian crowd.
There is a light-heartedness about these people that is very engaging;
they have a marvellous frankness of manner, a sublime indifference to
truth. The smallest Venetian child is a born flatterer, and will tell
you, not what he thinks, but what he imagines you wish to hear. The
people are the most engaging in the world, free from care or doubt as
to right or wrong. This carelessness is characteristic of the whole
Italian race. Venetians give the impression of being always determined
to enjoy life to the full. They are continually coming together, for
the purpose of pleasure, on one pretence or another, and the flashes
of wit in the street are sometimes very amusing. The Venetians have
always been, and still are, a great festa-loving people. When the
Republic fell, the brave ceremonies came to an end; but the original
passion is still kept alive. The festa in Venice are chiefly of
religious character. For example, once a year each parish church
honours the feast of its patron saint by processions to all shrines
within that particular parish. Very picturesque are the streams of
priests and people crossing the bridges and passing along the fondanta
of some small canal,--a brilliant ribbon of vermilion and gold winding
through the grey-toned city: porters of the church (in blouses of
white, red, and blue) bearing candles, pictures, and banners; bands
playing the gayest operatic tunes; priests and the parocco carrying
the Host under a canopy of cloth of gold; long files of the devout
holding candles; and boys with crackers and guns. At night there is
dancing in the largest campo of the parish. On Good Friday the streets
resemble a feast rather than a fast. The people are in their best and
gaudiest clothes; children are rushing and romping and turning
somersaults, whirling their rattles, fitting up shrines and then
appealing to the crowd for coppers,--human mites of six or seven
constructing "Santo Sepolcro," or Holy Graves, from old bottles,
sprigs of bay stuck in, and odd candle-ends. One may witness touches
of sentiment in a Venetian crowd; but the depths are seldom stirred.
Sometimes sentiment finds expression in the rilotti--popular Venetian

  [Illustration: CHIOGGIA FISH MARKET]


There is no piece of water more extraordinary than the lagoons of
Venice. They cover an area of 184 square miles of water, shut off from
the sea by a narrow strip of sandy islands, which are called the Lidi.
The form of the lagoons is, roughly, that of a bent bow. How did they
happen to be formed thus? That is a difficult question, and there are
various opinions. Certainly the lagoons are a great feature of the
city. They gave shelter to the founders flying from the Huns on the
mainland, and the health of the community depends on their regular ebb
and flow. A lagoon is not a lake; neither is it a swamp, nor open sea.
It is a strange piece of natural engineering. There are really,
although we cannot see them at high tide, four distinct water systems,
with separate watersheds and confluent streams. The sea comes in once
a day as from a great heart, pulsing in through the four breaks in
the Lido barrier, cleaning and purifying the lagoon, and afterwards
bearing away the refuse of the city. At low tide one can see these
channels distinctly winding in and out of the mud-banks. In the spring
they are bare, with long trails of sea-grass. In autumn they are brown
and bare, and at high tide the whole surface is flooded. On the
mainland shore of the lagoon there is a certain territory, called
Laguna Morta, where the sea and the land fight a continual battle. It
is the home of the wildfowl. Here salt sea-grasses grow, tamarisk,
samphire, and, in the autumn, sea lavender. Farther, the ground
becomes solid, and the Venetian plain begins, with its villas,
poplars, vineyards, and mulberry groves.

Nothing is more delightful than to spend a whole long day upon the
lagoon when the air is sweet and the breeze is fresh from the Lido.
There are fishing-boats coming in from their long night, with spoil
for the Rialto market, crossing and recrossing one another as they
tack. The bows are painted, and the nets are hung mast-high to be
mended and dried in the sun. Their sails are folded close together,
like the wings of great vermilion moths. These sails, which are
picturesque in the Venetian landscape, are of the deepest oranges and
reds, rich red browns, orange yellows, and burnt siennas, contrasting
strangely with the cool grey waters of the lagoon upon which they

One can wander for miles along the Lido on the Adriatic side. The
lizards bask in the hot sand; the delicate, pale sea-holly mingles
with the yellow of the evening primrose. From the Lido you can see
right away to the south-east, and in the horizon can discern the faint
blue hills above Trieste and the top of Monte Maggiore. From there the
city looks well: one sees the Ducal Palace, faintly pink, the green
woods of the public gardens, and the vast blue Venetian sky. The true
native seems to have a strange affection for the Lido. One cannot tell
why or wherefore; but it is so--"Lido" has ever been a name to conjure
with. One cannot tell what associations and sensations of pleasure and
charm are connected with it. At the present day it is a flat piece of
somewhat marshy ground, with large gardens intersected by canals.

The woods of the Favorita, on the shore of San Elizabetta, are
delightful, with their groves of acacia and catalpas, where the ground
is carpeted with wild flowers, and the grass is greener than elsewhere
in Venice, and the nodding violets grow. Behind the acacia grove
there is a Protestant burial-ground where rest the bones of many
Englishmen who came to Venice for pleasure and stayed to die. The tomb
of our ambassador, Sir Francis Vincent, is here. A beautiful walk is
towards the ramparts of San Nicolo, where the blackbirds sing in the
old convent garden, and in summer crimson poppies, purple salvias, and
vivid green grass are luxuriant. San Nicolo di Bari is the patron
saint of sailors. They have erected a magnificent church dedicated to
his memory on the most beautiful point of the Lido. Here the crews of
the merchantmen and warships of the Republic would linger for a while
before sailing, to ask a blessing on their voyage. The saint's remains
do not really rest here. Venice failed in her endeavour to obtain them
by force from the people of Bari; but she spread the fiction among the
people. To this day the sailors of the lagoon firmly believe that San
Nicolo still watches over and protects them, and when in doubt or
danger are enabled by the campanile of his church to find the direct
course to the Lido port. At the Lido is the cemetery of the Jews. The
graves are covered with sand and vegetation, and children never
hesitate to dance on them,--in fact, to do so is a favourite pastime.
If one remonstrates, they will look at you with wide-open eyes,
and explain that these are only graves of Jews,--a Jew with the
Venetians being no better than a dog. The grave of a Christian is
treated with the greatest reverence: even the children and the
gondoliers salute it as they pass. There is something pathetic about
the Jewish graves, from the stones over which the inscriptions have
been effaced.

  [Illustration: CHIOGGIA]

Chioggia is one of the greater islands. It has a large town with an
immensely broad street and a wide canal. Here is the most famous and
most picturesque fish-market of all suburban Venice. In it one comes
across the finest Venetian types, magnificent models for painters,
bronzed Giorgione figures and black-eyed swarthy women. Their dialect
is beautiful, far more so than that of Venice proper; and at night
Ariosto is read publicly in the streets by a musical sweet-voiced
Chiozzotto. Here the dramatist Goldoni lived, and the painter Rosalba
Carrera, and the composer Giuseppe Zarlino. Chioggia reminds one of
the Jewish quarter in the east end of London. The people, mostly
fishermen, are extremely poor.

This is the place for colour. There is colour everywhere--in the sails
of the boats, in the costume of the people, and even in the red
cotton curtains of the churches. Unfortunately, one's stay there was
brief--because of the insects. A fisherman in Chioggia took us for a
sail. We had bargained for an hour's journey; but we had not been out
for more than ten minutes before he landed us on the rocks and
demanded five francs. We were entirely at his mercy, and were forced
to concede; but his action struck us as being high-handed. Sometimes
the fishermen of Chioggia, if they are so inclined, will tell you
tales of Angelica and Orlando, and the pageant of the Carolingian

Torcello is one of the most interesting islands of the lagoon. It is
seven miles from Venice, and a pathway is made to it through the sea
by stakes. The island is for the most part a waste of wild sea moor.
Grey and lifeless in colour, it is a desolate place, and you feel as
if you were at the end of the world. At one time it was extremely
populous; but now it is impossible to live there, because the marshes
breed malaria. Any count whose title and estates the Venetians deem
improbable they call "the count from Torcello." One passes six miles
of the most beautiful scenery on the way thither. The entrance is by a
canal, and the banks on either side are covered with dwarf bushes and
lilac trees. Thirteen hundred years ago the grey moorland looked much
as it does now--except that where a city stood the cattle feed, what
was once the piazza of the city is a grassy meadow, and a narrow
pathway is the only street. Two hundred years after the invasion of
Attila, the inhabitants of Aquileia and Altinum, with their most
precious possessions, flew from their houses to the island of
Torcello. Now there is scarcely a sign of human habitation; and only
the ruins of an old quay, an ancient well, foundations of marble
buildings, a great church, and a campanile, are left to show what at
one time was a populous city, which was called the mother of Venice.
By the remains of these buildings one can see that they were
constructed by men in great distress, seeking a shelter, yet not
wishing to attract the eyes of their enemies by their splendour. The
church of Torcello shows force and simplicity of character, and a
certain reverent religious feeling on the part of its founders.
Everything is on a small and humble scale. The columns which support
the roof are no higher than a man. Yet these columns are of pure Greek
marble, and the capitals are enriched with delicate sculpture. One
sees everywhere in this church an earnest and simple desire to do
honour to God in the temple they were erecting, and that it should not
form too great a contrast to the churches they had loved and seen
destroyed. Torcello is equally delightful in springtime and in autumn.
In spring the orchards are in full bloom, and the hedges throw their
pink and white sprays of thorn against the sky. In autumn the water
meadows are a shimmer of purple and red from the masses of feathery
lavender that grow there. It has much the same colour and feeling as a
Scotch moor. Torcello is interesting from its venerable traditions,
its desolation, its wildness, and its profound silence.

There are many expeditions on which one could go if one had the time
to spare. For example, there is an island near Torcello called San
Francisco in Deserto. The name is well applied: St. Francis' island
certainly stands in a desert. There is still an islet monastery of the
Franciscan order. The brethren show you with much enthusiasm a stone
coffin in which the founder of the convent was in the habit of lying
in order to acclimatise himself to the sensation of death. Also there
is pointed out a penitential cell which was once inhabited by the
saint, and a tree (said to have sprung from his staff) which he
planted. This legend may sound mythical; but perhaps it may not
be so. It is quite possible for a staff, even if it has lain by for
some time, to shoot out in several places in green sprigs; and one of
these, cut in proper manner, might easily take root and grow into a
tree. The real charm of the island lies in the garden of the
monastery, where narcissus are abundant and there is a great avenue of
cypresses, the finest in Venice.

  [Illustration: IN MURANO]

Triporti is different: in fact, no other island of the lagoon is quite
like it. Here are great sweeps of sandy land covered with coarse grass
and heather and pools of brackish water. The island is more or less
uncultivated, and the air is full of strange aromatic odours from the
sea. It is a marvellous place to bathe in: the sand is fine and soft
and yellow, and the sea lies wide open before you, warm and limpid.

If you have any doubt as to where Murano is, look for a great black
cloud hovering over an island; and you may be sure that there are the
glass factories of Murano. Glass-making is the only industry now
practised in the lagoon. The factories are no longer numerous, Murano
having declined from her ancient splendour. The secret of the magician
is exposed; and Murano has no longer the monopoly of bevelled
mirrors, great glasses, and crystal balls. Such work is executed in
Birmingham quite as well as in Murano. The old art is lost. Still,
Murano is interesting. There is perhaps more life in it than in any
other of the islands. Workmen sift glass upon the pavement; women, at
the doors, sit busily knitting, or stringing beads; fishermen, clothed
in a dark greenish grey, are disentangling their nets, which hang over
the boats in apparently inextricable confusion; there are street
vendors of all kinds, calling out the nature of their wares to the
passerby. There are five thousand inhabitants in the city of Murano.
Its grand canal is almost as broad as that of Venice. The beautiful
palaces, with their doors and windows of marble,--some of red Verona
marble, some deeply enriched with mouldings, others with arcades of a
singular grace and delicacy--are now inhabited by the very poorest of
the poor. The church of San Donato, the Matrice or mother church of
Murano, stands in a field of fresh green grass. It is said that a
virgin appeared in a vision to its founder, Otho the Great, showing
him this very meadow overgrown with scarlet lilies, and bidding him
erect a church there in her honour. Murano, on the whole, is a
dreary little town. Wealth, beauty, and elegance have passed away; the
country is devoted to cabbages and potato patches. Still, it has charm
even in its decay. How beautiful Murano must have been at the time
when Cardinal Bembo and so many famous literati lived there! It must
have been an earthly paradise, with its luxurious vegetation, lordly
palaces, and magnificent gardens. In this city the horse is a quaint
and unexpected animal. He is not wanted. He is quite as ridiculous and
useless as a unicorn would be in the streets of London. He annoys one,
this strange beast,--making one think of mountains, valleys, fields,
trees, streets, and carriages, at a time when one is eager to be
satisfied with sparkling lagoons, gondolas, and a palace for hotel.

  [Illustration: MRS. EDEN'S GARDEN IN VENICE]

The gardens in Venice have a character all their own. They are highly
prized, for space is scarce. The soil is rich, formed of lagoon mud;
but only certain plants will grow freely in it--because of the salt
air. The variety that will bloom, however, is quite enough to make a
good show--flowering and aromatic shrubs, roses (especially banksia),
most bulbs, and (blooming the finest and happiest of all in Venetian
soil) carnations, the "garofoli" which play so large a part in Italian

On the Giudecca there are two gardens, each quite different from the
other in character and appearance, but both illustrating what a
Venetian garden may be like. In one all the resources of art and
wealth have been brought to bear, and there is a succession of
brilliant beds of colour. In the middle is a green oasis, a kind of
English orchard, where the turf is as fine and as velvety, as deep and
green, as that of any English lawn, and the orchard trees throw a
delicate tracery of flickering shadows. There are beds of splendid
colour, varying with the seasons. In fact, there is almost an Oriental
lavishness about this garden: the scent of the flowers is almost
oppressive. The other garden is not less beautiful; but it is set
apart for profit rather than for pleasure. There are aisles upon
aisles of vine-covered pergolas, crossing one another; and one can
saunter down these cool promenades for hours, absolutely bareheaded. A
narrow strip is divided from the rest of this garden by a thick hedge.
Here, in one glorious mass, are all the flowers that will grow freely
in Venice--the flame-coloured trumpets of the bigonici, by bowers of
roses over-arching walks, banksias festooning the walls, and one
corner completely filled by a splendid _Daphne odorifera_ which by her
perfume draws the butterflies. However, one cannot quite
understand the spirit that prompted Alfred de Musset to write those
verses the last of which runs:--

     À Saint Blaise, à la Zuecca,
     Dans les prés fleuris cuellir la verveine;
     À Saint Blaise, à la Zuecca,
     Vivre et mourrir là.


There are now at Saint Blaise no pastoral and poetic places where
lovers could stroll hand in hand by the pale moonlight: the gardens,
somewhat marshy, are cultivated principally for market purposes. The
Giudecca Canal is the commercial harbour of Venice. The churches of
Redentore and Maggiore lie on the farther side of it. In this canal a
group of small vessels lie all day long at anchor--twenty or thirty of
them, laden with wood brought from the Istrian coast, and sold in
Venice. When it has been disposed of, the captain calls his crew from
the distant cafés and wine-shops, releases the watch-dog from his post
on deck, weighs anchor, and creeps down the Adriatic to reload again
with fuel. This is all the Venetian commerce of to-day--this and a few
beads, glass, wood-carving, lace, and bric-à-brac, such as would
scarcely load a modern trading-ship. Nine hundred years ago the trade
of Venice was important. By the close of the eleventh century, the
city was commercially supreme in Europe. Yet she manufactured nothing.
She was supreme simply by the exercise of the merchant's calling. She
was Europe's greatest ship-owning power and commercial head. Her
merchants, conveying cloth, velvet, serge, canvas, various precious
and commercial metals, glass beads, and other goods, received in
return drugs, spices, dyes, precious stones, rugs, silks, brocades,
cotton, and perfumes, which were sold at a high rate of profit. The
population of Venice was then two hundred thousand; the annual exports
were valued at ten million ducats; there were three hundred sea-going
vessels, eight thousand sailing vessels, three thousand smaller craft,
seventeen thousand mercantile sailors, and a powerful navy with eleven
thousand able-bodied seamen.

San Giorgio is of note as the place for red mullet from the Adriatic.
Nothing equals the fish: none other is so appetising, so red and fresh
in colour--one would feel inclined to eat of it if only for its hue.
The best place to procure mullet is in a certain tavern where
gondoliers and sailors mostly congregate: here they can drink wine
free of duty. The tavern is invariably filled with such men, all
stretched out on benches round the table. San Giorgio is the
place for sunsets also: from nowhere else in the lagoon can one see
such a marvellous variety, such changes of sea and sky. The church
possesses a wonderful Entombment by Tintoretto.


San Servolo is a very small island beyond San Giorgio, yet one of the
brightest jewels in the coronet of the lagoon--almost entirely covered
with buildings.

Burano has a population of some nine thousand. The people are chiefly
engaged in fishing and in towing. One sees boatfuls of them returning
from the sea; and lines of them towing heavy mud-filled barges on the
way to Pordenone, all the men stepping in time with one another and
bending to the rope with a will. There is something statuesque about
these toilers. With their long, cleanly-moulded limbs, they remind one
of ancient Egyptian bronzes. The sculptor would find plenty of scope
in Burano. The people, however, are of evil repute by heredity. They
are the scapegoats of the lagoon. If anything goes wrong, the blame is
always laid upon them. They work harder and receive less pay than the
inhabitants of any other island. In the old days terrible quarrels
used to arise among the women, either in the market-place or when they
sat in their doorways making that exquisite lace for which the town
is famous. To the present day lace is made at Burano, and even now the
women quarrel over their work. If one did not know the language, one
would not imagine that they were quarrelling--the dialect is so soft
and sweet, the words dying away in a kind of sigh.

Mazzorbo is connected with Burano by a long wooden bridge. There are
very few houses here, and very few inhabitants. The island is given up
to flower gardens and the cultivation of fruit. Every day boats laden
with fruit, to be sold at the Rialto, are sent to Venice. Most of the
inhabitants of Mazzorbo are extraordinarily beautiful and sweet of
nature. These characteristics are very often found among those whose
business is chiefly connected with mother earth. Gardeners of all
nationalities are generally gentle and charming persons.

San Lazzaro is where the Armenian monks spend their quiet lives, happy
in the study and culture of their gardens. This convent of theirs is a
gem of colour set on the lagoon, painted a deep crimson and looking
like some gorgeous tropical flower. There is a terraced walk in the
garden, and the cloister is rich in flowers and planted with cypress
and oleander trees. It is a place in which to bask in the sun,
and watch the crabs fighting with one another on the sloping wall. One
can see the sun setting behind the Euganian hills, and watch the first
stars appear and the piazza lights shine out.

  [Illustration: IN A SIDE STREET, CHIOGGIA]

Malamocco is not often visited by strangers; yet there is much that is
beautiful in the place, and a certain old-world air that fascinates
one. It is a good deal older than Venice; and its people, friendly and
clean persons, are always careful to explain to you that they are not
Venetians. The famous white asparagus, for which the evil-smelling mud
makes excellent soil, grows plentifully in Malamocco.

San Elena was once an exceedingly lovely island. It lies near to the
city, and is only a short distance from the public gardens. The grave
of Helen, mother of Constantine the Great, at once an empress and a
saint, is said to have been here. There was also a very beautiful
Gothic cloister. Now the old monastery walls have been pulled down,
and a hideous iron factory has been erected; the quiet convent
cemetery has been dug up, and the crosses have been thrown aside to
make way for iron-girded workshops.

For expeditions on the lagoons it is always well to choose a pearly,
silvery-grey day, when everything is delicate in colour and mellowed
by a semi-transparent haze. The lagoons are not always grey and calm.
They have their moods. I have seen a fair green sea grow black beneath
a sudden storm. Sometimes Venice will appear blue and rosy, the smooth
sea as green as in Canaletto's pictures, the white cupolas of Santa
Maria della Salute and the silver domes of St. Mark's standing out as
on an azure background. Then great masses of grey clouds will come up,
the sea is festooned with foam, and black gondolas skim over the water
like swallows flying before a storm. Sometimes the sky is clear and
the light vivid, the water shines like silver, and one cannot tell the
horizon from the sea; the islands appear like brown specks, and the
ships seem to be sailing in the sky. At others the sea, under an east
wind, is cold and hard as steel. In winter the lagoons are wrapped in
damp mists, so thick that, however good a navigator you may be, you
must needs lose your way; steamers and gondolas loom out and then
disappear, swallowed up by the dense wall of vapour, and the shipping
looks ghostly, tall and gaunt.


Away out in the remote and unfrequented regions of the lagoon are
small isolated huts, mud-plastered, single-roomed cabins, built on
piles, which guard certain valli, to which the fish are driven in the
spring, to spawn. These consist of deep ditches surrounded by
palisades of wattled cane. Here the men stay sometimes for days,
fishing with nets, or standing upright in the long light boats waiting
for their prey. Some of the valli have the most uncanny names: one is
"The Val dell' Inferno," and another "The Val dei Sette Morte." Of
this last there is a terrible story, which has taken deep root in the
imagination of the people. Six fishermen were living in a valle. They
had with them a boy, who, when they went out on the lagoon, stayed at
home to cook for the men. One day, when they were returning with their
boatload, they found the body of a drowned man floating out to sea.
They picked the body up and laid it on the prow. The boy came to meet
them, crying that breakfast was ready. When they were seated at their
meal he asked why they had not brought the man who was lying in the
prow. The fishermen said, jokingly, that he had better go and call
him. This the child did, but soon returned with the news that he had
shouted to the man in the prow, who had neither moved nor answered
him. "Go again," said the men. "He is a deaf old fool. You must shout
and swear at him." The child went once more to the boat, and shouted
and swore at the man; but still he would not wake. "Go out again and
shake him by the leg, and tell him that we can't wait until doomsday
for him," said the fishermen. So the boy went, climbed into the boat,
and shook the man by the leg. This time the man in the prow sat up and
said, "What do you want?" "Why don't you come?" asked the boy. "They
can't wait until doomsday for you." "Go back," he said, "and tell them
I am coming." The boy went back to the hut, and told the men, who were
laughing and joking over their meal, that it was all right: the man in
the prow was coming. At this the fishermen turned very pale and
laughed no more. Then they heard heavy footsteps coming slowly up the
path; the door was pushed open; the dead man came in, and sat down in
the boy's place, making seven at the table. The eyes of the other six
were fixed on the seventh, their guest. They could neither move nor
speak. The blood grew colder and colder in their veins. When the sun
rose and shone in at the window, it shone on seven dead men sitting
round the table in the valle.

Despite this tale, Venetian people are bright and essentially
practical. They are not deeply imaginative. Horrors, weird fancies,
and love of the preternatural are quite foreign to the Italian



A great change came over society in Venice early in the latter half of
the nineteenth century. The people were dull, and sullen, and poor.
They resented their political position bitterly. The feeling with
which they were possessed was their great hatred of the Austrians.
They did not hate the Austrians individually; but they did
politically, and therefore socially. If you wanted to know the
Austrians, you could not know the Venetians: if you were friendly with
either, you must cold-shoulder the others. Society in Venice was
divided into two distinct sections. Once gone over to a side, you had
no withdrawal. If a girl intermarried she was cut off for life from
her family. Whatever the Venetian can or cannot do, he can certainly
hate, and that well. He may be dull and dispirited; but he is fiercely
patriotic, and his hatred of the Austrian was very strong. Most of
the nobility were exiled. The rest kept severely to themselves. They
never attended popular festivities, and even among the poorer classes
of Venetians very few old customs were kept up. The people felt keenly
the contrast of what had been and what was. A bridge of boats was
still built over the water to the church of the Redentore; but it was
very little used. The carnival, which was wont to last for six weeks,
was kept up but a single night; and then it was a farcical show. Only
a few dressed-up beggars tore through the streets, singing songs at
the cafés for drinks, and they were looked upon by the crowd with
melancholy scorn.

Venetian people of good family seldom went to the play or to the
opera. Austrian bands played there. The places of entertainment were
mostly kept up by foreigners, and were consequently not what they
might have been. To find good Italian opera one had to go to London or
to Paris. Still, the Venetians love music. It is born in them: they
have a passion for the art which nothing can subdue. Even the veriest
street urchin sings his gutter song with a fervour such as we do not
know of in the north. Despite the ban from which they suffered, the
theatres were not uninteresting. Scarcely any Italian can act
badly. Practically in every case he has the dramatic instinct. But
there was no gay buzz in the audience, no flitting from box to box.
The theatres were filled with Austrians, who took their pleasure
quietly. The artisans and other poor Venetians, who saved up their
money to go to the play, certainly did enjoy it. They cheered and
hissed with vehemence, and between the acts drank aniseed and water,
and ate candied fruits on sticks fashioned at the ends into

  [Illustration: A CAMPIELLO]

Marionette shows were very popular. The theatre was tiny, and the
stage was tiny; everything was arranged in accordance with the small
dimensions of the actors. The marionettes talked very volubly, so much
so that it was sometimes difficult to follow them. The plays, written
expressly for the marionettes, were of all descriptions, from
melodrama to farce. Sometimes there were ballets. The audience was
generally amusing. It consisted principally of boys. The hat was
passed round, and if the proprietor considered that there was not
sufficient money collected he would shout, "O you sons of dogs!" and
close the theatre.

If any Venetian of good family gave a ball or a party, he was looked
upon with suspicion by the poor, who had no holidays, no tips, small
trade, and large taxes. The Austrians gave balls and parties
occasionally, but not very often. They hated Venice, where they were
regarded as a pestilence, and shunned by all save their own
countrymen. This strange antagonism continued for a few years, until
the Austrian occupation ceased and Venice was united to the rest of

The Emperor of Austria's birthday afforded a good example of the
inter-racial bitterness. All night long Austrian bands paraded the
streets, cannons were fired at intervals, and fireworks let off. It
seemed as though by unnecessary ostentation of artillery the Austrians
were endeavouring to reach the throne in Vienna. But a dead silence
reigned in Venice. Not a single Venetian was abroad. The Austrians had
their celebrations all to themselves. It was rather pathetic to see
them trying to work up joy and enthusiasm. Next morning the
celebrations were continued. Service was held in St. Mark's Church;
and the soldiers stood outside in the square in long rows, drawn to
attention, the sun shining on their resplendent uniforms and handsome
faces--a gallant array! Not a single Venetian showed himself. Not a
blind was drawn. Not one curious woman's face appeared at a
window. Even a Venetian servant girl would not have exchanged a
civility with an Austrian officer that day. There was a dreadful hush
everywhere. Venice was like a dead city. One felt that the people were
stuffing their ears, and covering their eyes, behind drawn blinds. The
Austrians tried hard to be jubilant and gay; but very obviously they
did not succeed. In the evening they went to the opera, endeavouring
to spread out and make more of themselves; but the large house was
practically empty. The day after that, Venetian life flowed back again
into its accustomed channels. The people were laughing and chatting
and filling all the eating-houses, as though making up for lost time.
One wondered what the antagonism would all end in.


There was in Venice a committee which looked after Venetian interests.
On all the public anniversaries bombs were fired and flags were flown.
In all the Government Departments the committee placed spies, who were
so clever that they were seldom detected by the Austrians. Even in the
cathedrals those men would sometimes explode bombs. The antagonism
between the Venetian and the Austrian was shown in the piazza,
perhaps, more than elsewhere. The military band played there three
times a week, winter and summer,--played gloriously all the best
Italian airs. Much as they loved music, the Venetians walked up and
down the quay, or in the arcades. They would not enter the square
until the music was finished. Such was their pride! The cafés had no
longer their gay and lively reputation. Only at Florian's did the
Austrians and the Venetians sometimes intermingle--and that was
because of the foreigners. Usually the Venetians had their separate
cafés, and the Austrians theirs--the Quadri and the Specchi.

The piazza of St. Mark's seems to be the very heart of Venice, the
very core, from which everything radiates, only to return. If you lose
yourself in Venice, and go on walking, you will be sure to find your
way back to the piazza sooner or later. At eight o'clock the piazza
was at its very gayest. Nothing could be more lively, more amusing. It
was lined with cafés--the cafés "Suttil," "Quadri," "Costanza," and
"Florian"; which last reminds one very much of the "Café Royal" in
Paris, and was certainly quite as famous. The old proprietor of this
restaurant was greatly patronised by the Venetian nobility, who were
loud in their praises both of himself and of his viands. The first
Florian lived in the time of the Empire. There is a charming
story told of him and the artist Canova. The old hotel-keeper was very
much troubled with gout, and Canova, to whom Florian had rendered many
services, modelled the affected leg in plaster, in order that he might
have a shoe made which would fit exactly, and so ease the pain. No
doubt (but this is pure surmise) Florian favoured the artist, in
return for his kindness, with a dish of his famous "sorbet au

  [Illustration: A WOMAN OF THE PEOPLE]

Street vendors of all kinds swarmed in the piazza at
night--flower-girls of the most obliging natures, who, if you would
not buy their wares, would thrust a bouquet into your hand gratis (you
were, of course, supposed to repay them at some other time). There
were musicians of every sort and kind--some with guitars; others with
mandolines; some playing selections from the operas; others singing
"Funiculi" and "Santa Lucia" in high tenor voices; deep-chested,
bronze-faced men who explained that they were once operatic stars, but
were now reduced, by the injustice of managers and the villainous
tempers of the prima donnas, to street singing. There were men who
went about selling frosted fruits on long sticks, crying "Caramel,
caramel!" and giving descriptions of their wares in almost every
European language. People of all races were there--red-faced
Englishmen and fair women, with their rosy daughters in sailor hats,
on the way from Switzerland, the respectable English father explaining
St. Mark's with a comprehensive wave of the hand. There were
Frenchmen, Americans, Austrians, Italians, either talking volubly or
deadly quiet; Greeks, with long bluish-black hair floating out behind
them, and caps with silk top-knots (these were captains of small
vessels coming from Cyprus and Syria, and they went to the Café della
Costanza, where they could procure mocha and the pipe they loved
best); and young Venetian gentlemen who spent their lives for the most
part in drifting from one café to another, generally handsome,
well-dressed men with immaculate linen and pointed beards carefully
cut, carrying long canes, and the lightest of kid gloves (their main
object seemed to be to stare at all the pretty women); and Austrians,
smart, good-natured people, who frequented their own cafés, with much
talk and laughter and rattling of swords. Now and then one saw
Venetian women of the upper classes on the piazza, but very rarely.
They were extremely indolent and lazy, and seldom went out. The
weather, they would tell you, was never sufficiently fine: there was
too much sun, or a sirocco was coming, or a cloud threatened rain: the
slightest thing deterred them. Often the utmost exertion a Venetian
woman would allow herself in the day was to pass from her sofa to her
balcony to breathe the freshness of the flowers. Consequently, she had
a complexion which was extremely delicate, a sort of pearly whiteness.
Sometimes she would take a turn or two in the piazza with her husband
or brother as cavalier, and languidly sip anise and water at the Café

For the most part the ancient aristocracy of Venice lived in
retirement and were very poor. They dwelt in palaces whose walls were
covered with priceless paintings by great masters, with which they
would not part. They dined off a dish of polenta or fried fish, which
a valet brought from a tavern near by. Their poverty and the fear of
spies and informers combined in making society in Venice extremely
reserved. It was impossible for a stranger to penetrate into the

In summer, in the months of the dog-star, those few among the
patricians who were well-to-do flew to their villas on the banks of
the Brenta, on the mainland. They returned to Venice in winter, only
because, they said, the odours from the lagoons at that time were
unhealthy and caused fever. Those who had no country houses, and could
not afford to travel, shut themselves up in their palaces and drew
down their blinds until it was the fashionable time to appear. In the
dead season there were no lamps lit in the great entrances, and the
palaces were silent. The family lived in the back rooms on the top
story. The rest of the house was let. Most of the palaces were built
round courtyards, and the contessa might go thither as often as she
pleased to interview tradesmen and bargain for fish--there at least
she would be free from espionage.

As a matter of fact, it was pleasant to be in Venice at that season.
The heat was less: the sun did not bake the ground as it did on the
mainland. Owing to the sirocco which blew across the water, the air
was cool and sweet. Human beings, however, are ever the slaves of
custom, and it was the fashion for Venetian noblemen to spend the
summer months on the Brenta. The river scenery had a fascination for
them, just as the Thames has for Londoners. All along the banks were
rows of little, bright, stuccoed villas, somewhat flimsy, each with
its patch of garden and its shrubbery at the back, where the
family sat all day. Now and then one saw a nobleman's palace breaking
the line of somewhat uninteresting houses. Such was the magnificent
villa at Stra, belonging to a princely Venetian family, with its great
sweeps of green lawns, its orangeries, its alleys, and quaintly cut
yews. Venetians love nature when it has been trimmed by man. Certainly
the banks of the Brenta are very beautiful, especially in spring, when
the water is covered with lilies of yellow and white, and the banks
are lined with scented flags, and the larks tip the surface of the
water with violet wings and sing as they mount against the sun. It is
not unlike the scenery of some quiet English stream.

  [Illustration: CHIOGGIA]

This custom of spending the summer months in the suburbs of Venice was
called "villeggiatura." It was one of the gayest times of the year for
the Venetians. They lived by night. All day long they lay behind
closed blinds, while the sun parched and baked the ground. Only from
five o'clock in the afternoon until four in the morning could they be
said to live. Then they held dances, card-parties, and flirtations.
During these hours, when the temperature was low, amusement and
pleasure reigned supreme; but no sooner did the sun begin to rise
than, as surely as Cinderella disappeared at the stroke of twelve, the
gay society of the Brenta vanished, and the place lay dead and silent
once more under the intolerable glare.

How different society in Venice was in the early days! Then the houses
were marvels of luxury; the finest wit, the most brilliant
conversation, and the most delightful music were to be heard in
Venice. It was not in the houses of the old aristocracy that the most
brilliant people--painters, writers, poets, and politicians--assembled.
It was in the houses of women who were looked upon as more or less
shady persons, whom no Venetian gentleman would dream of introducing
to his wife. The wives of the aristocracy were seldom seen except at
public functions. They took much the same position in society as the
"honoured interior" takes in Japan at the present day. (The geisha,
although she is infinitely more entertaining, has no social status
whatever.) The Venetian lady of quality, unlike the "honoured
interior," dressed in the most magnificent style. In the estimate of
her husband nothing was too gorgeous or too costly for her to wear.
Among all those of the larger towns of northern Italy, Venetian women
of the sixteenth century were the first to wear needle-point.

Although the ideal woman of that time had to be tall, a Venetian
mother never troubled herself about the height of her daughter. At any
moment she could transform the girl's dwarfish stature to that of a
splendid giantess by the use of a pair of high pattens, which were
unnoticed beneath the long stiff dress. Neither was the colour of the
hair a source of inconvenience. Should a girl's locks be of a mousey
nondescript shade, her mother, instead of using injurious dyes, made
her daughter sit every day for three hours in the front balcony where
the sun shone the brightest, dressed in a crownless hat, so that her
tresses might be pulled through it, and a very broad brim, in order
that her face should not be tanned. Then the damsel's maid would sit
and comb her mistress's hair, bleaching in the sun. Girls were never
dressed so richly as their mothers. In fact, the uniform dress was
very simple, generally plain black or white. When they went to church
they wore long white veils, or falzulo, and on ordinary occasions long
gauzy silk ones, through which they could see, yet not be seen. On her
marriage day the girl was first introduced into society, and saw the
bridegroom for the first time. After marriage the rules which ordered
her life were not nearly so restricting.

In 1614 certain regulations were passed with regard to dress and
household extravagances--the amount of money to be spent on dress,
liveries, gondolas, jewellery, feasts and entertainments, gold and
silver plate, and even the dishes and the menus of dinner-parties. All
these were limited.

The earliest nobility consisted of twenty-four families who ruled as
tribunes over the twelve islands of the lagoons that formed the
Venetian State. Some of these families are still represented in
Venice. In the year 1296 a rigid and definite aristocracy was formed.
Those who held chief places in the management of the State, whether
they were noble or they had gained importance through their riches,
determined to establish themselves as the permanent rulers of Venice,
and to close the doors of office against all parvenus. Thenceforward
only near relations of those who sat in the Great Council could be
recognised as members of the caste. The twenty-four families,
nevertheless, had distinction, and were called the "old houses."
Admission to the Venetian nobility was rarely conferred on anyone save
foreign princes or distinguished generals. Now and then, when the
State was sorely in need of money, a Venetian family was ennobled; but
for the most part the aristocracy guarded their privileges most

In the days of her decadence, in the eighteenth century, the
tightly-laced, lackadaisical men and the hooped and brocaded women of
Venetian society lived a curious, aimless, artificial life. Their
greatest pleasure seems to have lain in gossiping, eating, drinking,
and generally struggling to kill time. It was an inane life, frigid,
without freedom, without heart, without strong emotion. All pleasures
seem to have been carried out by rule. Even the laughter and the jokes
were artificial. There can be but small wonder that society fell into
broken fortunes.

The ideal nobleman of to-day is a stronger, more active, finer person
altogether than his senatorial ancestor. His character is healthier.
He adopts more or less a country life. He owns property on the
mainland, and is very much occupied in trying to make it pay. He rears
cattle, grows crops, makes wine on his own premises, is interested in
silk-growing and in model farms, and competes for agricultural prizes
offered by the Government. His Venetian palace does not interest him
greatly. He spends a few months there in the season, gives one or two
large entertainments, and is constantly making alterations and
improvements; but his heart is in the country, and he leaves Venice
for his rural palazzo on the slightest pretext. This Venetian noble of
to-day thinks a great deal of himself. His temper is haughty, and
there is no softness or geniality about him. Nevertheless, he is a
decided improvement.

What society there is still to be found in Venice is constituted by
foreigners, mainly English and American. One of the great things to be
done is to take a gondola and go to the Canal of the Slaves, beyond
the public gardens on the island of St. Peter--to the home of an old
fisherman celebrated for his fish dinners. This fisherman's cottage is
just as celebrated in Venice as the Trafalgar Hotel in London, or the
Ship Tavern at Greenwich, or La Rapée in Paris. Here, however, is a
more picturesque environment--boats drawn up on the yellow sand, nets
stretched to dry in the sun, planks forming a landing-place in front
of the houses--all is very simple. One eats the fish dinner in a
garden, under an arbour shaded by vines, where flowers and edible
vegetables grow in charming but ill-kept confusion. The host is
jovial; his wife, a great authority, is the cheerful mother of
many children.

  [Illustration: THE FISH MARKET]

One finds on one's travels that each city has its local and peculiar
dish--Marseilles its "bouille à baisse"; Venice its "soupe au
pidocchi"--mussels, gathered in the lagoons and canals, flavoured with
spices and aromatic herbs. Personally, I would rather this Venetian
viand were not so classical; but you would touch the people to the
quick if you refused their offering. After it come oysters from the
arsenal, eels and mullet from Chioggia, fried sardines, white wine of
Policella, and fruits from the hills of Este, Marselice, and
Montagnana. At the end of the repast one is presented with a bouquet
from the garden.


No conveyance in this world is more delightful than the gondola. In
appearance it is undoubtedly the most beautiful vessel in the world.
Like most characteristic objects appertaining to Venice, it is
suitable to the place: in fact, it is the outcome of the place. There
is nothing strange or unnatural about Venice. Everything there seems
to have come about through force of necessity, and is therefore
perfectly beautiful. Even as the hansom cab suits London, or the
'rickshaw suits Japan, or the jaunting-car suits Ireland, so the
gondola is the vessel for Venice. You cannot separate the lagoon from
the gondola. One completes the other. Without either Venice would be
impossible. The gondola alone can wend its way through the intricate
water-streets of the Queen of the Adriatic.

There is no indication of movement whatever in a gondola. The craft
has no springs, no cogs, no jarring wheels or oily machinery, no
vibration. Simply one sees the palaces glide by in front of one, and
hears the water making a lapping noise under the bows. The gondolier
is out of sight. Nothing blocks your view of sea and sky, save the
slender steel ferro at the prow. The gondola is built for leisure: one
cannot quite imagine it, let us say, in America. It is a historic
vessel, with a flavour of sentiment and antiquity about it, built by a
leisured people for idleness, not for business or for hurry. It is
long and slender, flat-bottomed, and tapers towards each end, where it
rises considerably above the water. It draws but little water, and has
much the form of a skate. The felce (cabin), placed somewhat astern,
is draped with black cloth, which can be removed in the summer-time to
make room for a striped awning. This, however, the true Venetian
loathes: rather than use it, I am sure, he would be willing to swelter
under the felce. On each side of the cabin there is a window, which
can be closed in three separate ways--by a bevelled Venetian glass let
down; by a blind with movable blades; by a strip of cloth dropped

  [Illustration: MIDDAY ON THE LAGOON]

The gondola is made to hold four people. There are morocco cushions on
either side. As the seats are very low, you are supplied with two
silken cords with handles, to assist you to rise. As the cabin is too
small to turn in, one must enter a gondola backwards. The woodwork is
carved according to the wealth of the owner or the taste of the
gondolier. Sometimes it is very elaborate. Above the door is generally
a copper shield on which the coat-of-arms of the owner is engraved,
surmounted by a crown; on the felce there hangs, in a small frame, an
image of the Holy Virgin, or of St. Mark, or of St. Theodore, or of
St. George, or of some saint for whom the gondolier has a special
devotion. The lantern also hangs here--a custom which, as the gondolas
sometimes run without the star in front, is gradually dying out. On
account of the coat-of-arms, the saint, and the lantern, the left is
the place of honour: there the ladies are placed, or any aged or
distinguished person. There is in the felce a sliding panel, through
which one can communicate with the gondolier on emergency. At the prow
there is a halberd-like piece of iron, smooth and polished, called
"the ferro," much like the finger-board of a violin. This serves for
decoration, for defence, for counterpoise to the rower in the stern,
and to test the height of the bridges. It is the pride of the
gondolier to keep this always as bright as silver. Often when a crowd
of gondolas are moored thickly about the landing-stage, the ferro is
used as a wedge, by the aid of which boats can be divided. The rower
plies his oar standing on a small platform on the poop, not far behind
the cabin, and facing the direction in which the gondola is to move.

The skill with which the gondolier manages his graceful craft is
extraordinary. He stands quite upright on the poop, one foot placed
firmly in front of him, and throws the weight of his body forward on
his oar to such an extent that one fears he may follow it into the
water. It is only by long habit that he can procure the necessary
balance. The gondola is sensitive to the least impression, and the
downward stroke has the effect of sending the boat round. It is only
by turning the blade in the water, and raising it gradually upward,
that the gondola can be kept straight. The oar rests in a fork,
beautifully designed to allow free movement. The gondolier, sole
director of his craft, uses the oar sometimes as a paddle, and
sometimes as a boathook. He rows always on one side. Under the hands
of an efficient man, the gondola glides over the water like a living
thing, turning the corners of canals with great precision.

Sometimes on festa days the gondoliers practise feats, such as setting
the vessel full-tilt and with all their might against the stone wall
of a quay, going with such rapidity that you expect man and boat to be
dashed to pieces. Just at the last moment, with a powerful turn of the
oar that is interesting to watch, he stops dead at the base of the
quay, sometimes nearly grazing it. In much the same way, in the At
Maidan of Constantinople, long ago, Arab and Turkish horsemen charged
against stone walls and suddenly pulled up.

Very different is the gondola in the hands of an amateur. Many are the
duckings that ensue. Some of the young patricians, however,
occasionally don the traditional jacket, cap, and girdle of a
gondolier, and guide their own craft in a remarkably graceful manner.

Few people have any knowledge of the real meanings of the gondoliers'
cries, some of which are peculiarly sweet and characteristic. When a
man wants to pass on the left, and does not intend to use the backward
stroke, he cries, "Premi!" If, on the other hand, he wishes to pass on
the right, he cries, "Stali!" Sometimes, if when turning a dangerous
corner he wishes to be especially emphatic, he cries, "Premi! Premi!"
and "Stali! ah, Stali!" The gondola can be stopped immediately,
however great the rate at which it is travelling, by placing the blade
in front of the fork. If a man is really expert he stops his gondola
very suddenly, making a great deal of foam with his oar. When stopping
a gondola thus the gondolier cries, "Sciar!" As you approach the
landing-stage a crowd of ragamuffins, old and young, called
"crab-catchers," come forward, holding in their hands staffs, with
bent nails attached, with which to secure your gondola as you place
your foot on shore.

The gondolier is a voluble, gossiping person. He loves to have a chat
at the top of his voice with another of his kind, and to scream
repartee across the water. He enjoys nothing more than a quarrel,
especially with a man who is across the canal. Invariably they pass
from pertinent observations on their personal appearances to
defamation of their women. If such language were used at close
quarters on either bank they would come to blows. I once saw two
gondolas hook on to each other by mistake with their iron axes, and
I shall never forget the discussion that ensued. It made one's
blood literally curdle! The men looked like two angry sea-birds
pecking at each other as they pulled and pulled in their endeavour to
release themselves. When this had been accomplished they stood
upright, each on his own poop, brandishing their oars as though they
longed to kill. As a matter of fact, there is rarely any violence
among Venetians except in language. "Body of Bacchus!" one shouts.
"Blood of David!" the adversary answers. These mythological oaths
being not sufficiently comforting, they continue: "Low crab!"
"Sea-lion!" "Dog!" "Son of a cow!" "Ass!" "Son of a sow!" "Assassin!"
"Ruffian!" "Spy!" Having reached the worst taunt in their vocabulary,
they take to cursing the rival saints. "The Madonna of thy landing is
a street-walker who is not worth two candles!" one will cry. "Thy
saint is a rascal who does not know how to make a decent miracle!" the
other will rejoin. The profanity becomes more terrible as the distance
between them increases. Possibly next time they meet they will drink a
glass of wine together without remembering the quarrel.

  [Illustration: A TRAGHETTO]

The gondolier is a more intelligent person than the ordinary hackman.
He knows all the histories of the different places of interest, and
relates them for the benefit of foreigners. He has a few words of
French and English. Of course, he is a rogue by nature, and will cheat
you on every possible occasion; but that conduct is common to the
carriers of all countries. And there is something very frank and
amusing about the way in which they commit their petty thefts. A
gondolier likes to serve Englishmen or Americans, who pay good prices;
but a German is beyond his comprehension. The Teuton either goes by
the tariff or walks--an eminently foolish act, in the gondolier's

Every gondolier belongs to a traghetto (ferry-boat station), from
which gondolas cross over to Venice from various points on the
Giudecca. These traghette have been established for centuries--no one
knows exactly how long; but certainly they were in existence in the
fourteenth century. To a gondolier a traghetto is, as it were, a club.
There are sixteen traghette. Each is governed by its own laws and
constitutions, which are still strictly kept; each has its own
history, archives, and parchment documents. By this society are
regulated the gondolier's wages, the limits of his obedience, his
holidays, everything appertaining to his welfare. There is at each
traghetto a little house in which the gondoliers can sit and gossip
and mend their boats.

One sees some of the finest types there. Years ago they used to sing
there on moonlight nights, in their beautiful broken Venetian patois,
verses from Tasso. It is long since they have done this as a habit;
but they will do it sometimes if you pay them sufficiently well. One
often hears them singing on the lagoon to the accompaniment of an
Englishman's golden coins. You can almost imagine on such occasions
that you are living away back in the Middle Ages--except that now the
Venetians drink a good deal, as they certainly never did then, and
sing in thick, guttural voices, somewhat hoarse, but on the whole
beautiful, as the musical Venetian dialect must always be. The songs
that they sing are all about lovely maidens and romantic excursions on
the water. The singing is very fine from a distance, the melody of a
human voice floating out on the calm and silence of the night. The
gondoliers are proud of their talent, and value it highly.

Nearly every gondolier belongs to a bank. He is a capable financier.
In company with twenty-nine other men, he deposits 10 lire, and
pledges to pay a weekly sum of 1 lira throughout the year. On his
failing to pay up once a week, 10 per cent. on each lira is charged.
Gondoliers are supposed to borrow a certain amount, for which 10 per
cent. is charged, every year. The accounts of the bank are settled in
September, and then a new venture is started.

The gondolier is an inflammable person. He is much taken up with
pretty women getting in and out of gondolas. Love-making with him
begins on the bridges in the narrow canals, or at the windows. One
fine day, generally very early in life, when propelling his boat
slowly down a side canal, he sees at an iron grated window the face of
a girl. Instantly becoming enamoured, boldly he takes up his position
every day underneath her casement, waiting for a look, sighing for a
smile. If by chance the maiden should appear and return his salute, he
takes himself off with great joy; and at the end of the day, when his
work is done, he and a friend in whom he has confided dress themselves
in their best, and call upon the father of the girl, formally to ask
her hand. He states his family, his profession, the amount of his
income, and the extent of his love. Two or three months are allowed to
elapse. Then there will be more gazing at the window and meeting in
the calle. If by the end of that time their affection has
declared itself sincere, the lover and his parents are invited to
supper at the girl's home. Every stage in a Venetian's love affair is
marked by feasts, generally suppers. On this occasion the young man
again asks the father's consent. This is accorded him, and the pair
are blessed. The ceremony is called the "dimanda." A little later
comes the betrothal ("segno"), when the lover presents the girl with
her wedding ring, and, if he can afford it, other rings as well. There
is a sumptuous supper, and thenceforward they are called respectively
"novizza" and "spoza." During the time of the betrothal the poor
gondolier is kept very busy buying and giving presents to the lady of
his choice. He must give the proper things at the proper times, and
never by any chance make the mistake of purchasing a comb or scissors,
for one is an emblem of the witch, and the other signify a cutting
tongue. He must remember to present to her at Christmas a confitura of
fruit and raw mustard-seed, and a box of mandolato; on All Souls' Day
a box of fare; at the Feast of St. Mark a boccolo or button-hole of
rosebuds; at Easter a fugazza or cake; at Martinmas roast chestnuts.
The thing for the girl to give in return is a silk handkerchief: it
is not considered etiquette to present her lover with a gift of great

  [Illustration: MARIETTA]

In Venice everything is ruled by custom. The most important acts in a
Venetian's life are bound and fettered by it, and he would never dream
of breaking through. He will sacrifice anything for custom, and never
count the cost. For example, if one saw a gondolier at a festa, or at
a baptism, or at a wedding, you might take him for either a rich man
or a spendthrift. As a matter of fact, he is neither the one nor the
other. Only, he is bound by custom to do certain things and spend a
certain amount of money at a festa, and he does it regally. He may
have to pinch and scrape at home afterwards; but that is another

The gondoliers are a very conservative people. They are the slaves of
custom. Custom is to them a religion. They much prefer their ancient
customs to any new order of comfort or convenience. Their lives are
simple, bright, and easy; their wants are very few and moderate.
House-rent is cheap: they can procure a fallen palace in moderately
good repair for half a franc a day. They are frugal and easily
pleased; their constitutions are sound; their climate is fine, and the
air they breathe is pure. Consequently, the gondolier can live
happily, with his wife, on a franc and a half a day. His meals, to be
sure, are always the same--coffee and bread in the morning, polenta
and fish at mid-day, a soup of shell-fish or artichokes at night. When
the family begins to be large, the gondolier's life is not ideal;
still, in spite of the hunger and poverty and crowding in Venetian
houses, a great deal of joy manages to find room. If a baby lives, he
grows up into a fine healthy man, robust and happy; but usually he
dies, especially if he is one of many. Venetian women seem to have
naturally not the slightest idea how to bring up a baby. It is only
after constant habit and practice, and the loss of lives, that a
mother seems to grasp the first principles of a baby's upbringing.
Before that she will feed it, at two months old, on black coffee, sour
apples, and wine; allow it to swallow all kinds of lotions and
concoctions prepared by the doting old crones of the quarter. As the
child grows older she lets it wear during winter the clothes which it
wore in summer. Then she wonders why out of eight children only four
are living. It is a beautiful sight to see a great gondolier nursing
his little child. He may be harsh and bullying to his fellows; but he
treats Baby with the utmost tenderness and gentleness. The child is a
good deal safer in his arms than in those of the mother.

The chief amusements of the gondolier are to go to the opera or to see
marionettes, to make up a party and spend the day in the country, to
compete in a rowing match, and to give a little supper at a wine-shop.
It is on such days as these that the true freshness and warmth of his
nature appear, and one sees the gondolier as he is--mirthful, pungent,

There are two things about which the gondolier is particular. One is
his bread, and the other is his wine. One seldom finds good wine in
Venice. It is only when the red wine arrives fresh from Padua and
Verona that it is good. Then everyone rushes to the wine-shops; for
nothing spreads quicker than the reputation of a good wine, and
everyone clamours for it. Very soon it becomes watery and sour. The
white wine the gondoliers do not like at all. Of bread there are all
kinds. One is expected to have a preference for a certain make, and
there are many different makes. There are the Chioggian bread, the
"pane Commune," the "pane col agid," and many others.

  [Illustration: BAMBINO]

Men of the gondolier class do not think a great deal of religion. That
is reserved for women. Church-going is no longer a habit with the men.
Still, whenever matters of ancient custom step in they invariably do
their duty--as in events of domestic life, such as confirmations,--and
the little chapel to the Madonna at each traghetto has always its
flowers and its few candles placed there by the reverent hands of the

Times were good for the gondoliers when Venice was rich and
prosperous. Nowadays their gains are meagre, and they number hundreds
where they numbered thousands in the old days. Noblemen kept six or
seven gondolas, with attendant gondoliers, and, besides paying them an
ample salary, on festa days allowed them to exact any payment they

If you are staying in Venice for any length of time, it is better to
hire a gondola and gondolier by the month than by the day. One only
pays five francs a day, and when off duty the youth makes an excellent
servant in the house. He comes and knocks at your water-gate at a
certain time every day; also he will wait at table, act as footman,
take care of the children; in fact, he will do everything one wishes;
and he pays the proprietor of the gondola, out of his own pocket, one
franc a day. It is the ambition of every gondolier to serve an

They say that Venice is always silent; but I can vouch that it is not
so. At night, if your lodgings are anywhere near a landing-place, you
will find that it is very noisy indeed. The gondoliers sleep at their
posts on the pedestals of the two columns as they sit waiting for a
job, and they love their repose in the sunshine; but at night they
become extremely lively, and keep up a perpetual disturbance of
laughter, shouts, and songs until two o'clock in the morning. They sit
on the marble steps, or on the ends of their gondolas; or they eat
shell-fish and drink wine under the light of the lamps in the niches
of the Madonnas at street corners; vagabonds from their beds in the
street arise and join them.

One sees on the lagoons gondolas of all kinds, carrying passengers of
all kinds, and it is sometimes interesting to peep inside as they
pass. There are official gondolas, with the Italian banner floating at
their sterns, carrying some cold, stiff functionary in full-dress
uniform, his breast covered with decorations. Another carries English
people, phlegmatic tourists, to Chioggia; another, with lowered felce,
hides lovers who are going to breakfast somewhere on the lagoon; yet
another, a larger gondola, takes a family to the sea baths at the
Lido. There is a red craft waiting at the foot of some steps; a red
bier is brought out of a church by a red cortege,--it is a corpse, to
be buried in a cemetery on an island on the way to Murano. (When
anyone dies in Venice a notice is posted up on his house, and on the
houses round about, stating the age, place of birth, and the illness
of which he died; also saying that he has received the Sacrament and
died a good Christian; prayers are asked for his soul.) There are
gondolas in which are musical instruments of all kinds--violins of
Cremona, cornets, mandolines, tambourines,--a complete orchestra.
Quite a large flotilla of gondolas follow in its wake. One has
fastened to the side a bluish monster splashing and making the water
foam. That is a dolphin, a marine curiosity which is displayed by the
proud possessors under all the balconies as they pass, collecting
money in a hat. In order that it may be seen to advantage, the animal
is kept half in the water and half out.

If one is at all interested in gondolas--that is to say, in the making
of them,--nothing could be more fascinating than to spend a few hours
in a squero (building yard). Any gondolier will be pleased to take
you there, for he is inordinately proud of his craft. The squeri are
picturesque; but somehow one always associates them with pitch. The
place reeks with it. Always in one corner there stands the pitch-pot,
sending a stream of thick black smoke up into the air. Small boys
prance around, looking like young imps among the smoke and blaze, and
wave smearing brushes in their hands. Long lines of boats, like some
strange fish out of water, are drawn up, waiting to be cleaned or
mended. The bottom of a gondola has to be dried thoroughly and quickly
before receiving its coat of melted tallow. This is done by lighting a
blazing fire of reeds under the boat, the flames leaping high into the
air. Volumes of smoke arise, roll up over the house-tops, and are
swept away by the breeze. Boys dance a kind of war-dance round the
flames. The art of gondola-building is exacting. Three qualities are
absolutely necessary to the formation of a perfect craft. It must draw
but little water; it must turn easily; and it must be rowable by one
oarsman only. To secure this, the hull is built of light thin boards,
and only a portion of the flat bottom rests upon the water. Thus the
boat swings as on a pivot. Then, the gondola is not equally divided by
a line drawn from stern to bow: in order that the rower may be
balanced, there is more bottom on one side than on the other. The
various woods of which a gondola is made must be chosen with great
care. They must be well seasoned and without knots, for the planks are
liable to warp and the knots to start. Once every twenty days in
summer the gondolier forfeits his four lire and takes his gondola to
the squero to be cleaned and scraped. Weeds rapidly collect at the
bottom when the water is warm, and the deadly toredo bores holes
through the planking. The gondola is hauled up high and dry, and a
fire burnt underneath it. A whole day's earnings in the summer season
is a great loss to the gondolier; but if he keeps his gondola in good
condition it will last him for a considerable time, perhaps for five
years, and, besides, when the bottom of the boat is kept clear of
weeds and well greased the speed is greater. When a gondolier sells
his craft it becomes a ferry-boat for five years, the woodwork slowly
bowing and bending until it becomes a gobbo half buried in the water.
Later it is sold for five lire, broken up, and burnt in the glass
manufactories of Murano.


The natural history of these objects and their gradual development
through centuries would form a fascinating chapter. To gain some idea
of what the gondola once was, it is as well to study the pictures of
Gentile Bellini and Carpaccio in the Academy. There you will see
Venetian nobles in their gondolas with their light Eastern rugs. The
ferro was not then hatchet-shaped, with six teeth, as it is now, but a
round club of metal. The rower was tall and graceful, standing on the
poop in his parti-coloured hose and slashed doublet. One can see by
these pictures what a great change the gondola has undergone. Those
who have not been to Venice, and wish to know something of a gondola
in its later stage, would do well to study the pictures of Guardi and
Canaletto. Therein the gondola has not its old brilliant colouring;
but what it has lost in colour it has gained in grace.

Some of the gondoliers are most skilful in managing without either
keel or rudder; like the Vikings of old, steering with an oar behind.
A good man is devotedly attached to his gondola. He knows its
character and peculiarities. To the initiated every gondola differs in
a hundred details from its fellow, although they may all have
apparently been built on the same model. A gondolier's skill in rowing
depends largely upon his knowledge of his craft. One can generally
gauge the efficiency of a man by the brightness of his ferro. The
slightest spot of dew or rain upon it produces a spot of rust which
takes weeks of constant rubbing to efface. There is a good deal of
brass-work which has to be kept clean; the cushions must be brushed,
and the paint scrubbed; and altogether a gondolier spends quite an
hour and a half a day on the toilet of his craft, polishing, oiling,
and scrubbing. His own person does not occupy nearly so much of his

  [Illustration: UNDER THE MIDDAY SUN]

The gondola is so closely connected with the life of the sea city that
most of one's impressions of Venice are wound round and about it. It
is not always safe out on the lagoon in a gondola. Often in summer or
in autumn a gale will suddenly arise. Great masses of cloud will
gather in the east, and gain upon you; they are curved into an arc by
the pressure of the wind from behind, although upon the water there is
scarcely enough breeze to fill a sail. These great billowy battalions,
dark and angry, advance slowly, steadily; the water changes from a
pale transparent to a pale sea-green as thick as jade. A feeling of
oppression fills the air, a brooding stillness, for five minutes,
while the storm-clouds gradually overtake you. Then comes a low
humming noise like that of a threshing machine: it is the wind on the
nearest island. You down sail and make for the first port in view. The
hurricane leaps out from the city, striking the water and tearing it
into foam, flinging the spray high in air. There is hurry and
confusion in the sky; the thundery clouds are rent and riven; and
through the gaps of dull-coloured vapour you see the steely blue of
the storm-clouds boiling as in a cauldron; and far above all is blue
sky and sunlight; a rainbow spans the lagoon. Then the whole tornado
sweeps away south-westward. The sun sets, leaving the sky dark, but
with flaming streamers; then night falls over all. There is lightning
and storm away in the distance. The heavens assume their customary
deep blue, and the breeze is fresh and cool. These summer storms are
sometimes almost tropical in their fury; but they are quickly over.
Their path is narrow--usually confined to one line on the lagoon;--but
where they strike they leave devastation in their track.

The Venetians love festas, and in the days of the city's wealth and
pride the State lavished great sums and much care upon its
entertainments. Certainly the natural capacities of the city gave
splendid scope for great spectacles. It was a magnificent background,
and seemed to invite display. The pictures of Bellini, Carpaccio,
Veronese, and all the rest of the old Venetian masters, prove how
deeply the people must have loved the pageants and State processions.
With the collapse of the State these customs fell into disuse. For
example, there was that wonderful old sport--how picturesque it must
have been!--the battle on the bridge between the Nicolotti and the
Castellani, rival factions of black and red. There also was the
regatta (I am not sure if it continues)--a great spectacle that could
not be surpassed by any in Europe. A race was rowed in light gondolas,
smaller than those of ordinary use. The Grand Canal was crowded with
boats of all sizes--sandolas, barche, barchette, tipos, cavaline,
vigieri, bissoni,--there is no end to the variety of Venetian craft.
The façades of the palaces fluttered with flags, tapestries, carpets,
and curtains,--anything that would add to the general mass of colour.
The balconies were filled with people; every window had its bevy of
heads. Down below on the water the scene was brilliant. The course was
kept by large twelve-oared boats, all decorated symbolically. One
represented the Arctic regions, the rowers being dressed as polar
bears, with blocks of ice for seats; another the tropical regions,
with palms and gorgeous flowers. In the evening there was a serenade,
starting from a point above the Rialto. The singers and the orchestra
were placed on a barge decorated and lighted by many coloured lamps,
and the music of Donizetti's "A te, o cara" filled the air. The object
of every gondolier on an occasion of this kind was to get his padrone
as near to the music as possible, whether he wanted it or not. The
singers' barge, therefore, was surrounded by a solid mass of gondolas,
which floated slowly down the canal together, getting denser as the
canal narrowed to pass under the Rialto bridge. It was a fantastic
scene--with the masses of Bengal lights, the rising moon, the gondolas
swaying gently to the rhythm of the song and the sea, and the
statuesque gondoliers, creatures of the sea, standing upright on the
stern of their vessels, or, oars in hand and hair blown by the breeze,
silhouetted against a background of deep-blue sky.

  [Illustration: THE RIALTO]

The gondolier in Venice is an important person to the stranger. Half
one's comfort depends on his worthiness or unworthiness. He is like
the girl of childhood's fame "who, if she was good, was very very
good, but, if she was bad, was horrid." If you are the employer
of an ideal gondolier you will find him thorough, ready-handed, and
versatile. In passing rapidly through Venice one does not properly
appreciate his worth. You must own him for some months before you
discover that he will attach himself to you and identify himself with
your interests in an almost feudal manner. He will save you an
infinity of trouble, and repay your confidence with honesty. The
gondolier usually prefers to have a foreigner for a master. The
foreigner pays well, never grumbling at the full tariff of five lire a
day: also, as the foreigner does not know the language or the place,
the gondolier becomes of some importance in the eyes of his
neighbours, who bid for his patronage. With a Venetian master he would
be paid from three to five lire a day; the work would be harder, and
the hours later.

When the squerariola (gondola builders) have finished their work, the
vessel will probably have cost three hundred lire. Even then the craft
is not by any means complete. There are the steel ornaments and many
other details to be bought and bargained for,--things not procurable
at the squero. For the steel prow (ferro), which must have the edges
of its teeth in one straight line, and in these days of hurried
workmanship is not always to be found, one must seek in all the
smithies in Venice. A good gondolier, however, will often possess a
ferro, an heirloom, made of hand-wrought iron, not cast in mould,
heavy and brittle, as are the new ferri, but light and pliant. A ferro
of the good and ancient make, if properly cared for and not allowed to
rust, will outlive many a gondola. For the sea-horses, the rude
carvings, the pictured Madonnas, the rugs and the covering for the
felce,--all, in fact, that helps to make the gondola the picturesque
craft it is,--one must go to the various shops in Venice.

Modern progress and modern ideas are rapidly sweeping away the ancient
and hereditary profession of the gondolier. One feels that his life
and that of the traghetto are drawing to a close--that soon they will
be things of the past. What would the Grand Canal be like without its
swiftly gliding gondola, black-hulled, black-roofed,--its most
characteristic feature? What a terrible thing it will be when that
exquisite art is forgotten,--when the Venetian can no longer judge the
turn of a corner or balance himself on the poop,--when for the
picturesque cries "Stali!" and "Premi!" will be substituted the clank
and thud of the steamers' screws! When a company first began to run
steamers from Venice to the railway station and public gardens, the
gondoliers struck. For three whole days there were no gondolas running
in Venice; the canals were full of tightly packed vessels, while their
owners hung together in groups at the wine-shops, talking. A strange
and scratch fleet of nondescript boats plied between Venice and the
islands, and the expression of the gondoliers, as they leaned over the
bridges and watched the amateur watermen struggling with their oars,
was quite unique. On the second day a notice was posted up in every
traghetto begging the men to return to their work, and not to bring
dishonour on a profession which had always been such a source of pride
to Venice. This had no effect. The gondoliers merely enlisted the
services of a barrister, getting him to take a copy of their demand to
the Company--that the offending steamers should be removed. That was
impossible. The steamers were cheap and useful, and the gondoliers
could not be allowed to dictate to the State. However, they were told
that if they returned peaceably to their work something might be done
for them. They persisted in their strike, until suddenly--no one ever
knew why, or whence it came--a single gondola started running from
one of the ferries. That broke the ice. The gondoliers rushed to their
crafts and untied them. The strike was forgotten. The men's first
thought was to find good custom. I have always felt that there was
something touching in this hopeless struggle of the gondoliers against
the modernity that is fast settling on and demoralising Venice.


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