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The Fabric of Venice

All-Day Program

Full Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1H0119
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
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"On the Canal", 1903, by John Singer Sargent (Musee du Petit Palais, Avignon)

The history of Venice is rich with the names of great painters, from Bellini to Titian and Tiepolo to Canaletto. However, Venice is more than the sum of the paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings rendered by its master artists. The defining features of the city begin with the lagoon, and continue with the story of the Grand Canal and smaller rivulets, the bridges, the squares and courtyards, the churches and scuole—in short, the fabric of the fabled place. Eric Denker of the National Gallery of Art explores the elements of the urban environment that combine to make one of the most enchanting cities on earth.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.  The Sinew of the City: Canals and Bridges

The canals of Venice, from the heart of the Grand Canal to the smaller waterways, are the circulatory system of the body Venetian. As highways and alleyways they provide access to the palaces, businesses, homes, and squares of the city. The 450 bridges form the connecting sinew of the lagoon city, from the four famous Grand Canal bridges to the smaller private spans. Explore a history of the canals and bridges, both the permanent spans and the great pontoon festival bridges of the Venetian feast days

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  Sacred Spaces: The Churches and the Scuole

A list of only the most famous and significant churches would include the San Marco, the Frari, San Zanipolo, Madonna della Salute, and San Giorgio Maggiore. Among the most unappreciated would include San Giacomo dell’Orio, San Rocco, and Santa Maria del Carmine, each packed with treasures. However, Venice encompasses more treasures than simply those commissioned by churches. Since the 14th century the city has had confraternities that provide social support for members of different international communities and trades. In the 15th century these scuole blossomed into six large charitable institutions of impressive wealth and architecture that supported orphanages, widows, and hospitals. The scuole also provided a necessary political outlet for ambitious and accomplished members of the citizen class that were excluded from governance by their birth.

12 noon to 1 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1 to 2:15 p.m.  Orbis Mundi: The Piazzas, Squares, and Courtyards 

The Venetian square is the central organizing focus of each neighborhood, or sestiere. Each has its own unique character and topography, but each reflects certain mainstays of Venetian culture. The character of Venice is best understood through the nature of the squares, in contrast to the piazzas that have become traffic islands in Florence, Milan, and Rome.

2:30 to 4 p.m.  Venice Depicted: From Bellini to Canaletto to Whistler

Examine the changing appearance and perception of Venice by employing images from Jacopo dei Barbari’s great 1500 woodcut through Canaletto’s vistas of the city, and from Turner’s fireworks to James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent’s intimate views of the back canals and narrow alleyways.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit

Smithsonian Connections

Venice has provided centuries of inspiration of visual artists of all kinds. reports on one whose sensitive and detailed documentation of daily life in the city is shared in a way that Canaletto or Whistler could never have imagined: Instagram. See samples of the more than 700 urban portraits of Venice created by photographer Alvise Giovannini.