Re_Iter Filippo de Pisis

The Italian painter Filippo de Pisis (1896-1956) had a close and passionate relationship with Venice, where he ‘very much liked to walk’.1

He visited it several times and here was the first and only house he had ever bought. His love for Venice is described in a series of short texts that he wrote between 1915 and 1948, later published in Ore Veneziane in 1974, illustrated by his own drawings, and for the first time translated into English by the Museo del Camminare.

Re_iter has reconstructed an itinerary through the places that de Pisis loved, poetically described, painted, and that Venice has preserved almost intact. This itinerary is available here to those who want to look for the feelings and emotions that the painter experienced.



The Italian artist Filippo de Pisis was born in Ferrara in 1896 as Luigi Filippo Tibertelli. Writer and poet, he was most renowned as a painter since the early 1920s, after he joined the De Chirico brothers in the Metaphysical movement.

In 1925 he moved to Paris to pursue a more free artistic and social life as a painter, dandy and homosexual. Together with the De Chiricos, he actively participated in the 1920s and 1930s Parisian art life hanging out with Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and Cocteau. At the same time, he defined his pictorial style while devoting himself to the painting of urban views, portraits, and still lives.

When at the outbreak of WWII in 1939 de Pisis moved back to Italy, his fame was already widespread in Europe. His Venetian life began in 1943, when he moved there from Milan immediately after the heavy Anglo-American bombing hit Milan in August and damaged his studio. Initially, he rented a small flat at 3435 Piscina San Samuele, and then a studio not far from the Church of Carmini.2

In early 1944, he bought his first and only house he ever had, a small palazzo at San Sebastiano 1709 – close to the Churches of San Sebastiano and Angelo Raffaele – though he had to wait for the tenants to vacate the premises before moving there in 1945. He painted his family's coat of arms on the front-door, and on the lintel was the Book of Psalms verse ‘Laudate Pueri Dominum’ – Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord. He bought a beautiful gondola and employed a servant-gondolier because: ‘To be able to see, to understand, to be able to live this stone fleet at anchor in a dream one needs to contemplate it mostly from the water’.3

But de Pisis could only enjoy his Venetian house until 1949, when the neurological disorder of which he suffered forced him to move to Villa Fiorita, in Brugherio – the psychiatric nursing home where he died in 1956.

Very talented painter, writer, and poet, de Pisis left a large number of paintings, many of them at the Museo Filippo de Pisis in Ferrara, and at the Pinacoteca Civica of Forlì. He also left a considerable body of remarkable fiction and poetry writings that include La città dalle cento meraviglie, Le memorie del marchesino pittore, Ver-Vert, and Poesie.

Venice, or the consolation of the stone

Even more mysterious are those laws for which, in Venice, architecture reigns over human affairs, and this is a sweet consolation. Poignant curves of bridges, heavy eyelashes of marble windows, laughter of columns and alleys. The harmony of the stones, from the severe lines of the classic palaces to those sweet and quivering of the ogival arch, seem to find a correspondence with the harmonies diffused in the air.4


1. San Sebastiano 1709

In the anteroom, three impassive and dignified figures are waiting, wearing a black academic costume, embroidered in silver, with short-length trousers, black silk stockings, small buckle shoes. […] They make one recall classical pages, travels in coach, Stendhal in Italy, celebrations for the entry of the first Consul in Milan. In a beautiful painting by Cavallino, a half-naked hitman throws stones at a sort of priest lying on the ground and wearing something like a moon-shaped mitre; the same figure stands high on a staircase in a large sketch for the altarpiece “The Presentation to the Temple” by Cignaroli. A rare flower, a tiger skin arum folds the indecent corolla into a small green bronze mortar.

In the sweet mysterious vegetable garden and garden, sheltered by the big age-old fig tree (its leaves that were like green hands fifteen days ago are already spread out and they fold up like soft soaked paper), there is the small paradise staircase. A small staircase made of seasoned and rain-darkened wood on which I put the pots of inula lybica. The beautiful deep orange-yellow flowers, with white and black eyes at the basis of the petals like those of some butterflies, fly up the nervous stalks, fold up, wait for the bees’ or a nomad cabbage-butterfly’s kisses, and modestly close up in the evening.

[The 19 square metres salon at the first floor hosted the 18th-century cage for his parrot, Cocò, a huge Murano glass pumpkin, a Japanese Samurai armour, and many paintings: Bazzani, Strozzi, Guercino, Grecaccio, Bernardino Zenale, Utamaro, Mancini, Spadini, and the Manet that de Pisis had bought in Paris.]5

The saint Cocò is the only living animal there (also called Sorapis because it always climbs up to the highest spot, and “small sea star”, “green blackbird”, “vieille branche de lilla” [old lilac branch], etc. etc., real endless litanies) and some small ants that mysteriously go out of wall cracks, and a silent and delicate millipede that appears on some nights on the white wall of the corridor.6

2. Churches of Angelo Raffaele and San Sebastiano

In the nearby [of de Pisis’ house] is the Church of Angelo Raffaele, famous for its powerful Guardis (“Marriage of Tobiuzzo” [Tobias] on the panel of the organ) and the other one of St Sebastian with enjoyable Veroneses.7


3. Campo dell’Angelo Raffaele


4. San Barnaba 3074

[De Pisis’ studio was a large room at the first floor, accessible by a wooden staircase and with windows overlooking a small back garden. ‘I get all of Venice to come to my San Barnaba studio’, he wrote in September 1943.]8


5. San Pantalon


6. Campo Sant’Agnese


7. Santa Maria della Salute

White and tremendous church. I never entered your door, but your image attracts my spirit.

Your dome, the spirals like immense fabulous snails of your ramparts and the baroque statues looking at the sky. The black gondolas pass lighter in front of you, the gondoliers move graciously. Your bulk stands out against the grey or blue sky, or of the colour of pearl or violets with neat contours, and infinite horizons seem to hide behind.

An uncertain evening, it seemed to me that everything was desert around you, in the open space to the left I saw a front gate and above the arch some ovals painted with cardinal’s emblems.

Old Salute, I think of you in the centuries-old paintings, ochre-yellow and carefully finished, but which painter will be able to steal you and fix your sweet mystery on the canvas?

Grey seagulls fly around your dome, which is glad in some sunny mornings, but when the days are grey you are sad and livid like a grinning skull, old Salute.9


8. Piscina San Samuele 3435

[De Pisis lived in a rented flat in this house between September 1943 and 1945, when he moved into his small palazzo in Dorsoduro. He was very proud of this San Samuele flat because it was adjacent to the one once dwelled by the famous Italian Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese.]10]


9. Church of San Moise


10. St Mark Square


11. Caffè Florian

In that undecided sunset I was sitting with my friend at one of the Caffè Florian’s tables outside the arcade. The waiter brought the tray. I liked the golden cloud that the milk drops made in the cup of tea.

The good-quality china featured a small golden bleu emblem with the lion of Saint Mark. My friend would have wanted to shake the silence off me, but a sweet melancholy was oppressing me. Oh this square, in which marbles seem really imbued with harmony! […]

Under the arcades, the people crowded as inebriated with the shop window lights. I saw a bat flying against a pearl sky and then a small silver star high above the Procuratie.11


12. Hotel Danieli

And then I walked along the lagoon until the Caffè Orientale, until the Danieli, D’Annunzio’s hotel. […] The Danieli with its reddish façade and raised lettering makes me think of the old times, which seem happier. Through the low windows opened to the sun I saw a big glass chandelier, a black and white waiter; on the door, a woman figure with an étranger appearance. Perhaps she had the red-bound Baedeker in the hands and a small camera. The red of that Baedeker and the black of that small camera are by now like local colours here in the square, in the open spaces, in the campielli.12


13. Frari [San Giorgio]

The water wasn’t green, neither silver, nor colourless, cold, deep, moving and unmoving, and over there the usual profile of the Frari [Church of St George] and some forlorn windows on a coarse wall that really looked like attentive eyes.13


14. Church of San Zaccaria

He told me: “You have never seen the Bellini of St Zaccaria?… Ahhh… that’s serious!…” and he led me there on that splendid afternoon.

I had seen this church on a rainy evening, but in passing before leaving Venice, and I had its image engraved in my heart. […] From the bright sky, pale pink as in a sunset, a small and meticulously painted green tree stood out, and to the left, a branch of fig tree.

The Virgin with a bit melancholic visage lightly touches with her large hand the small feet of the baby, who has a blonde and gentle little head. These colours made me think of big bunches of autumn flowers, of sun-ambered bodies on the beach, of the deep waters of lakes and the sea, of the laughing eyes of beautiful creatures. I read the date 1505 on a small card at the foot of the throne. Faraway, different times.

And then we went to the sacristy to see the polyptychs by the Vivarinis, and a painting by Palma. How much painting is in Venice. On the left, I was struck by the gilded frames surrounding the small door of an antiques cabinet, there also was a mirror reflecting the sunbeams and a colourful wooden putto.

As we entered, our eyes were attracted to superb altarpiece to the left. The sun was entering from a high window opened to the side of the church and an intense, warm light illuminated the altarpiece, whose colours seemed to turn on with an unusual blaze.

I stood for a while looking at it, then I kneeled on the marble step.

The Saint bishop to the right all enshrouded in purple was holding the big book among the hands. […] I couldn’t get enough of looking at it. “Stuff to die for”, I muttered to myself. It was like a cry by the wounded soul. Words are so miserable in front of certain things.

For which mysterious law that board painted long before had such a power on my senses? And then I would have had a great quiet, a desert around me for enjoying that harmonious ensemble of painted images, but Venice was waiting for me outside, with its calli, its houses, its “tremendous interiors”.14

15. Rio di San Giuseppe

One day, while I was returning from the Art Exhibition, on foot, through the gardens, I caught sight of a small house of scraped red stones on the Rio di San Giuseppe. A tree branch was sticking out from the wall of a small garden, and, to the front, on the narrow canal, there was a boat in front of the narrow door. And the light was calmly reflecting on the green of the branch, on the glow of the water. Oh, if I could have this small house, in which to work and love!15


16. Church of San Salvador

What a beautiful church! I entered it one evening as I could not take anymore, to rest a little on a bench in the shadow and hold my temples. The coming and going in the central narrow streets between the light of the shops’ windows had turned me crazy.

I did not know where to seek refuge, and sometimes I hate cafes.

Before, I had ventured into a dark alley and I had stopped on a little bridge to look down at the black water between the fondamenta, but I could not remain there.

It came to my mind that I had seen a door of what seemed an evangelic temple. “I’ll go there”, I said to myself. I went back and I entered.

In the church there was a surpliced priest talking loudly at an altar, but I withdrew to the back and I sat on one of the empty benches near an old man, a retired man? A disappointed heart. I stayed like that with my forehead leaning to a palm. One could barely see the big monuments on the walls. An old man was setting chandeliers on an altar: I stood up.

“Which church is this?”

“San Salvatore…”

“Thank you.”

I sat again. “How many churches are in Venice!”.16


17. Fondaco dei Tedeschi

On the Fondaco dei Tedeschi palace, which Titian and Giorgione once frescoed, are gentle merlons of a very white marble, silvery and bright, as typical as that back and almost funereal of other buildings.

On the merlons are balls, of Gothic and Argive origin. On every ball, on April mornings, a seagull rests motionless with the same colour of the marble: illusion of sculpture. Some seagull flies away, immediately replaced by others.17


18. Church of San Giovanni e Paolo

Near San Giovanni e Paolo is a monumental hospital. I still have in my eyes a lunette above the door in a strong morning sunshine. Penitents with sacks and wearing hoods crowd around the archaic figure of St Mark, one of them in the act of kissing the hand of the Saint, who has a pronounced profile. How sweet is the power of this high-relief!18


19. Rio dei Mendicanti


20. Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Suddenly it appeared in front of us with its clock tower, sweet vision, among the humble houses, the small square before was desert and sunny.19


21. Church of Gesuiti

I saw the facade raising up white on profile with its statues and in the background a sweet strip of intense blue appeared: the lagoon, the sea and then farther down, like a glory of clouds, the Alps with whitening peaks. Crazy serenity of lights and colours. In a while, it seemed I was gasping for breath. We entered. […]

We stopped in front of Titian’s dark altarpiece of the Martyrdom of St Laurence, of warm ochres, of shadow soils bituminous and regrown, there emerged some figures with a prepotent vitality of theirs. The sacristy is entirely covered with paintings by Palma and his school. How much painting is in Venice! […]

The church is like tapestried with white marbles with damask-like green foliage, and on the flight of steps leading to the main altar the inlaid marbles simulate a carpet. Vagueness of the 18th century.20


22. House of Spectres

[At Fondamente Nove] To the right one could see the houses of Murano, to the left a reddish house that seemed to lean into the water. Green plants were leaning from a short wall. Graceful house with its red roof and old window shutters.

“That is the house of spectres”, my friend said.21


23. Church of San Marcuola

I had spent a long time to admire a large painting by Tintoretto. It represents “Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet”.

“The moving confusion!” One who looks at this painting seems to live again the hours in which it was painted, a placid light coming from the back where can be seen a white temple with a tympanum, and an obelisk as beyond spacious courtyards, and there, perhaps, are old tress and fountains. Here in the large room the various figures of old rich are stripping their feet. One of them is in the act of pulling the high sandals of another seated, like hunting leg gaiters.

Mysterious shadows seem to come down the walls.22


24. Palazzo Labia

Exiting [the church of San Geremia] on the right, I was struck by a big bearded and frowning marble head, on a door’s arch. There are many in Venice, but this is probably the most beautiful. The marble is blackened and that bronze-like colour strengthen the severe and malleable-solid character of these 16th-century sculptures.23


25. Church of San Rocco

I confusedly remember another church […] San Rocco I think. […] To the right of the main altar, I remember a powerful large painting by Tintoretto, among the other figures lying on the ground is a half-naked young man hold up by another bearded figure. His nudity emerges from the tenebrous background with the admirable power of a high-relief.24


Mooring Poles

I don’t know why but I found myself thinking of the coloured poles before the front doors of your palaces, of your houses, Venice!

With brightly coloured spirals: in the sunshine, with gilded heads, lapped and corroded by the black water, with mossy green beards, overturned in curlicues diffused in water, nacred, century-old, you magic poles certainly enshrine a bit of the ‘mother-of-pearl city”’s soul.25

A Night on the Lagoon

The puffing steamer was fast moving away from the Lido. I was sitting in front of the bulwark, ecstatically looking at the landscape lying before me. As the dark waves of the lagoon were breaking into foam, they turned white, silver.

Over there was the Island of Frari [St George Island], with scattered dim lights standing out of its dark background. Small fishing boats come into view rocked by the placid waves, the steamer had moved far away from the Lido Island and and the two shores of the lagoon could be seen, splendidly lit, one the centre of Venice, the other the delightful Lido Island.26


Cover image: Filippo de Pisis, Il ponte di Rialto, 1947.

De Pisis’ paintings (from top): Piazzetta San Marco, 1945; Strada di Venezia (detail), 1927; San Moise (detail), c. 1930; Campo dell’Angelo Raffaele, 1947; Veduta di Venezia [San Barnaba], 1944; San Pantalone, 1944; Venezia [Sant’Agnese], 1945; San Marco, 1947; Rio dei Mendicanti, c. 1945.

All photos: © Museo del Camminare, except Bellini’ Altarpiece and Tintoretto’ Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet and St Roch in the Hospital by Wikimedia Commons

1. L.C., ‘Interview with Filippo de Pisis’, L'Ora, 12 November 1944

2. Naldini, Nico, De Pisis. Vita solitaria di un poeta pittore, Turin, Einaudi, 1991, p. 231.

3. L.C., ‘Interview with Filippo de Pisis’.

4. De Pisis, Filippo, ‘Venezia, o la consolazione della pietra’, in Leiss, Ferruccio, Immagini di Venezia, Milan, Guarnati, 1953.

5. Naldini, Nico, De Pisis. Vita solitaria di un poeta pittore, p. 238.

6. De Pisis, Filippo, Ore Veneziane, Milan, Longanesi, 1974, pp. 170-1.

7. Filippo de Pisis, quoted in Naldini, Nico, De Pisis. Vita solitaria di un poeta pittore, p. 242.

8. Ibid., pp. 231-2.

9. De Pisis, Filippo, Ore Veneziane, p. 58.

10. Comisso, Giovanni, Mio sodalizio con de Pisis, Milan, Garzanti, 1954, p. 120.

11. De Pisis, Filippo, Ore Veneziane, p. 71.

12. Ibid., pp. 35-6.

13. Ibid., p. 36.

14. Ibid., pp. 46-7.

15. Ibid., p. 28.

16. Ibid., p. 54.

17. Ibid., p. 204.

18. Ibid., p. 50.

19. Ibid., p. 43.

20. Ibid., p. 44.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., p. 49.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., p. 52.

25. Ibid., p. 68.

26. Ibid., p. 97.

© Museo del Camminare 2020, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0