Re_Iter Henry James

Henry James loved Venice.

He came here in nine different years between 1869 and 1907 and he extensively wrote about it. He described his most revered and admired places in Italian Hours, published in 1909 and illustrated by the American artist Joseph Pennell with pastel drawings and etchings (shown beside) he had made in Venice in 1883.

Re_iter has reconstructed Henry James’ itinerary in all the details, making it available to those who want to look for the feelings and emotions that the author experienced.

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Introduction

With this project, the Museo del Camminare wants to render a double homage to the American-British novelist Henry James (1843-1916): the first is to his love relation with Venice, to which he came several times between 1869 and 1907 to live and work; the second is to the passion for walking that he had since he was young and that he manifested in the summer of 1869 – at the age of 26 – by coming for his very first time to Venice on foot from the Switzerland’ border through Lake Maggiore, Milan, Pavia, Brescia, Verona and Vicenza. ‘There is never a better way in life than walking in the street’ – he would have claimed – and Venice certainly gave him an extraordinary opportunity to practise it.

Venice is at the heart of James’ literary work. It is mentioned in many of his novels, including The Portrait of a Lady, The Golden Bowl, The American, Washington Square, Roderick Hudson, A Little Tour In France, Eugene Pickering, The Chaperon, The Pupil, and The Tragic Muse; it is the setting of The Aspern Papers and The Wings of the Dove; and is the main character of Italian Hours. The latter is the main source of the texts that creates this guide to Venice, following the exquisitely sentimental approach that James had to the city, its beauty and its treasures.

Manifestly rejecting an art connoisseur’s standpoint – though he personally knew Ruskin –, James positioned himself among the ranks of the ‘sentimental tourists’, always choosing to base his comments about the city and its artworks on refined feeling and sensibility. The Venetian itinerary that emerges from the passages extracted from his work is of the utmost delicacy and fascination, capable to revive emotions from a distant past, though still incredibly current. It leads you to the memorable discovery of the places and artworks that James loved, and that are still there, imbued with a sense of suspended time that only Venice can create.

Henry James’ Sentimental Guide to Venice ironically plays with the overused Lonely Planet model to create, instead, a down-to-date and out of fashion kind of a guide, which offers – nonetheless – an extraordinarily present-day experience and contains a detailed map and all information to enable the visitor to find and access the places described.

The discovery of Venice following in Henry James’ footsteps articulates into two main itineraries.
The first, on foot, ideally begins at St Mark’s Square and goes through St Mark’s Basilica, Ducal Palace, St Mark’s Piazzetta, Church of San Zaccaria, Riva degli Schiavoni 4161, Church of San Giovanni in Bragora, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, Church of San Giovanni Crisostomo, Rialto Bridge, Rialto Market, Church of San Cassian, Church of Santa Maria dei Frari, Scuola di San Rocco, Palazzo Soranzo Cappello, Church of Santa Maria dell'Orto, Galleries of the Academy, Church of Santa Maria della Salute, and Promontory of the Dogana (Punta della Dogana).
The second itinerary follows the Grand Canal from the Church of Santa Maria della Salute toward the railway station, according to James’ description. It can be done by boarding the water-bus No. 1 at Salute (in front of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute), or, vice-versa, at Ferrovia (in front of the Railway Station).
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore can be reached by water-bus from Zattere or San Marco-San Zaccaria.
The guide includes the four places which James inhabited in the city, i.e. Riva degli Schiavoni 4161, Casa Alvisi, Casa Biondetti, and, particularly, Palazzo Barbaro. It also includes Palazzo Soranzo Cappello and its beautiful garden that the novelist had ‘in mind for that of the Aspern Papers’.

Getting Started

Without streets and vehicles, the uproar of wheels, the brutality of horses, and with its little winding ways where people crowd together, where voices sound as in the corridors of a house, where the human step circulates as if it skirted the angles of furniture and shoes never wear out, the place has the character of an immense collective apartment, in which Piazza San Marco is the most ornamented corner and palaces and churches, for the rest, play the part of great divans of repose, tables of entertainment, expanses of decoration. And somehow the splendid common domicile, familiar, domestic, and resonant, also resembles a theater, with actors clicking over bridges and, in straggling processions, tripping along fondamentas. [AP]

The creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty. She has high spirits or low, she is pale or red, grey or pink, cold or warm, fresh or wan, according to the weather or the hour. She is always interesting and almost always sad; but she has a thousand occasional graces and is always liable to happy accidents. You become extraordinarily fond of these things; you count upon them; they make part of your life. Tenderly fond you become; there is something indefinable in those depths of personal acquaintance that gradually establish themselves. The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love-affair. [IH]

The light here is in fact a mighty magician and, with all respect to Titian, Veronese and Tintoret, the greatest artist of them all. [IH]

The danger is that you will not linger enough [..] You have begun to have a shipboard-feeling—to regard the Piazza as an enormous saloon and the Riva degli Schiavoni as a promenade-deck. You are obstructed and encaged; your desire for space is unsatisfied; you miss your usual exercise. You try to take a walk and you fail, and meantime, as I say, you have come to regard your gondola as a sort of magnified baby’s cradle. […] The canals have a horrible smell, and the everlasting Piazza, where you have looked repeatedly at every article in every shop-window and found them all rubbish, where the young Venetians who sell bead bracelets and “panoramas” are perpetually thrusting their wares at you, where the same tightly-buttoned officers are for ever sucking the same black weeds, at the same empty tables, in front of the same cafés—the Piazza, as I say, has resolved itself into a magnificent tread-mill. This is the state of mind of those shallow inquirers who find Venice all very well for a week; and if in such a state of mind you take your departure you act with fatal rashness. […] When you have called for the bill to go, pay it and remain, and you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached to Venice. It is by living there from day to day that you feel the fulness of her charm; that you invite her exquisite influence to sink into your spirit. [IH]

The barbarians are in full possession and you tremble for what they may do. You are reminded from the moment of your arrival that Venice scarcely exists any more as a city at all; that she exists only as a battered peep-show and bazaar. There was a horde of savage Germans encamped in the Piazza, and they filled the Ducal Palace and the Academy with their uproar. The English and Americans came a little later. They came in good time, with a great many French, who were discreet enough to make very long repasts at the Caffè Quadri, during which they were out of the way. […] The valet-de-place [a person acting as guide to strangers] had marked them for his own and held triumphant possession of them. He celebrates his triumphs in a terrible brassy voice, which resounds all over the place, and has, whatever language he be speaking, the accent of some other idiom. During all the spring months in Venice these gentry abound in the great resorts, and they lead their helpless captives through churches and galleries in dense irresponsible groups. They infest the Piazza; they pursue you along the Riva; they hang about the bridges and the doors of the cafés. In saying just now that I was disappointed at first, I had chiefly in mind the impression that assails me to-day in the whole precinct of St. Mark’s. The condition of this ancient sanctuary is surely a great scandal. The pedlars and commissioners ply their trade—often a very unclean one—at the very door of the temple; they follow you across the threshold, into the sacred dusk, and pull your sleeve, and hiss into your ear, scuffling with each other for customers. There is a great deal of dishonour about St. Mark’s altogether, and if Venice, as I say, has become a great bazaar, this exquisite edifice is now the biggest booth. [IH]

When I hear, when I see, the magical name I have written above these pages, it is not of the great Square that I think, with its strange basilica and its high arcades, nor of the wide mouth of the Grand Canal, with the stately steps and the well-poised dome of the Salute; it is not of the low lagoon, nor the sweet Piazzetta, nor the dark chambers of St. Mark’s. I simply see a narrow canal in the heart of the city—a patch of green water and a surface of pink wall. The gondola moves slowly; it gives a great smooth swerve, passes under a bridge, and the gondolier’s cry, carried over the quiet water, makes a kind of splash in the stillness. A girl crosses the little bridge, which has an arch like a camel’s back, with an old shawl on her head, which makes her characteristic and charming; you see her against the sky as you float beneath. The pink of the old wall seems to fill the whole place; it sinks even into the opaque water. Behind the wall is a garden, out of which the long arm of a white June rose—the roses of Venice are splendid—has flung itself by way of spontaneous ornament. On the other side of this small water-way is a great shabby facade of Gothic windows and balconies—balconies on which dirty clothes are hung and under which a cavernous-looking doorway opens from a low flight of slimy water-steps. It is very hot and still, the canal has a queer smell, and the whole place is enchanting. [IH]

‘The reality of Venice seems to me to exceed all romance. It’s romance enough simply to be here.’
‘Yes; but how brief and transient a romance!’
‘Well,’ said I, ‘we shall certainly cease to be here, but we shall never cease to have been here.’ [TC]

Travel Literature

Reading Ruskin is good; reading the old records is perhaps better; but the best thing of all is simply staying on. The only way to care for Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often—to linger and remain and return. [IH]

When to Go

May in Venice is better than April, but June is best of all. Then the days are hot, but not too hot, and the nights are more beautiful than the days. Then Venice is rosier than ever in the morning and more golden than ever as the day descends. She seems to expand and evaporate, to multiply all her reflections and iridescences. Then the life of her people and the strangeness of her constitution become a perpetual comedy, or at least a perpetual drama. Venice isn’t smothered in flowers at this season [in May and June], in the manner of Florence and Rome; but the sea and sky themselves seem to blossom and rustle. [IH]

Where to Stay

Top End
In Venice there are lots of furnished rooms, which are let by the day, week or month, & where tenants usually dine & breakfast at the restaurants & cafés (…) try the Casa Barbieri – there are three different branches of the establishment, all on the Grand Canal. Or try the Casa Chitarin (where there are Baths.) Or the Casa Foscolo (beautiful). Any gondolier knows these places; knows also lots of other addresses of lodgings (wherever you see a white paper on the blind.) [CL2 1882]

Midrange
Go to the Luna – an excellent, moderate, sympathetic, non-smart, but quite genial hotel (on grand canal) [LL 1902]

Budget
Dilapidated old palazzi, if you will go out of the way for them, are to be had for five shillings a year. [AP]

Where to Eat

Restaurants
in the Piazza: the best place is the Café Quaddri [Quadri] [CL2 1882]

Cafés
in front of Florian’s cafe, eating ices, listening to music, talking with acquaintances: the traveler will remember how the immense cluster of tables and little chairs stretches like a promontory into the smooth lake of the Piazza. The whole place, of a summer’s evening, under the stars and with all the lamps, all the voices and light footsteps on marble (the only sounds of the arcades that enclose it), is like an open-air saloon dedicated to cooling drinks and to a still finer degustation—that of the exquisite impressions received during the day. [AP]

Orientation

Nothing requires more care, as a long knowledge of Venice works in, than not to lose the useful faculty of getting lost. [IH]

Getting Around

Gondolas

Gondolas are celestial. I have one by the day: the gondolier is my slave & creature. It’s most imperial. [CL2 1869]

the solitary gondolier (like the solitary horseman of the old-fashioned novel) is, I confess, a somewhat melancholy figure. Perched on his poop without a mate, he re-enacts perpetually, in high relief, with his toes turned out, the comedy of his odd and charming movement. He always has a little the look of an absent-minded nursery-maid pushing her small charges in a perambulator. But why should I risk too free a comparison, where this picturesque and amiable class are concerned? I delight in their sun-burnt complexions and their childish dialect; I know them only by their merits, and I am grossly prejudiced in their favour. They are interesting and touching, and alike in their virtues and their defects human nature is simplified as with a big effective brush. Affecting above all is their dependence on the stranger, the whimsical stranger who swims out of their ken, yet whom Providence sometimes restores. The best of them at any rate are in their line great artists. On the swarming feast-days, on the strange feast-night of the Redentore, their steering is a miracle of ease. [IH]


Gondola Ferry

Even the little trellises of the traghetti count charmingly as reminders, amid so much artifice, of the woodland nature of man. The vine-leaves, trained on horizontal poles, make a roof of chequered shade for the gondoliers and ferrymen, who doze there according to opportunity, or chatter or hail the approaching “fare.” There is no “hum” in Venice, so that their voices travel far; they enter your windows and mingle even with your dreams. […] [The traghetti] have their manners and their morals, and […] used to have their piety. This piety was always a madonnina, the protectress of the passage—a quaint figure of the Virgin with the red spark of a lamp at her feet. The lamps appear for the most part to have gone out, and the images doubtless have been sold for bric-a-brac. The ferrymen, for aught I know, are converted to Nihilism—a faith consistent happily with a good stroke of business. One of the figures has been left, however—the Madonnetta which gives its name to a traghetto near the Rialto. But this sweet survivor is a carven stone inserted ages ago in the corner of an old palace and doubtless difficult of removal [The figure is on the façade of Palazzo Donà della Madonnetta, see No. 30]. [IH]

Where to Go

1. St Mark's Square

The honour of representing the plan and the place at their best might perhaps appear, in the City of St. Mark, properly to belong to the splendid square which bears the patron’s name and which is the centre of Venetian life so far (this is pretty well all the way indeed) as Venetian life is a matter of strolling and chaffering, of gossiping and gaping, of circulating without a purpose, and of staring—too often with a foolish one—through the shop-windows of dealers whose hospitality makes their doorsteps dramatic, at the very vulgarest rubbish in all the modern market. [IH]

Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an end, and the essential present character of the most melancholy of cities resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance. Nowhere else is the present so alien, so discontinuous, so like a crowd in a cemetery without garlands for the graves. It has no flowers in its hands, but, as a compensation perhaps—and the thing is doubtless more to the point—it has money and little red books. The everlasting shuffle of these irresponsible visitors in the Piazza is contemporary Venetian life. Everything else is only a reverberation of that. The vast mausoleum has a turnstile at the door, and a functionary in a shabby uniform lets you in, as per tariff, to see how dead it is. From this constatation, this cold curiosity, proceed all the industry, the prosperity, the vitality of the place. The shopkeepers and gondoliers, the beggars and the models, depend upon it for a living; they are the custodians and the ushers of the great museum—they are even themselves to a certain extent the objects of exhibition. It is in the wide vestibule of the square that the polyglot pilgrims gather most densely; Piazza San Marco is the lobby of the opera in the intervals of the performance. [IH]

the traveler will remember how the immense cluster of tables and little chairs stretches like a promontory into the smooth lake of the Piazza. The whole place, of a summer’s evening, under the stars and with all the lamps, all the voices and light footsteps on marble (the only sounds of the arcades that enclose it), is like an open-air saloon dedicated to cooling drinks and to a still finer degustation—that of the exquisite impressions received during the day. [AP]

There were stretches of the gallery paved with squares of red marble, greasy now with the salt spray; and the whole place, in its huge elegance, the grace of its conception and the beauty of its detail, was more than ever like a great drawing-room, the drawing-room of Europe, profaned and bewildered by some reverse of fortune. [AP]
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2. St Mark's Basilica

Within the church, the deep brown shadow-masses, the heavy thick-tinted air, the gorgeous composite darkness, reigned in richer, quainter, more fantastic gloom than my feeble pen can reproduce the likeness of. From those rude concavities of dome and semidome, where the multitudinous facets of pictorial mosaic shimmer and twinkle in their own dull brightness; from the vast antiquity of innumerable marbles, incrusting the walls in roughly mated slabs, cracked and polished and triple-tinted with eternal service; from the wavy carpet of compacted stone, where a thousand once-lighted fragments glimmer through the long attrition of idle feet and devoted knees; from sombre gold and mellow alabaster, from porphyry and malachite, from long dead crystal and the sparkle of undying lamps,—there proceeds a dense rich atmosphere of splendor and sanctity which transports the half-stupefied traveller to the age of a simpler and more awful faith. [TC]
map website


3. Ducal Palace

Fortunately, however, we can turn to the Ducal Palace, where everything is so brilliant and splendid [...]. This deeply original building is of course the loveliest thing in Venice, and a morning’s stroll there is a wonderful illumination. Cunningly select your hour—half the enjoyment of Venice is a question of dodging—and enter at about one o’clock, when the tourists have flocked off to lunch and the echoes of the charming chambers have gone to sleep among the sunbeams. There is no brighter place in Venice—by which I mean that on the whole there is none half so bright. The reflected sunshine plays up through the great windows from the glittering lagoon and shimmers and twinkles over gilded walls and ceilings. All the history of Venice, all its splendid stately past, glows around you in a strong sealight. Everyone here is magnificent, but the great Veronese is the most magnificent of all. He swims before you in a silver cloud; he thrones in an eternal morning. The deep blue sky burns behind him, streaked across with milky bars; the white colonnades sustain the richest canopies, under which the first gentlemen and ladies in the world both render homage and receive it. Their glorious garments rustle in the air of the sea and their sun-lighted faces are the very complexion of Venice. The mixture of pride and piety, of politics and religion, of art and patriotism, gives a splendid dignity to every scene. Never was a painter more nobly joyous, never did an artist take a greater delight in life, seeing it all as a kind of breezy festival and feeling it through the medium of perpetual success. He revels in the gold-framed ovals of the ceilings, multiplies himself there with the fluttering movement of an embroidered banner that tosses itself into the blue. He was the happiest of painters and produced the happiest picture in the world. “The Rape of Europa” surely deserves this title; it is impossible to look at it without aching with envy. Nowhere else in art is such a temperament revealed; never did inclination and opportunity combine to express such enjoyment. The mixture of flowers and gems and brocade, of blooming flesh and shining sea and waving groves, of youth, health, movement, desire—all this is the brightest vision that ever descended upon the soul of a painter. Happy the artist who could entertain such a vision; happy the artist who could paint it as the masterpiece I here recall is painted. The Tintoret’s visions were not so bright as that; but he had several that were radiant enough. In the room that contains the work just cited are several smaller canvases by the greatly more complex genius of the Scuola di San Rocco, which are almost simple in their loveliness, almost happy in their simplicity. They have kept their brightness through the centuries, and they shine with their neighbours in those golden rooms. There is a piece of painting in one of them which is one of the sweetest things in Venice and which reminds one afresh of those wild flowers of execution that bloom so profusely and so unheeded in the dark corners of all of the Tintoret’s work. “Pallas chasing away Mars” is, I believe, the name that is given to the picture; and it represents in fact a young woman of noble appearance administering a gentle push to a fine young man in armour, as if to tell him to keep his distance. It is of the gentleness of this push that I speak, the charming way in which she puts out her arm, with a single bracelet on it, and rests her young hand, its rosy fingers parted, on his dark breastplate. She bends her enchanting head with the effort—a head which has all the strange fairness that the Tintoret always sees in women—and the soft, living, flesh-like glow of all these members, over which the brush has scarcely paused in its course, is as pretty an example of genius as all Venice can show. But why speak of the Tintoret when I can say nothing of the great “Paradise,” which unfolds its somewhat smoky splendour and the wonder of its multitudinous circles in one of the other chambers? If it were not one of the first pictures in the world it would be about the biggest, and we must confess that the spectator gets from it at first chiefly an impression of quantity. Then he sees that this quantity is really wealth; that the dim confusion of faces is a magnificent composition, and that some of the details of this composition are extremely beautiful. [IH]

[In Travelling Companions (1870), Mr Brooke and Charlotte Evans go to the Ducal Palace to see Veronese’s Rape of Europe and the Bacchus and Ariadne by Tintoret. Charlotte prefers Veronese’s, in which)): the rosy-footed, pearl-encircled, nymph-flattered victim of a divine delusion rustles her lustrous satin against the ambrosial hide of bovine Jove [Mr Brooke agrees with Charlotte because Tintoret offers no ‘shimmer of drapery’ but only ‘the shining purity and symmetry of deified human flesh’] [TC]
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4. Piazzetta (St Mark's Square)

It is, however, the cockneyfied Piazzetta (forgive me, shade of St. Theodore—has not a brand new café begun to glare there, electrically, this very year?) that introduces us most directly to the great picture by which the Grand Canal works its first spell, and to which a thousand artists, not always with a talent apiece, have paid their tribute. We pass into the Piazzetta to look down the great throat, as it were, of Venice, and the vision must console us for turning our back on St. Mark’s. [IH]
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5. Church of San Zaccaria

[one of the mightiest of so-called sacred pictures] is the Madonna of San Zaccaria [by Giovanni Bellini], hung in a cold, dim, dreary place, ever so much too high, but so mild and serene, and so grandly disposed and accompanied, that the proper attitude for even the most critical amateur, as he looks at it, strikes one as the bended knee. [IH]
map Mon-Sat: 10am-12pm, 4pm-6pm; Sun: 4pm-6pm


6. Riva degli Schiavoni 4161 (Pensione Wildner)

[In 1881 James wrote in his notebook]: I lodged on the Riva, 4161, quarto piano. The view from my windows was una bellezza; the far-shining lagoon, the pink walls of San Giorgio, the downward curve of the Riva, the distant islands, the movement of the quay, the gondolas in profile. [NB]

[In 1882, he wrote]: I spent the months of March, April, May & June last at No. 4161, Riva dei Schiavoni, where I had a little forth floor (4 rooms) which were meagrely & hideously furnished, but where the rent was so low, the view so divine (four windows on the lagoon,) & the situation so convenient, that it was a very tolerable situation. I wrote there the larger part of my last novel. [CL2 1882]

[In his 1907 Preface to Portrait of a Lady – which James largely wrote at 4161, Riva degli Schiavoni – he recalled]: I had rooms on Riva Schiavoni, at the top of a house near the passage leading off to San Zaccaria; the waterside life, the wondrous lagoon spread before me, and the ceaseless human chatter of Venice came in at my windows, to which I seem to myself to have been constantly driven, in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if to see whether…the ship of some right suggestion… mightn’t come into sight. […] the bristling curve of the wide Riva, the large colour-spots of the balconied houses and the repeated undulation of the little hunchbacked bridges, marked by the rise and drop again, with the wave, of foreshortened clicking pedestrians. The Venetian footfall and the Venetian cry—all talk there, wherever uttered, having the pitch of a call across the water—come in once more at the window. [PL]
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7. Church of San Giovanni in Bragora

You renounce all hope, for instance, of approaching the magnificent Cima da Conegliano in San Giovanni in Bragora; and bethinking yourself of the immaculate purity that shines in the spirit of this master, you renounce it with chagrin and pain. Behind the high altar in that church hangs a Baptism of Christ by Cima which I believe has been more or less repainted. [IH]
map Mon-Sat: 9.15am-11.45am, 3.30pm-6pm; Sun: 9.15am-11.45am, 3.30pm-5.30pm


8. Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

the noble St. Jerome in his [Carpaccio’s] study at S. Giorgio Schiavoni. This latter work is a pearl of sentiment, and I may add without being fantastic a ruby of colour. It unites the most masterly finish with a kind of universal largeness of feeling, and he who has it well in his memory will never hear the name of Carpaccio without a throb of almost personal affection. Such indeed is the feeling that descends upon you in that wonderful little chapel of St. George of the Slaves, where this most personal and sociable of artists has expressed all the sweetness of his imagination. The place is small and incommodious, the pictures are out of sight and ill-lighted, the custodian is rapacious, the visitors are mutually intolerable, but the shabby little chapel is a palace of art. [IH]
map Mon: 1.30pm-5.30pm; Tue-Sat: 9.30am-5.30pm; Sun: 9.30am-1.30pm. Ticket: 6 €)


9. Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni

I was standing before the church of Saints John and Paul and looking up at the small square-jawed face of Bartolommeo Colleoni, the terrible condottiere who sits so sturdily astride of his huge bronze horse, on the high pedestal on which Venetian gratitude maintains him. The statue is incomparable, the finest of all mounted figures, unless that of Marcus Aurelius, who rides benignant before the Roman Capitol, be finer: but I was not thinking of that; I only found myself staring at the triumphant captain as if he had an oracle on his lips. The western light shines into all his grimness at that hour and makes it wonderfully personal. But he continued to look far over my head, at the red immersion of another day—he had seen so many go down into the lagoon through the centuries—and if he were thinking of battles and stratagems they were of a different quality from any I had to tell him of. He could not direct me what to do, gaze up at him as I might. [AP]
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10. Church of San Giovanni Crisostomo

There is another noble John Bellini, one of the very few in which there is no Virgin, at San Giovanni Crisostomo—a St. Jerome, in a red dress, sitting aloft upon the rocks and with a landscape of extraordinary purity behind him. The absence of the peculiarly erect Madonna makes it an interesting surprise among the works of the painter and gives it a somewhat less strenuous air. But it has brilliant beauty and the St. Jerome is a delightful old personage. [IH]

The same church contains another great picture for which the haunter of these places must find a shrine apart in his memory; one of the most interesting things he will have seen, if not the most brilliant. Nothing appeals more to him than three figures of Venetian ladies which occupy the foreground of a smallish canvas of Sebastian del Piombo, placed above the high altar of San Giovanni Crisostomo. Sebastian was a Venetian by birth, but few of his productions are to be seen in his native place; few indeed are to be seen anywhere. The picture represents the patron-saint of the church, accompanied by other saints and by the worldly votaries I have mentioned. These ladies stand together on the left, holding in their hands little white caskets; two of them are in profile, but the foremost turns her face to the spectator. This face and figure are almost unique among the beautiful things of Venice, and they leave the susceptible observer with the impression of having made, or rather having missed, a strange, a dangerous, but a most valuable, acquaintance. The lady, who is superbly handsome, is the typical Venetian of the sixteenth century, and she remains for the mind the perfect flower of that society. Never was there a greater air of breeding, a deeper expression of tranquil superiority. She walks a goddess—as if she trod without sinking the waves of the Adriatic. It is impossible to conceive a more perfect expression of the aristocratic spirit either in its pride or in its benignity. This magnificent creature is so strong and secure that she is gentle, and so quiet that in comparison all minor assumptions of calmness suggest only a vulgar alarm. But for all this there are depths of possible disorder in her light-coloured eye. [IH]
map Mon-Sat: 7am-7.30pm; Sun: 8am-7.30pm


11. Rialto Bridge

The Bridge of the Rialto is a name to conjure with, but, honestly speaking, it is scarcely the gem of the composition. There are of course two ways of taking it—from the water or from the upper passage, where its small shops and booths abound in Venetian character; but it mainly counts as a feature of the Canal when seen from the gondola or even from the awful vaporetto. The great curve of its single arch is much to be commended, especially when, coming from the direction of the railway-station, you see it frame with its sharp compass-line the perfect picture, the reach of the Canal on the other side. But the backs of the little shops make from the water a graceless collective hump, and the inside view is the diverting one. The big arch of the bridge—like the arches of all the bridges—is the waterman’s friend in wet weather. The gondolas, when it rains, huddle beside the peopled barges, and the young ladies from the hotels, vaguely fidgeting, complain of the communication of insect life. [IH]
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12. Rialto Market

Here indeed is a little of everything, and the jewellers of this celebrated precinct—they have their immemorial row—make almost as fine a show as the fruiterers. It is a universal market, and a fine place to study Venetian types. The produce of the islands is discharged there, and the fishmongers announce their presence. All one’s senses indeed are vigorously attacked; the whole place is violently hot and bright, all odorous and noisy. The churning of the screw of the vaporetto mingles with the other sounds—not indeed that this offensive note is confined to one part of the Canal. But Just here the little piers of the resented steamer are particularly near together, and it seems somehow to be always kicking up the water. [IH]
map Mon-Sat


13. Church of San Cassian

the little church of San Cassano [Cassiano], […] contains the smaller of Tintoret’s two great Crucifixions; and when I had looked at it a while I drew a long breath and felt I could now face any other picture in Venice with proper self-possession. It seemed to me I had advanced to the uttermost limit of painting; that beyond this another art—inspired poetry—begins, and that Bellini, Veronese, Giorgione, and Titian, all joining hands and straining every muscle of their genius, reach forward not so far but that they leave a visible space in which Tintoret alone is master. [IH]

Never, in the whole range of art, I imagine, has so powerful an effect been produced by means so simple and select; never has the intelligent choice of means to an effect been pursued with such a refinement of perception…. The reality of the picture is beyond all words: it is hard to say which is more impressive, the naked horror of the fact presented, or the sensible power of the artist. [TC]
map Mon-Sat: 9.30am-12pm, 3.30pm-7.30pm


14. Church of Santa Maria dei Frari

How is it possible to forget one’s visits to the sacristy of the Frari, however frequent they may have been, and the great work of John Bellini which forms the treasure of that apartment? Nothing in Venice is more perfect than this, and we know of no work of art more complete. The picture is in three compartments; the Virgin sits in the central division with her child; two venerable saints, standing close together, occupy each of the others. It is impossible to imagine anything more finished or more ripe. It is one of those things that sum up the genius of a painter, the experience of a life, the teaching of a school. It seems painted with molten gems, which have only been clarified by time, and is as solemn as it is gorgeous and as simple as it is deep. [IH]
map Mon-Sat: 9am-6pm; Sun: 1pm-6pm. Last admittance: 5.30pm. Ticket: 3 €


15. Scuola di San Rocco

It may be said as a general thing that you never see the Tintoret. You admire him, you adore him, you think him the greatest of painters, but in the great majority of cases your eyes fail to deal with him. This is partly his own fault; so many of his works have turned to blackness and are positively rotting in their frames. At the Scuola di San Rocco, where there are acres of him, there is scarcely anything at all adequately visible save the immense “Crucifixion” in the upper story. It is true that in looking at this huge composition you look at many pictures; it has not only a multitude of figures but a wealth of episodes; and you pass from one of these to the other as if you were “doing” a gallery. Surely no single picture in the world contains more of human life; there is everything in it, including the most exquisite beauty. It is one of the greatest things of art; it is always interesting. There are works of the artist which contain touches more exquisite, revelations of beauty more radiant, but there is no other vision of so intense a reality, an execution so splendid. The interest, the impressiveness, of that whole corner of Venice, however melancholy the effect of its gorgeous and ill-lighted chambers, gives a strange importance to a visit to the Scuola. Nothing that all travellers go to see appears to suffer less from the incursions of travellers. It is one of the loneliest booths of the bazaar, and the author of these lines has always had the good fortune, which he wishes to every other traveller, of having it to himself. I think most visitors find the place rather alarming and wicked-looking. They walk about a while among the fitful figures that gleam here and there out of the great tapestry (as it were) with which the painter has hung all the walls, and then, depressed and bewildered by the portentous solemnity of these objects, by strange glimpses of unnatural scenes, by the echo of their lonely footsteps on the vast stone floors, they take a hasty departure, finding themselves again, with a sense of release from danger, a sense that the genius loci was a sort of mad white-washer who worked with a bad mixture, in the bright light of the campo, among the beggars, the orange-vendors and the passing gondolas. Solemn indeed is the place, solemn and strangely suggestive, for the simple reason that we shall scarcely find four walls elsewhere that inclose within a like area an equal quantity of genius. The air is thick with it and dense and difficult to breathe; for it was genius that was not happy, inasmuch as it, lacked the art to fix itself for ever. It is not immortality that we breathe at the Scuola di San Rocco, but conscious, reluctant mortality. [IH]

[About the Annunciation]: immensely characteristic of this unlikeness to other painters. To the right sits the Virgin, starting back from her angelic visitant with magnificent surprise and terror. The Angel swoops down into the picture, leading a swarm of cherubs, not as in most cases where the subject is treated, as if he had come to pray her a pretty compliment but with a fury characteristic of his tremendous message. [CL2 1869]
map Mon-Sun: 9.30am-5.30pm. Last admittance: 5pm. Ticket: 10 €


16. Palazzo Soranzo Cappello

It is the old pink-faced, battered-looking, and quite homely and plain (as things go in Venice) old Palazzino on the right of the small Canal, a little way along, as you enter it by the end of the Canal towards the Station. It has a garden behind it, and […] some bit of a garden-wall beside it; it doesn’t moreover bathe its steps […] directly in the Canal, but has a small paved Riva or footway in front of it, and then water-steps down from this little quay. [LL 1906] [As James wrote, it was ‘the old house I had more or less in mind for that of the Aspern Papers’ [LL 1906]
map Mon-Fri: 8am-7pm. Visiting the garder is free, but reservation is required: 041.2574011


17. Church of Santa Maria dell'Orto

Perhaps of all works of art that are equally great they demand least reflection on the part of the spectator—they make least of a mystery of being enjoyed. Reflection only confirms your admiration, yet is almost ashamed to show its head. These things speak so frankly and benignantly to the sense that even when they arrive at the highest style—as in the Tintoret’s “Presentation of the little Virgin at the Temple”—they are still more familiar. […] To compare his “Presentation of the Virgin,” at the Madonna dell’ Orto, with Titian’s at the Academy, or his “Annunciation” with Titian’s close at hand, is to measure the essential difference between observation and imagination. [IH]
map Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm. Last admittance: 4.45pm. Ticket: 3 €


18. Galleries of the Academy

This wondrous temple of Venetian art—for all it promises little from without—overhangs, in a manner, the Grand Canal, but if we were so much as to cross its threshold we should wander beyond recall. It contains, in some of the most magnificent halls—where the ceilings have all the glory with which the imagination of Venice alone could over-arch a room—some of the noblest pictures in the world; and whether or not we go back to them on any particular occasion for another look, it is always a comfort to know that they are there [IH]

Titian
Titian’s famous things here, the Assumption, the Presentation of the little Virgin are disappointing [LL]
Since I have mentioned Titian’s “Assumption” I must say that there are some people who have been less pleased with it than the observer we have just imagined. It is one of the possible disappointments of Venice, and you may if you like take advantage of your privilege of not caring for it. It imparts a look of great richness to the side of the beautiful room of the Academy on which it hangs; but the same room contains two or three works less known to fame which are equally capable of inspiring a passion. [IH]

Carpaccio
The Tintoret had the mightier temperament, but Carpaccio, who had the advantage of more newness and more responsibility, sailed nearer to perfection. Here and there he quite touches it, as in the enchanting picture, at the Academy, of St. Ursula asleep in her little white bed, in her high clean room, where the angel visits her at dawn [IH]

Giovanni Bellini
Giovanni Bellini is more or less everywhere in Venice, and, wherever he is, almost certain to be first—first, I mean, in his own line: paints little else than the Madonna and the saints; he has not Carpaccio’s care for human life at large, nor the Tintoret’s nor the of the Veronese. Some of his greater pictures, however, where several figures are clustered together, have a richness of sanctity that is almost profane. There is one of them on the dark side of the room at the Academy that contains Titian’s “Assumption,” which if we could only see it—its position is an inconceivable scandal—would evidently be one of the mightiest of so-called sacred pictures. [IH]
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19. Church of Santa Maria della Salute

there are brightnesses and fascinations enough […] while we look away from the shady steps of the Salute. These steps are cool in the morning, yet I don’t know that I can justify my excessive fondness for them any better than I can explain a hundred of the other vague infatuations with which Venice sophisticates the spirit. Under such an influence fortunately one need n’t explain—it keeps account of nothing but perceptions and affections. It is from the Salute steps perhaps, of a summer morning, that this view of the open mouth of the city is most brilliantly amusing. The whole thing composes as if composition were the chief end of human institutions. [...] On the other side of the Canal twinkles and glitters the long row of the happy palaces which are mainly expensive hotels. There is a little of everything everywhere, in the bright Venetian air, but to these houses belongs especially the appearance of sitting, across the water, at the receipt of custom, of watching in their hypocritical loveliness for the stranger and the victim. I call them happy, because even their sordid uses and their vulgar signs melt somehow, with their vague sea-stained pinks and drabs, into that strange gaiety of light and colour which is made up of the reflection of superannuated things. The atmosphere plays over them like a laugh, they are of the essence of the sad old joke. They are almost as charming from other places as they are from their own balconies, and share fully in that universal privilege of Venetian objects which consists of being both the picture and the point of view. […] Then there are the bad reasons for preference that are better than the good, and all the sweet bribery of association and recollection. These things, as one stands on the Salute steps, are so many delicate fingers to pick straight out of the row a dear little featureless house which, with its pale green shutters, looks straight across at the great door and through the very keyhole, as it were, of the church, and which I needn’t call by a name—a pleasant American name—that every one in Venice, these many years, has had on grateful lips. It is the very friendliest house in all the wide world, and it has, as it deserves to have, the most beautiful position. It is a real porto di mare, as the gondoliers say—a port within a port; it sees everything that comes and goes, and takes it all in with practised eyes. Not a tint or a hint of the immense iridescence is lost upon it, and there are days of exquisite colour on which it may fancy itself the heart of the wonderful prism. We wave to it from the Salute steps, which we must decidedly leave if we wish to get on, a grateful hand across the water, and turn into the big white church of Longhena—an empty shaft beneath a perfunctory dome—where an American family and a German party, huddled in a corner upon a pair of benches, are gazing, with a conscientiousness worthy of a better cause, at nothing in particular.

For there is nothing particular in this cold and conventional temple to gaze at save the great Tintoretto of the sacristy […] The picture, though full of beauty, is not the finest of the master’s; but it serves again as well as another to transport—there is no other word—those of his lovers for whom, in far-away days when Venice was an early rapture, this strange and mystifying painter was almost the supreme revelation. […] The Marriage in Cana,” at the Salute, has all his characteristic and fascinating unexpectedness—the sacrifice of the figure of our Lord, who is reduced to the mere final point of a clever perspective, and the free, joyous presentation of all the other elements of the feast. Why, in spite of this queer one-sidedness, does the picture give us no impression of a lack of what the critics call reverence? For no other reason that I can think of than because it happens to be the work of its author, in whose very mistakes there is a singular wisdom. Mr. Ruskin has spoken with sufficient eloquence of the serious loveliness of the row of heads of the women on the right, who talk to each other as they sit at the foreshortened banquet. There could be no better example of the roving independence of the painter’s vision, a real spirit of adventure for which his subject was always a cluster of accidents; not an obvious order, but a sort of peopled and agitated chapter of life, in which the figures are submissive pictorial notes. These notes are all there in their beauty and heterogeneity, and if the abundance is of a kind to make the principle of selection seem in comparison timid, yet the sense of “composition” in the spectator—if it happen to exist—reaches out to the painter in peculiar sympathy. Dull must be the spirit of the worker tormented in any field of art with that particular question who is not moved to recognise in the eternal problem the high fellowship of Tintoretto. [IH]
map Mon-Sun: 9.30am-12pm, 3pm-5.30pm


20. Promontory of the Dogana (Punta della Dogana)

The charming architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the delightful satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman. This Fortune, this Navigation, or whatever she is called—she surely needs no name—catches the wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested her rotary bronze loveliness. [IH]
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21. Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

Compare [Tintoret’s] “Last Supper,” at San Giorgio—its long, diagonally placed table, its dusky spaciousness, its scattered lamp-light and halo-light, its startled, gesticulating figures, its richly realistic foreground—with the customary formal, almost mathematical rendering of the subject, in which impressiveness seems to have been sought in elimination rather than comprehension. You get from Tintoret’s work the impression that he felt, pictorially, the great, beautiful, terrible spectacle of human life very much as Shakespeare felt it poetically—with a heart that never ceased to beat a passionate accompaniment to every stroke of his brush. [IH]
map Apr-Oct: daily, 9am-7pm; Nov-March: daily, 8.30am-6pm


22. Casa Alvisi

Casa Alvisi is directly opposite the high, broad-based florid church of S. Maria della Salute—so directly that from the balcony over the water-entrance your eye, crossing the canal, seems to find the key-hole of the great door right in a line with it; and there was something in this position that for the time made all Venice-lovers think of the genial padrona as thus levying in the most convenient way the toll of curiosity and sympathy. [IH]
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23. Ca' Dario

the delightful little Palazzo Dario, intimately familiar to English and American travellers, picks itself out in the foreshortened brightness. The Dario is covered with the loveliest little marble plates and sculptured circles; it is made up of exquisite pieces—as if there had been only enough to make it small—so that it looks, in its extreme antiquity, a good deal like a house of cards that hold together by a tenure it would be fatal to touch. An old Venetian house dies hard indeed, and I should add that this delicate thing, with submission in every feature, continues to resist the contact of generations of lodgers. It is let out in floors (it used to be let as a whole) and in how many eager hands—for it is in great requisition—under how many fleeting dispensations have we not known and loved it? [IH]
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24. Palazzo Corner de la Ca' Grande

the great Sansovino—the splendid pile that is now occupied by the Prefect. […] such a great house has surely, in the high beauty of its tiers, a refinement of its own. They make one think of colosseums and aqueducts and bridges, and they constitute doubtless, in Venice, the most pardonable specimen of the imitative. [IH]
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25. Casa Biondetti

[During April-May 1894 James stayed at Casa Biondetti, San Vio 715 ]
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26. Palazzo Barbaro

As you live in it day after day its beauty and its interest sink more deeply into your spirit; it has its moods and its hours and its mystic voices and its shifting expressions. […] you will never forget the charm of its haunted stillness, late on the summer afternoon for instance, when the call of playing children comes in behind from the campo, nor the way the old ghosts seemed to pass on tip-toe on the marble floors. [IH]
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27. Palazzo Contarini Polignac

formerly known as Palazzo Montecuccoli]: Far-descended and weary, but beautiful in its crooked old age, with its lovely proportions, its delicate round arches, its carvings and its disks of marble, is the haunted Montecuculi. Those who have a kindness for Venetian gossip like to remember that it was once for a few months the property of Robert Browning, who, however, never lived in it, and who died in the splendid Rezzonico, the residence of his son and a wonderful cosmopolite “document”. [IH]
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28. Ca' Rezzonico (Museum)

This great seventeenth century pile, throwing itself upon the water with a peculiar florid assurance, a certain upward toss of its cornice which gives it the air of a rearing sea-horse, decorates immensely—and within, as well as without—the wide angle that it commands. [IH]

the splendid Palazzo Rezzonico, transcends description for the beauty, and, as Ruskin would say, “wisdom and rightness” of it. It is altogether royal and imperial [LL 1890]

Of its miscellaneous treasures I fear I may perhaps frivolously prefer the series of its remarkable living Longhis, an illustration of manners more copious than the celebrated Carpaccio, the two ladies with their little animals and their long sticks. [IH] [Henry James refers, in fact, to the Longhi’s paintings at the Museo Correr, which between 1887 and 1922 was moved to the Fondaco dei Turchi. They are now at the Ca’ Rezzonico Museum]
map website


29. Ca' Foscari

There is a more formal greatness in the high square Gothic Foscari, just below it, one of the noblest creations of the fifteenth century, a masterpiece of symmetry and majesty. Dedicated to-day to official uses—it is the property of the State—it looks conscious of the consideration it enjoys, and is one of the few great houses within our range whose old age strikes us as robust and painless. It is visibly “kept up”; perhaps it is kept up too much; perhaps I am wrong in thinking so well of it. [IH]
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30. Palazzo Mocenigo

Lord Byron, who lived in the midmost of the three Mocenigo palaces, where the writing-table is still shown at which he gave the rein to his passions. [IH]
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31. Palazzo Donà della Madonnetta

[On the façade of the building can be seen the bas-relief of the Madonnetta described by James: see Gondola Ferry in the Getting Around section]
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32. Palazzo Loredan

so delightful a creation as the Palazzo Loredan, once a masterpiece and at present the Municipio [IH]
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33-34 Rialto – Riva del Vin, Riva del Ferro

As we approach the Rialto indeed the picture falls off and a comparative commonness suffuses it. There is a wide paved walk on either side of the Canal, on which the waterman—and who in Venice is not a waterman?—is prone to seek repose. I speak of the summer days—it is the summer Venice that is the visible Venice. The big tarry barges are drawn up at the fondamenta, and the bare-legged boatmen, in faded blue cotton, lie asleep on the hot stones. If there were no colour anywhere else there would be enough in their tanned personalities. Half the low doorways open into the warm interior of waterside drinking-shops, and here and there, on the quay, beneath the bush that overhangs the door, there are rickety tables and chairs. […] The tone in this part is very vivid, and is largely that of the brown plebeian faces looking out of the patchy miscellaneous houses—the faces of fat undressed women and of other simple folk who are not aware that they enjoy, from balconies once doubtless patrician, a view the knowing ones of the earth come thousands of miles to envy them. The effect is enhanced by the tattered clothes hung to dry in the windows, by the sun-faded rags that flutter from the polished balustrades—these are ivory-smooth with time; and the whole scene profits by the general law that renders decadence and ruin in Venice more brilliant than any prosperity. Decay is in this extraordinary place golden in tint and misery couleur de rose. [IH]
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35. Ca' d'Oro

As we go further down we see it stopping exactly beneath the glorious windows of the Ca’d’Oro. It has chosen its position well, and who shall gainsay it for having put itself under the protection of the most romantic facade in Europe? The companionship of these objects is a symbol; it expresses supremely the present and the future of Venice. Perfect, in its prime, was the marble Ca’d’Oro, with the noble recesses of its loggie, but even then it probably never “met a want,” like the successful vaporetto. [IH]
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36. Ca' Pesaro

I have even a timid kindness for the huge Pesaro, far down the Canal, whose main reproach, more even than the coarseness of its forms, is its swaggering size, its want of consideration for the general picture, which the early examples so reverently respect. The Pesaro is as far out of the frame as a modern hotel, and the Cornaro, close to it, oversteps almost equally the modesty of art. One more thing they and their kindred do, I must add, for which, unfortunately, we can patronise them less. They make even the most elaborate material civilisation of the present day seem woefully shrunken and bourgeois, for they simply—I allude to the biggest palaces—can’t be lived in as they were intended to be. [IH]
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37. Fondaco dei Turchi

we have only time to note in how clever and costly a fashion the Museo Civico, the old Fondaco dei Turchi, has been reconstructed and restored. It is a glare of white marble without, and a series of showy majestic halls within [IH]
map website


38. Church of San Geremia

we are passing the mouth of the populous Canareggio, next widest of the waterways, where the race of Shylock abides, and at the corner of which the big colourless church of San Geremia stands gracefully enough on guard. The Canareggio, with its wide lateral footways and humpbacked bridges, makes on the feast of St. John an admirable noisy, tawdry theatre for one of the prettiest and the most infantile of the Venetian processions. [IH]
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39. Church of the Scalzi

The rococo church of the Scalzi is here, all marble and malachite, all a cold, hard glitter and a costly, curly ugliness [IH]
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40. Church of San Simeon Piccolo

on the top of its high steps, is San Simeone Profeta, I won’t say immortalised, but unblushingly misrepresented, by the perfidious Canaletto. [IH]
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41. Lido

You go to the Lido, though the Lido has been spoiled. When I first saw it, in 1869, it was a very natural place, and there was but a rough lane across the little island from the landing-place to the beach. There was a bathing-place in those days, and a restaurant, which was very bad, but where in the warm evenings your dinner didn’t much matter as you sat letting it cool on the wooden terrace that stretched out into the sea. To-day the Lido is a part of united Italy and has been made the victim of villainous improvements. A little cockney village has sprung up on its rural bosom and a third-rate boulevard leads from Santa Elisabetta to the Adriatic. There are bitumen walks and gas-lamps, lodging-houses, shops and a teatro diurno. The bathing-establishment is bigger than before, and the restaurant as well; but it is a compensation perhaps that the cuisine is no better. Such as it is, how ever, you won’t scorn occasionally to partake of it on the breezy platform under which bathers dart and splash, and which looks out to where the fishing-boats, with sails of orange and crimson, wander along the darkening horizon. The beach at the Lido is still lonely and beautiful, and you can easily walk away from the cockney village. The return to Venice in the sunset is classical and indispensable, and those who at that glowing hour have floated toward the towers that rise out of the lagoon will not easily part with the impression. [IH]
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42. Burano

disembark at Burano and admire the wonderful fisher-folk, whose good looks—and bad manners, I am sorry to say—can scarcely be exaggerated. Burano is celebrated for the beauty of its women and the rapacity of its children, and it is a fact that though some of the ladies are rather bold about it every one of them shows you a handsome face. The children assail you for coppers, and in their desire to be satisfied pursue your gondola into the sea. […]

The men throughout the islands of Venice are almost as handsome as the women; I have never seen so many good-looking rascals. At Burano and Chioggia they sit mending their nets, or lounge at the street corners, where conversation is always high-pitched, or clamour to you to take a boat; and everywhere they decorate the scene with their splendid colour—cheeks and throats as richly brown as the sails of their fishing-smacks—their sea-faded tatters which are always a “costume,” their soft Venetian jargon, and the gallantry with which they wear their hats, an article that nowhere sits so well as on a mass of dense Venetian curls. [IH]
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43. Torcello and the Lagoon

Sea and sky seem to meet half-way, to blend their tones into a soft iridescence, a lustrous compound of wave and cloud and a hundred nameless local reflections, and then to fling the clear tissue against every object of vision. You may see these elements at work everywhere, but to see them in their intensity you should choose the finest day in the month and have yourself rowed far away across the lagoon to Torcello. Without making this excursion you can hardly pretend to know Venice or to sympathise with that longing for pure radiance which animated her great colourists. […] Torcello was the mother-city of Venice, and she lies there now, a mere mouldering vestige, like a group of weather-bleached parental bones left impiously unburied. […] The church, admirably primitive and curious, reminded me of the two or three oldest churches of Rome—St. Clement and St. Agnes. The interior is rich in grimly mystical mosaics of the twelfth century and the patchwork of precious fragments in the pavement not inferior to that of St. Mark’s. But the terribly distinct Apostles are ranged against their dead gold backgrounds as stiffly as grenadiers presenting arms—intensely personal sentinels of a personal Deity. Their stony stare seems to wait for ever vainly for some visible revival of primitive orthodoxy, and one may well wonder whether it finds much beguilement in idly-gazing troops of Western heretics—passionless even in their heresy. [IH]

Torcello, like the Lido, has been improved; the deeply interesting little cathedral of the eighth century, which stood there on the edge of the sea, as touching in its ruin, with its grassy threshold and its primitive mosaics, as the bleached bones of a human skeleton washed ashore by the tide, has now been restored and made cheerful, and the charm of the place, its strange and suggestive desolation, has well-nigh departed. [IH]
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Festivals

Feast of the Redeemer

The feast of the Redeemer—the great popular feast of the year—is a wonderful Venetian Vauxhall. All Venice on this occasion takes to the boats for the night and loads them with lamps and provisions. Wedged together in a mass it sups and sings; every boat is a floating arbour, a private café-concert. Of all Christian commemorations it is the most ingenuously and harmlessly pagan. Toward morning the passengers repair to the Lido, where, as the sun rises, they plunge, still sociably, into the sea. The night of the Redentore has been described, but it would be interesting to have an account, from the domestic point of view, of its usual morrow. It is mainly an affair of the Giudecca, however, which is bridged over from the Zattere to the great church. The pontoons are laid together during the day—it is all done with extraordinary celerity and art—and the bridge is prolonged across the Canalazzo (to Santa Maria Zobenigo), which is my only warrant for glancing at the occasion. We glance at it from our palace windows; lengthening our necks a little, as we look up toward the Salute, we see all Venice, on the July afternoon, so serried as to move slowly, pour across the temporary footway. It is a flock of very good children, and the bridged Canal is their toy. All Venice on such occasions is gentle and friendly; not even all Venice pushes anyone into the water. (IH)


Sources

AP: The Aspern Papers

CL2: The Complete Letters of Henry James, 1880-1883, vol. II, M. Anesko, G. W. Zacharias (eds), Lincoln-London, University of Nebraska, 2017.

IH: Italian Hours

LL: James, Henry, A Life in Letters, P. Horne (ed), London, Penguin, 2001.

NB: The Notebooks of Henry James, F. O. Matthiessen, K. B. Murdock (eds), New York, Oxford University, 1947.

PL: Portrait of a Lady

TC: Travelling Companions, in Complete Tales of Henry James, vol. II, London, Leon Edel, 1962.

WD: The Wings of the Dove