Dear Readers, Venice has a long history of immigration, particularly of skilled craftsmen from other parts of Europe. In the fifteenth century, sailors and workers from recently-conquered Dalmatia, known as Schiavoni, decided to form a fraternity or guild to support one another, and they bought an old hospital as the base for their school. They asked a young artist, Vittore Carpaccio, to produce some paintings based on the lives of their patron saints: St George, St Tryphon and St Jerome, and so he did. The result is probably my favourite place in the whole of Venice. There is something about these paintings that I find intriguing, and sometimes moving.
The Scuola is one of the few places in Venice that still doesn’t take credit cards, but fortunately we had some cash, enough not only to pay for the tickets but also to buy a guidebook, which I’ve been meaning to do every time I’ve visited for the past fifteen years. The woman behind the desk spoke Italian, English, German and French, and was obviously in love with Carpaccio – she whispered that her name was the same as that of Carpaccio’s mother. In between juggling languages and dishing out change, she ran around the building keeping an eye on a young family. The smallest child was cheerfully opening the drawers of a fifteenth century cabinet and nearly pulling it down on top of him while his mother wandered, oblivious.
Since I was last here in 2016, several of the paintings have been restored, and you can really see the details once again. First there are three paintings of the life of St George. First up, as you might expect, he’s killing the dragon. Note the many body parts laying about on the ground. If you look very closely, you can see various toads and frogs and other creeping creatures.
In the next painting, we see St George bringing a much-diminished dragon into town for everyone to admire.
In the third St George painting, the people in the second painting are so impressed with St George and his taming of the dragon that they convert to Christianity. You can see a turban laying on the steps at the front of the picture.
Then there’s a painting of St Tryphon extracting a demon from the daughter of the emperor. The demon is known as a basilisk, and here looks rather like a cross between a donkey, a pigeon and a lizard. St Tryphon was the patron saint of the town of Cattaro on the Dalmatian coast.
My very favourite paintings, though, depict the life of St Jerome. One of them is away for restoration at the moment, but it shows St Jerome with a lion that arrived at the monastery. The other monks very sensibly ran away, but St Jerome greeted it as a guest and discovered that it had an injured foot, which he treated with ointments. The lion then lived amongst the brothers as a companion. In the painting, I love the way that the monks are fleeing with their habits flying, like so many birds.
In the next painting, we see St Jerome’s funeral. Whereas the one above is all movement, this one is all stillness and contemplation.
And then there is this. I wrote about it a few days ago: it shows St Augustine in his study at the moment when he is ‘visited’ by a vision of his dear friend St Jerome’s death. When I see the real painting, there are so many details that are astonishing, and unlike any of Carpaccio’s other paintings here – the realism of St Augustine’s half rising from the table, the way the little dog has sat back on his haunches as if stunned by the light. This is Carpaccio’s masterpiece, for me.
And one last thing. At the bottom right of the painting there are two sets of musical notation. Following the restoration of the painting, there have been a number of attempt at actually bringing these to life. The one below is a choral version, but my new best friend, the curator, had a piano version which she played for me. It matches the mood of the painting perfectly, and I can’t help but wonder if viewers of the painting would have heard the music in their heads, or if there were ever musical performances around the work. This extract is from here.
And so, it was goodbye to the Carpaccios (though we’re hoping to get to the Accademia tomorrow to see some more). Incidentally, a ‘carpaccio’ of meat was named for the prevalence of red in many of Carpaccio’s paintings, which makes a bit of a nonsense of the idea of a ‘carpaccio’ of melon or kiwi fruit or any of the other versions that are around.
Heading home, it’s clear that the Aqua Alta is reaching its height – tomorrow we’re expecting 125 cm, which means that there will definitely be some flooding around here at about lunchtime. And there’s a vaporetto strike! And some thunderstorms! Looks like our trip will end with a bang. But in the meantime, here’s a little egret, making the most of whatever the tide brings in. Note those sweet little yellow feet. S/he could do ‘jazz feet’ in a Bob Fosse movie any day of the week.