Sunday, January 19, 2014

The strife of love in a dream

This weekend I saw the exhibition Splendore a Venezia.

It was lush and overwhelming, probably very much like the times it was meant to depict. It aimed to explore the interrelationships between the visual arts and music in the Venetian Republic, from the early sixteenth century to the fall of the Serenissima at the close of the eighteenth century. Ambitious.

In fact, it's several exhibitions rolled into one. I for one could do without the filigree and flourish; you can keep your Venetian School paintings. I was perfectly enthralled by the instruments of the era, musical manuscripts (a first edition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons), and other texts.

Some specific things I learned:
  • Venice was a republic. Despite many hours of Assassin's Creed gameplay, the nuances of the political structures and relations of the time eluded me.
  • Venice was a great publishing centre. This was in part owing to the standardization of musical notation; the local music industry created many printing opportunities — scores, libretti, programs.
  • Venice enjoyed a thriving tourist industry several hundred years ago. This is evidenced by bound albums of commemorative woodcuts of public ceremonies and other occasions.
Thanks to this exhibition, I now have several new favourite things (and/or obsessions)...

Standing Man Playing a Viola da Gamba, by Paris Bordone (1500–1571). Pictured here. A small chalk sketch, to my eyes a gem among the oversize oils. "The composition anticipates the poetic depictions of mythological subjects that became popular in the mid-sixteenth century."

Sonata in G minor, for cello and basso continuo, RV 42, by Antonio Vivaldi. The piece was included in the audioguide of the exhibition, and this version was much lighter than any other rendition I can find on the internet.

Viola d'amore, which somehow looks wrong yet beautiful, flat-backed and with too many strings. Sympathetic strings, it turns out. This one had a scroll that, looked at head on, formed a heart.

Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo, attributed to Francesco Colonna, and translated into English as The Strife of Love in a Dream. There wasn't much of a description, just publication details. It's only with further research that I learned it incorporates many languages into a tale replete with Roman gods and goddesses, exquisite architecture, trysts with nymphs, and hidden messages. The book lay open; latinate text and a woodcut image, nothing special at a glance. What was noteworthy, however, is how clean it was for a 500-year-old book — trim pages, crisp text, clear lines.

Ah, Hypnerotomachia! This is just the beginning.

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