Venice preview

And not just Venice, but Venice carnival! The trip will be research for book 2 in my upcoming Murder Travels mystery series, no less! How amazing is that! I will travel to Venice from Edinburgh overland on trains, which will take me a little over 24 hours, with changes in London and Paris only. I will arrive in Venice on the morning of the 25th, which gives me almost three days before the carnival actually starts on Saturday January 27th. I chose this for two reasons. First, it was cheaper than during the high carnival. And second, getting to Venice before the carnival starts will give me a few days to explore the city before the hordes descend on the town.

I’m not a fan of crowds and I remember Venice being quite crowded over Christmas some years ago when I was there for the first time. Back then it was Aqua Alta and St Mark’s Square, among others, was flooded much of the time. Thousands of people trying to use the helpful removable walkways in an effort to keep dry made the city seem even more crowded. I can only imagine how much more people there will be for the carnival.

My timing means that I will catch the opening weekend’s La Festa Veneziana, two days of colorful water parades, traditional Venetian foods, music and (hopefully) lots of people dressed in fabulous carnival costumes. However, it also means that I will miss some of the main events of the carnival, like the Flight of the Angel and costume parades on St Mark’s Square.

Visiting Venice as research will be fun. Mostly, for the book, I am just looking for general atmosphere, what people are wearing, the crowds, the incredible buildings, the canals and the food. But I can also have my sleuth to visit places that I want to visit, killing two birds with one stone. There are a few places more directly relevant to my Venice story, but I will keep those under wraps for now. It is a mystery book after all!

Visiting the Scottish National Gallery a few days ago served to put me into the right mood. I went there to see an exhibition of JMW Turner’s water colors (excellent!), which are exhibited there only once a year during January, as per the donor’s request and to preserve the delicate artwork. As it happens, Turner visited Venice several times and the collection included several gorgeous water colors depicting Venice. They were lovely, in that ethereal way that Turner’s paintings are as well, but even more so as these were more delicate water colors. My favorite of them was the one with Rialto bridge, above.

Upstairs, the museum had also several large oil paintings by Canaletto depicting Venice. Canaletto’s style is much more detailed and precise than Turner’s, who is more impressionistic. Just look at the details of Canaletto’s paintings in the slide show above! I will see if I can find the spots where these painters once stood, creating their masterpieces, Canaletto in the 1720’s and Turner about a hundred years later.

I expect to see that Venice herself hasn’t changed much, the buildings being protected, with no cars on the narrow streets on the edge of the canals and gondolas still ferrying people along the canals. It will be the people who make the biggest difference. Just look at the exquisitely dressed people in the paintings! Going to Venice during the carnival of course means that at least some of the people will be dressed to impress, so hopefully I will get a bit of a sense of times gone by during my visit.

By the time Turner visited Venice, the carnival had been outlawed. I didn’t know this, but the carnival tradition was illegal for almost 200 years, from 1797 to 1979. It was still going strong in Canaletto’s time in the 18th Century, but there doesn’t seem to be that many paintings by Canaletto about the carnival. There’s the one on the right by him, and there are a couple in the Wallace collection in London, attributed to the Canaletto studio if not to the great man. Perhaps there are others but if it were me, I would have painted little else. Imagine! Venice at the height of the carnival era, in the hands of a great painter like Canaletto. All those colors, the pageantry, masks and costumes!

It will be interesting to see whether the carnival today can compare with these amazing paintings. Regardless, Venice remains one of my favorite cities ever so I am thrilled to be going back.



Canaletto Carnival painting

More on Canaletto and the carnival (Wallace collection)

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