A tour of Venice’s innumerable fine art
masterpieces proves a seductive challenge.
BY KAT JOHNSON | PHOTOGRAPHS BY SERENA ELLER VAINICHER
“ ‘I envy you, writing about
Venice,’ says the newcomer.
‘I pity you,’ says the old hand.”
So states Mary McCarthy toward the beginning of her 1956 book,
“Venice Observed.” The renowned intellectual was just one of
a slew of literary lions—Shakespeare, Byron and Hemingway
among them— who were drawn to ruminate on this notoriously
spellbinding Italian city. The challenge, McCarthy explains, is
that there remains nothing original left to say about Venice, from
its maze of narrow calli (streets) and charming rii (canals) to its
stately gondolas and architectural marvels to the hordes of agog
tourists, eternally thronging St. Mark’s Square.
So it was with trepidation that I boarded a plane with a Venice-specific writing assignment in late May. If anything, my task was
even more Herculean (or Napoleonic, if you will, since our focus is
Venice): chart as many artistic masterpieces as the city has to offer in
a single four-day period, a time frame that also included the Venice
Biennale, the hugely influential exhibition for contemporary art.
I had, of course, the charms of the city to sustain me through
the challenge: the postcard-perfect views that appear everywhere
one looks, making literally every moment Instagrammable; the
dueling strains of the café chantants of Florian and Quadri,