Underground Treasure in Venice

In which we discover Venetian Pearls and Buried Beauty 


San Simeone Piccolo, Venice, built 1738
The Maestro, as we call him, composed the first two acts of his new opera in the spare bedroom of our Florentine flat this winter. When the time came for him to take this work up to Austria to present it to the theatre, we put the electric piano in a snowboard bag (it fit perfectly) to make it easier to take on the train.
I know, it sounds glamorous, and maybe it is.

A glass bead coral necklace by Marisa Convento

I accompanied Erling and his piano as far as Venice, and treated myself a day to wander about the city on an unusually warm and uncrowded midwinter day, feeling a bit blue that I would not be staying for Carnivale this time. Feeling even bluer that I wasn't able to return to Venice with my mother, something we talked about a lot during her last year.  I was cheered and inspired by a visit with the great Impiraressa, Marisa Convento, a Venetian artisan reviving the traditional art of seed glass beading from her small shop in San Marco, Venetian Dreams.  Not just an expert beader, Mariso knows the history of her art, and the significance of its revival.  She works with vintage and antique glass beads, and has an impressive collection of the special "Pearls:" antique (and highly collectible) Murano-made beads used for centuries in trading around the world, and which have found their way back to the city, and into her skilled hands.
Marisa is one of the artisans involved with Venezia Autentica, a brilliant organization helping to educate visitors on how to have a more meaningful experience in a city being trampled by mass tourism.  While we commiserated on the fate of the artists in our respective cities, I could see that the fight to save Venice may well be won by her artists.  Who knows more about perseverance than a Venetian?  Than a Venetian artist? 

Buried Treasure
Just across the canal from Santa Lucia station is the strangely proportioned church of San Simeone Piccolo (above.)   Attracted by its impressive copper green dome, visitors might peek inside the circular nave, see the protective plastic sheet covering the ceiling, and then leave.  I personally have never seen the inside of this dome and the church under it is unremarkable. However, this church keeps a secret treasure in its crypt.  You can buy a candle from the attendant as admission, and go down the stairs.

Now, stay still, until your eyes get used to the dark. 

painted designs on the walls of the crypt
You will see, the entire crypt is covered in ornament and murals! Rough and sort of theatrical in style, the painting shows up pretty well in low light.  Most of the ornament is done with a very limited palette of yellow ochre,  red, white, and a bit of black.

Lit by a single candle, the crypt walls and ceiling are visible only for a few feet.
Crypt ceiling painted in ornament with red and yellow ochre
Yes it is well below ground, and yes it is damp and cold.  It appears to have been painted in the 18th century after the church was built,  and I have no idea if...  
darn it my candle went out and I have to make my way back to the entrance, where one little candle was left burning.    
Xe mejo on mocolo impissà che na candela stuà. (1)

A small chapel in the center of crypt, lit by a single light near the entrance
Radiating from a central octagonal chapel are corridors leading to small shrines and burial chambers, These were ransacked and ill-used during the Napoleonic period. Any records about who is buried here were lost at that time.  Any candelabra that may have been here... have not been replaced.

A mournful mural detail by candlelight
A small shrine inside the crypt with loose but effective trompe l'oeil painting
The stoning of St Stephen,  in a faux gold mosaic cartouche.*
I don't have a flash on my camera but I resort to using the flashlight of my phone a few times. 
Especially when I hear things.

Entrance to a family tomb
inside a tomb, with a yellow, black, and ochre color scheme
A tomb where the tunnels split into four directions. The trompe l'oeil grill on the ceiling mimics a real grill elsewhere in the crypt.
macabre decoration in the crypt of San Simeone Piccolo, lit by a single candle

Five months later, in Klagenfurt rehearsals have started.  In three hours I  am in Venice to see the spectacular retrospective of Nancy Genn at the Palazzo Fero-Fini, which corresponds with the opening the Biennale Architettura.   The art galleries are opening new shows, and prosecco is being poured in every doorway of the Dorsoduro.

Erling joins me for one day. I pay my respects to Tintoretto.  On our way back, I stay with the bags while Erling ventures into the crypt.

It is perhaps better if you go into the crypt alone.

(1) Venetian proverb: Better to have a lit candle stub than an extinguished candle. 

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter, 2018
except* by Erling Wold

Rattensturm a opera by Erling Wold and Peter Wagner,  13 -30 June, 2018 at the Klagenfurter Ensemble, Klagenfurt-am-Worthersee, Austria.

Churches of Venice  website in English with details on every church and its art

Venetian Dreams  Marissa Convento on Instagram
Alessia Fuga  contemporary glass bead artist

Venezia Autentica   because the more you know about Venice the more you will love it


Grotesque Obsession: Uffizi Revisited

Here is a beautiful video of one of my favorite spots in Florence, featuring the grottesca ceilings in the East Corridor of the Uffizi.

Last year, while touring the Uffizi by wheelchair (being dutifully pushed by my butler)  I noticed my perspective of the ceiling was different, wider.  Erling gave me his video camera and we tried making a slow tracking shot of the corridor ceilings.  That didn't work very well because every time we rolled over a seam in the marble floor the camera jostled.

We returned, several times, and Erling shot the ceiling again using a handheld gimbal.  And then he edited this lovely video and added some music from his opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil.  Thank you, Maestro!

Video and music by Erling Wold
Uffizi East Corridor Ceilings   Read more about these painted ceilings in this previous post:
A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil   a chamber opera by Erling Wold