Venice has 'captured' the heart, mind and imagination of so many writers, poets, artists and historians. Venice is one of my favourite subjects in art, literature and history, and I am always eager to learn more and look more at this unique and special place. This Venice blog is my way of collecting the wealth of images, poems, prose and impressions of Venice.

Saturday 2 February 2013

What I'm reading: A Venetian Theory of Heaven - Part 2

‘She’d been to Dresden, had stood before Giorgione’s Venere dormiente’

William Riviere, A Venetian Theory of Heaven, Sceptre, 1992

 Also known as the Dresden Venus, Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus is in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden,Germany.

Giorgione (Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco) was born around 1477/1478 in Castelfranco, Veneto.  Although he was one of the most significant and collected artists of the High Renaissance in Venice, relatively little is known of his life.  He died (possibly of the plague) in Venice in October 1510 at the age of just 32 or 33 years.  There are now only a handful of paintings which are believed to be Giorgione.  He is believed to have been apprenticed to Giacomo Bellini and was a contemporary of Titian, with whom he worked on the exterior frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi near the Rialto. 
 The Sleeping Venus was unfinished at the time of Giorgione’s death, and it is believed to have been completed by Titian.  Like much of Giorgione’s work, there have been many debates regarding the attribution of this painting.  It is generally believed that Giorgione created the nude, and Titan completed the landscape (the group of rustic buildings on the right is also included in Titian’s Noli me Tangere in London and in the Borghese's Sacred and Profane Love).
In 1843, restoration work on Sleeping Venus revealed a hidden cupid at Venus’ feet, holding a bird in his left hand and an arrow in his right.
It is generally believed that the painting was commissioned by Girolamo (or Jeronimo) Marcello in honour of his marriage to Morosina Pisani in 1507.  The Venetian collector Marcantonio Michiel wrote that the painting was in the home of Jeronimo Marcello at ‘San Tomado’ (San Toma) in 1525.  Michiel’s editor, Carli Ridolfi saw in the Ca’ Marcello over a century later in 1646.  He wrote:
‘In Marcello’s house there is a lovely nude Venus sleeping, with Cupid at her feet holding a bird in his hand, which (cupid) was finished by Titian.’ The Venus is now alone in the landscape, for the Cupid was so badly damaged that it had to be effaced”.
 In 1699, the work was acquired by French dealer Le Roy for King Augustus of Saxony.  By 1707, it was listed in the Dresden inventory as ‘a Venus with an amoretto by Giorgione, Original”.

Note  – I’m still trying to locate ‘Ca Marcello near San Toma’ where the work is believed to have originated. 

In John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, he describes meeting a present day Count Girolamo Marcello (who lives in a palazzo near the Fenice).  The contemporary Girolamo Marcello was a friend of the Russian poet and writer, Joseph Brodsky, and Brodsky wrote ‘Watermark’ whilst staying at Ca’ Marcello.  Brodsky also published two poems in his volume of poems, So Forth, In front of the Ca’ Marcello and Homage to Girolamo Marcello. 

 I’d appreciate any leads that readers may have about the Ca’ Marcello near San Toma. 


  1. My usual 'go-to' site for tracking down palazzo's is : http://venice.jc-r.net/

    And while there are a few of the Marcello palazzo's listed, including this one: http://venice.jc-r.net/palaces/marcello-sangiantoffetti.htm , none fit the bill for the location unfortunately.

    Sorry I can't be more help - but I'd love to know if you find out more.

  2. Hello Maryk, thanks for the tip regarding the site. I'll keep you posted if I find out anything further about the Ca' Marcello.

  3. You should also try ombra.net, where I found seven palazzi with 'Marcello' in their names [Note that Ca' (short for Casa) and Palazzo are more or less interchangeable in Venice. Just as there is only one piazza in Venice, some would have it that there is only one palazzo - the Palazzo Ducale - all the rest being merely case (plural of casa)]. There are two candidates very close to San Tomá - Palazzo Marcello dei Leoni, and Palazzo Grimani-Marcello.