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Venice, a city of art, light and inspiration

Art around the world: Raphaëlle de Beaumont picks her favourite art locations out of the multitude available in the historic and beautiful city of Venice. A visit is highly recommended! 

As the Christmas mood has not entirely faded away and a heavy cold spell has begun to hit a large part of Europe, Venice is maybe the right destination to talk about. It was my first time there and I have to say that it lived up to its reputation. I had four days to appreciate the magic, the splendour and the vulnerability of this extraordinary city.

Above all the beautiful façades of palaces, the breathtaking frescos and the architectural church interiors, what particularly struck me was the light. I could stare at a wall for long minutes to admire its shade. Venice is immersed in a colourful atmosphere which makes it very photogenic, as though the city is aware of its fragility and its possible future extinction. This is why I am convinced that the best way to enjoy its beauty is to get lost, literally. Walking until the end of an alley, going back because it comes onto a canal, trying a different way, coming across a campo, which are typical little squares. Time becomes meaningless and your get delightfully disoriented. One particular walk I would suggest though is to depart from the Rialto Bridge, continue to the north until the Ca d’Oro station (do not miss the Gelateria Ca d’Oro on the Strada Nuova. It is impossible to resist to their ice-creams even in the cold weather) and end in the ancient Ghetto. From there you can take a vaporetto which is a sort of boat-bus on the Grand Canal to go back to the centre of the city.

The undeniable beauty of unique Venice.  Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

The undeniable beauty of unique Venice.
Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

I would also like to suggest four particularly artsy places that are absolute must-see in my eyes.

First, the Accademia Galleries (Campo della Carita) is the equivalent of the Louvres in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence. It holds a dazzling collection of masterpieces spanning the full development of Venetian art from Byzantine to Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo: everything you need to strengthen your background knowledge about the past artistic history of the city. You will recognize worldwide famous painter such as Titian, Bellini and Giorgione. I strongly recommend this museum because it probably gathers the most beautiful ancient pieces of art of Venice. As religious subjects can quickly become repetitive and sometimes boring, it is a way to see the best at once and avoid going into each single church to find the golden Madonna or fresco.

However, there is one church that stands out from the others in my opinion. It is named San Zaccharia (Campo San Zaccharia). It hides Bellini’s superb Madonna and Saints, a soothing painting displaying an indescribable tenderness.

Secondly, a firm favourite is the intoxicating collection of Peggy Guggenheim which you can see at her foundation (Fondamenta Venier dei Leoni). The colourful American expatriate amassed a huge contemporary art collection until she settled in Venice in 1947. The works by more than two hundred mainly avant-gardist artists from the 20th Century like Picasso, Kandinsky or Calder are housed in a spacious former palace surrounded by a striking sculpture garden. This is an absolute must-see if you appreciate modern art.

Sculpture garden outside the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

Sculpture garden outside the Peggy Guggenheim museum.
Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

If Venice reflects the past artistic influence Europe had over the world, it also welcomes a wide variety of contemporary artists. The foundation of the French business man François Pinault gathers 21st century artworks in two different locations: the Grassi Palace and the Punta della Dogana. I personally preferred the Grassi Palace which is currently holding an exhibition about light in contemporary art and another very interesting one about the American photographer Irving Penn. The contrast between the modernity of what as shown and the typical Venetian decoration from the 18th century made this museum quite unique. Concerning the Punta della Dogana, although I was disappointed with the esoteric content of the collection, the place was quite original in itself with its apparent bricks walls and half-moon windows facing the Grand Canal and San Giorgio island.

The Doges Palace, Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

The Doges Palace, Photo: Raphaëlle de Beaumont

Last but not least, the Piazza San Marco is surely one of the most amazing city squares in the world. It is surrounded by the glittering basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and other impressive buildings. Heart of the political, social and religious life for a long time, the piazza continues to bustle, with a museum complex, elegant cafés, live orchestras and costumed Carnival crowds. The height of romanticism is to have a hot chocolate at the café Florian after a freezing afternoon.

The Doge's Palace Photo: Rapaëlle de Beaumont

The Doge’s Palace
Photo: Rapaëlle de Beaumont

This list is not exhaustive I am sure that it could be completed by many other places, for example the Burano and Torcello islands which are further in the northern part of the city.

In a nutshell, take your camera, an art enthusiast friend and strong pair of shoes: Venice will not wait forever.

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