A Gondolier Takes Us To Renaissance Venice

The gondoliers of Venice are famous for their singing. Well, some are. A good basso profundo can cause the very water to ripple, and a tenor can pierce a palace wall, drawing happy sentimental tears. Moonlight helps. Today's bronzed gondoliers are photogenic in their long black pants, white shirts, and yellow straw hats. They stand out against the blue-green water of the canals. It is all glorious charm - and they command charming prices.

Alas, we won't find any dressed like the one in my drawing. Not unless we were on an important trade mission for our feudal lord about 1495. In those days, a gondolier wore the best brocades, silks, and linens his boss could afford, were he count, dignitary, or merchant. A gondola was the Rolls-Royce of the age, and a gondolier was James the chauffeur.

Wealthy Venetians turned their worldly riches into unworldly art. They adorned their city using the best artists, architects, and craftsmen their gold would buy. The building styles drew on Byzantine, Gothic, even Moorish motifs. One of the greatest of Venice's architects was Andrea Palladio. His buildings were, or I should say, came to be, "Venetian." The Palladian style spread far beyond the Grand Canal, as far as Thomas Jefferson's beloved Monticello in Virginia.

Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, among many other Venetian painters, were the film and TV directors of their day. A painting or fresco was hardly dry before it had a four-star premire. Crowds gathered to cheer and, being good Venetians, perhaps to boo.

Maybe we'll see my 1495 gondolier again at Carnival, in February, when masks and costumes cover the designer jeans and T-shirts of today and everyone becomes, for a time, truly Venetian.

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