• Sheryl Gwyther

#27 Rome ... pleasure amongst the gloom

We wake up here in Rome to the news Trump is to be US President ... and like most others I have an opinion on that turn of events. But I don't want to dwell on the dark fear filling many hearts in America and across the world ... that's why this post focuses back on my writing and the making of a story set in the past, the world of Caterina the Claw, and Antonio Vivaldi.

I want to share with you my secret weapon on researching the setting of my story ... in particular, the visual setting of Venice during the Baroque, the 18th Century.

Many writers collect images ... of how they imagine their characters and settings look. It really does help.

I do that too - for this story set in 1715, I have the best visual images one can imagine. Painted by a masterly artist of the times, a man who was born and lived in Venice at the same time as Antonio Vivaldi - Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto. (Click if you want to know more about this amazing artist and his work).

Canaletto set out every day with his canvas, paints and his acute sense of observation, capturing daily scenes of ordinary human life on the canals, in the calles and alleyways of this water-bound city. He recorded the busy to and fro of water craft on the canals, as well as what people wore in the 1700s.

He noticed what the dogs of Venice were up to (doing the same as the dogs of today ... sniffing each other, lifting legs against walls, jumping around a master's legs, bobbing up and down at the end of a gondola, and fighting over territory).

He captured little scenes of intrigue as well. What is that man doing up against that wall? What bit of tasty gossip slips between those two women as their heads bend together?

Canaletto painted hundreds of works, mostly large, some smaller. I saw two in a Berlin art museum and two in Ca' Rezzonico, one of the Venetian palazzo museums, and one in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Sadly, these are among the handful of Canaletto works the Italian nation still own - the rest are in British museums. Why? Because they were popular amongst the wealthy and titled few who headed to Continental Europe for their Grand Tours during the 18th Century.

Canaletto sold them to this ready market, and that's why his greatest works are in the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle. He even moved to London in 1746 to be closer to his market - but his creative input suffered and he fell out of favour.

There is no record that Vivaldi and Canaletto ever met ... but who is to know, Venice is a small island and it's not that unusual to run into someone you know on a bridge over a narrow canal.

I'll leave you with some close-up images from the two large oils I saw in Ca' Rezzonico, the palazzo museum just down the calle from where I stayed in the Dorsoduro sestiere in Venice.

See what I mean about perfect images from the times? How lucky am I?