Italian Hours: Notes on Venice

Henry James, Italian Hours 

The Grand Canal:

“Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an end, and the essential present character of the most melancholy of cities resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance. Nowhere else is the present so alien, so discontinuous, so like a crowd in a cemetery without garlands for the graves.”

“However, we ourselves are looking away from St. Mark’s—we must blind our eyes to that dazzle; without it indeed there are brightnesses and fascinations enough. We see them in abundance even while we look away from the shady steps of the Salute. These steps are cool in the morning, yet I don’t know that I can justify my excessive fondness for them any better than I can explain a hundred of the other vague infatuations with which  Venice sophisticates the spirit. Under such an influence fortunately one need n’t explain—it keeps account of nothing but perceptions and affections.”


Venice: An Early Impression

“The charm of certain vacant grassy spaces, in Italy, overfrowned by masses of brickwork that are honeycombed by the suns of centuries, is something that I hereby renounce once for all the attempt to express; but you may be sure that whenever I mention such a spot enchantment lurks in it.”

“You get from Tintoret’s work the impression that he felt, pictorially, the great, beautiful, terrible spectacle of human life very much as Shakespeare felt it poetically—with a heart that never ceased to beat a passionate accompaniment to every stroke of his brush. Thanks to this fact his works are signally grave, and their almost universal and rapidly increasing decay doesn’t relieve their gloom. Nothing indeed can well be sadder than the great collection of Tintorets at San Rocco. Incurable blackness is settling fast upon all of them, and they frown at you across the sombre splendour of their great chambers like gaunt twilight phantoms of pictures. To our children’s children Tintoret, as things are going, can be hardly more than a name; and such of them as shall miss the tragic beauty, already so dimmed and stained, of the great “Bearing of the Cross” in that temple of his spirit will live and die without knowing the largest eloquence of art.”

“There are other things in Verona to make it a liberal education to be born there, though that it is one for the contemporary Veronese I don’t pretend to say. The Tombs of the Scaligers, with their soaring pinnacles, their high-poised canopies, their exquisite refinement and concentration of the Gothic idea, I can’t profess, even after much worshipful gazing, to have fully comprehended and enjoyed.”

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John Singer Sargent, “San Giuseppe di Castello, Venice”

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