A large part of the allure of Venice is the city’s rich culture, apparent today in its architecture, interior design, music, art, glass and festivals.
Venice boasts rich and diverse architectural styles, the most famous of which is Venetian Gothic. This style combines the use of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Ottoman influences. It originated in 14th-century Venice when Byzantine influences from Constantinople converged with Arab influences from Moorish Spain. The city is also known for its Renaissance and Baroque buildings.
An 18th-century artistic movement and style, Rococo developed as a reaction to the symmetry and strict regulations of the Baroque movement. As a city accustomed to lavish displays of wealth, Venice embraced the opulence and playfulness of Rococo, producing some of the movement’s best and most refined designs.
The medieval Republic of Venice was popularly called the ‘Republic of Music’, so pervasive was this art form in the city. During the 16th century, Venice became one of Europe’s most important musical centres, marked by a characteristic style of composition – the Venetian School. Venice was also home to many famous Baroque composers including Antonio Vivaldi, who composed the series of violin concertos known as ‘The Four Seasons’.
art and printing
Venice has always been one of Europe’s major art centres, especially during the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods when it was common for wealthy Venetians to become patrons of the arts. Early masters were Giorgione and Titian, followed by Tintoretto and Veronese. The advent of printing also raised the city’s profile, as by the end of the 15th century Venice had become one of the first cities in Italy to have a printing press, after those established in Germany.
Today Venice is a centre of the modern art world, hosting the Venetian Biennale every two years. Amongst the most important museums in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection features pre-war art of Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst and many more. The Punta della Dogana meanwhile is a centre for contemporary art with exhibitions including the works of artists such as Donald Judd and Jeff Koons, to name but a few.
Famous for its ornate glass-work known as Venetian glass, Venice benefited from the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by offering safe haven to many artisans including glassworkers. This happened again in 1453, and by the 16th century, Venetian artisans were producing some of the finest, most colourful and decorative glasswork in Europe. The centre of the Venetian glass industry has been based in Murano, an island off Venice, since the end of the 13th century.
masks and the carnival
For many people, masked revellers in ornate costumes are as iconic an image of Venice as gondolas and canals. Traditionally, masks were allowed to be worn in Venice during certain periods of the year, adding greatly to the intrigue of the city. Today masks are mainly associated with the Carnival of Venice, an annual festival which starts on St. Stephen’s Day (26th December) and ends with Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday. The Carnival is said to have originated from victory celebrations in 1162 when Venice – the ‘Repubblica della Serenissima’ at the time – defeated the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico. One of the most important events of the carnival today is the contest for best mask – held on the last weekend of the festival and judged by a jury of international costume and fashion designers.