Friday, September 28, 2012

Padua: Scrovegni Chapel & the Anatomical Theatre, University of Padova

Chapel interior, barrel vaulted roof. (Source)

I went to Padua on my day off a couple of weeks ago, with the principal intention of going to the Scrovegni Chapel, and seeing the first anatomical theatre in the world, at the University of Padua. I'd hoped to come across some fabulous shoes while I was there, at less than "Venetian prices", but alas, that part of the plan didn't work out.

Understandably, you weren't permitted to take photographs in either of these places. This is certainly justified in the case of the Scrovegni Chapel, as besides the conservatory concerns, trying to convey the awe that Giotto's frescoes inspire in one, once in the chapel, this would be fruitless. My opinion on this also applies to taking photographs of paintings, a pathetic reproduction of a painting you've seen, taken without skill or the proper lighting conditions or permission, to be uploaded without thought to a facebook album, is really lame, and incredibly frustrating for galleries, I imagine. The artist would be spinning in their grave I reckon.

Interior. (Source)

Detail from the Last Judgement fresco: Enrico Scrovegni himself is included in one of the frescoes, depicted as presenting the Arena Chapel as an offering, dressed in violet, the colour of sin. (Source).

Giotto, the Crucifixion. (Source)

Scrovegni Chapel
The Scrovegni Chapel, (or Cappella degli Scrovegni, also known as the Arena Chapel) contains a fresco cycle by Giotto, completed about 1305, that is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art. For those of you who studied art history at a secondary school and perhaps university level, will most likely recognise Giotto's work.

The chapel was commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni, whose family fortune was made through banking, the question is whether or not Enrico himself was involved in usurious practices and if the chapel was intended as restitution for his own sins. It is suggested that Giotto's frescoes in the chapel reflect these concerns with usury and penitence. Apart from Giotto's paintings, the chapel is unornamented and features a barrel vault roof. Giotto's Last Judgment covers the entire wall above the chapel's entrance and includes the aforementioned devotional portrait of Enrico.

Truthfully, I wasn't expecting the chapel to be so large. I had only previously seen the interior in textbooks. The brilliant cobalt blue of the ceiling is one of the most striking things about the interior. The frescos themselves are so rich in detail, that at times it felt overwhelming, so you really had to scan everything and perhaps focus your attention on a few selected ones.

I felt so privleged, to be standing there, to be looking at frescoes that were over 700 years old. The conservation of the chapel began at the end of the nineteenth century, but only entered into its most intensive phase within the past 20 years. You are only permitted within the chapel for 15 minutes, as the climate within the chapel is controlled, to prevent further deterioration of the sensitive wall surface.

All in all, it is an absolute must on any trip to Padua. My ticket, purchased online in advance was €3.50 each way. So even if you are only in Venice for a short period of time, you probably could pop over for the afternoon. Tickets must for the chapel must be purchased in advance, and you are expected to turn up 10-15 minutes before you are admitted entry to the chapel.

Anatomical Theatre, University of Padova

Anatomical Theatre, University of Padova. Where anatomy students (capacity 350 people) stood and learned from direct observation of the opened body on the table beneath the centre of the gallery. (Source)

As an undergrad I undertook a module 'Art and Death', taught by the brilliant Dr. Philip Cottrell at UCD, ever since then I've been fascinated by anatomical drawings and the macarbe and the gruesome in art. We learnt about the gifted anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius, author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (1543) (On the Structure of the Human Body) and his role as chair of Surgery and Anatomy at Padua (1537-43).

The University of Padua was founded in 1222, making it one of the oldest universities in the world, and the second oldest in Italy, after Bologna. The Anatomical Theatre at Padua (in Palazzo Bo) is one of the first of its kind in the world (1594). It is arranged in an amphitheatrical shape, where the dissection of the body would take place in the centre. The dissection of human cadavers was illegal at this time, and I suppose you could say that there was an theatrical element in the performance of dissection by the anatomist.

Andreas Vesalius

The city of Padua itself is a mixture of the old and new, it felt strange being on land again and dodging cars while dashing across the street. We went for a ramble around, and discovered we had gone on a total roundabout way around the city (we didn't have a map) when actually the distance between the Scrovegni Chapel and Palazzo Bo is no more than a 5-10 minute walk. Beware of asking an Italian for directions because the answer is usually "Straight ahead!".


Looking very excited at the prospect of eating chocolate and pistachio ice-cream from GROM

There is a big square where they hold a large market on Saturdays. I stopped off to get my gelato fix at GROM, where they serve artisan, organic gelato. I opted for a favourite mix of mine, pistachio and dark chocolate. Compared to the pistachio flavours I had, it tasted almost savoury, when combined with the dark chocolate it did make for an interesting flavour. It was €3 for a cone with 2 scoops, which is a little more than I've paid so far, but it was organic (biologica). Many of their flavours are gluten free and therefore coeliac friendly.

Finn & I at the Disney store, and I did buy that towel (on sale)

Thinking ahead for the weather back home obviously

We stopped into a few shops, hoping to find some lovely Italian shoes, although it wasn't my principal reason for coming there, i was disappointed by the shopping there. They had the generic high street shops such as H&M and Zara, as well as some boutiques, and the department store Coin, but I was after something more genuinely Italian. Suddenly I found myself buying a pair of orange flared cords in Benetton, but more on that another time!

It is a lovely city to go for a walk around, particularly the older part, as no cars are permitted. There are lovely churches, and plenty of shady arches to walk under. The train station is a little more exposed, and I've been told that its dangerous to be alone there at night. Overall, my trip to Padua was a success. Next time, if there is one, I'd like to see the Basilica of St. Anthony, his tongue and jaw are on display there, how gruesome!

Read more:
Giotto and the Arena Chapel
Official Website of the Scrovegni Chapel

(All photos in this post were taken by the charming Finn MacLeod)

Monday, September 24, 2012

'Silent' at Axis Ballymun

An exciting new Irish production brings classic film and dark humour to the stage. Fishamble's Silent is returning from its tour of America to Axis Ballymun and I'm pleased to have a pair of tickets to give away to one of ye for the opening night on Wednesday October 10th, courtesy of Axis. It has a limited run from October 10th - 13th.

Homeless McGoldrig once had splendid things. But he has lost it all - including his mind. He now dives into the wonderful wounds of his past through the romantic world of Rudolph Valentino, in this brave, bold, beautiful production.

Winner of the Fringe First and Herald Angel Awards at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011 and Argus Angel at Brighton Festival in 2012, it deals sincerely and humourously with the dark theme of depression.

Located at the heart of Ballymun, axis is an arts venue, a production company, an arts development organisation, a community resource centre, and is home to a number of community development organisations.

Axis' Autumn/Winter event guide can be downloaded here, they've got some great events lined up including a screening of one of Gable & Colbert's It Happened One Night as well as a Halloween 'Otherworld' festival, this year taking its inspiration from Bram Stoker's Dracula character.

To enter:
In order for this giveaway to reach a larger potential audience than my readership, I'm going to take this to twitter, so simply tweet at me: "See 'Silent' @axisBallymun via @acertainsmile #events #Dublin". Or if you don't have twitter, comment here with your name and email.

I will select a winner at random on Saturday, October 6th. Good luck!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Venice Takeaway

Once my friends learnt I was going to be living in Venice for five weeks after inital expressions of envy, they asked what exactly it was I was going to be doing here. It wasn't going to be all play.

The British Pavilion (Source)

I am working as a Steward at the British Pavilion, for the first month of the three month long Venice Architectural Biennale. I grabbed the chance to escape from the gloom of mulling over my employment prospects, if only briefly, and viewed it as an opportunity to meet new people, gain some new skills and to add some relevant work experience to my CV. I get a small stipend for the month, so I was able to pay for my rent, food and flights. Paid work experience is a rare thing, so I'm very grateful to be here, working in a warm climate and at an internationally reknowned Biennale.

The Architecture Biennale follows the same framework as the Art Biennale with the national pavilions presenting individual exhibitions in the centre of Venice. The British Council curate and organise an exhibition in the British Pavilion. The Council commissioned architects, designers and engineers to put together exhibitions for the British Pavilion. This year they held an open competition for architects and those working in related fields to submit a proposal that would "change British architecture". Ten projects in total out of 118 submissions were selected, and these ten individuals, or groups, went around the world to "takeaway" ideas that will hopefully contribute to changing British architecture beyond the life of the exhibition.

The 13th International Architecture Exhibition, directed by David Chipperfield and titled Common Ground, is open to the public from 29th August to 25th November 2012.


The theme of the British Pavillion, co-ordinated by the British Council is 'Venice Takeaway'. Venice Takeaway presents the work of ten architectural teams that have travelled the world in search of imaginative responses to universal issues. Venice Takeaway charts their course in Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand and the USA and demonstrates the creative potential of sharing ideas across borders.

The Vernissage period of the Biennale (the preview period for Press, etc) was the most exhausting part of the work so far. We were on our feet answering questions and taking particular care to ensure that the exhibits were not damaged by the heavy flow of traffic within the Pavilion. We had over 6,000 visitors to our Pavilion over those four days.

Out of the ten exhibits I have a few particular favourites -

Darryl Chen's New [Socialist] Village

Forum for Alternative Belfast: International Bauausstellung Belfast

aberrant architecture: Animating Education: Learning from Rio de Janerio

Ross Anderson and Anna Gibb: Paper Architecture

The days are long, but I've encountered some real characters over the weeks. At the end of the day, there's always a cool glass of prosecco to look forward to.

We update our Stewards at the Venice Takeaway blog frequently too, to keep people up to date, you can find it here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pictures from Peggy Guggenheim's Venice

Pictures from Peggy Guggenheim's Venice, models Lara Stone and Baptiste Giabiconi, photographed by Karl Lagerfeld for Harper's Bazaar, September 2009. Styling by Amanda Harlech and Felipe Mendes.

I was at the Peggy Guggenheim again on Monday, chatting to some of the interns there, and inevitably we got on to the topic of Peggy's eclectic personal style. Here I was alerted to the existence of this editiorial, from Harper's in 2009. The glamour of the Italians and the picture perfect setting of Venice, I'd seen it all before, but not quite like this! The bright colours, luxurious fabrics and glittering glamour all recall bold Italian style.

An original pair of Peggy's glasses, Lagerfeld donated these from his own personal collection to the PG Museum.

Alexander Calder petal mobile, 194-

Peggy Guggenheim (1898 – 1979), American expat, socialite, lover, taste-maker and heiress to a mining fortune, preferred to spend her money on art rather than fashion, as a young woman she resolved to "buy a picture a day". Her taste in clothing was as avant garde as her art choices. She was a generous patroness of Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock. Her favoured companions were her 14 beloved dogs.

Peggy came to Venice in 1949 after being invited to exhibit her personal collection at the Venice Biennale. Shortly afterward she moved in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Since her death in 1979, the museum has been open to the public. It was exciting to recognise many of the locations used here. Her beautiful palazzo looks directly out onto the Grand Canal.

Read more.


Monday, September 17, 2012

A place in the sun

The Biennale is open 6 days a week, so the stewards collectively get one day off altogether. Last Monday, we went to the Lido, a long island part of Venice, home to various beaches, some of which are public and others private. Its a popular spot for Venetians and tourists in the summer months.

The Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival every September. The Grand Hotel Excelsior is located here, once the largest hotel in Europe, decorated in Moorish style, recalling a grand Venetian place but possibly more widely acclaimed as the setting for Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice. The celebrities who attend the Film Festival stay here.

Being only mere stewards we went to one of the large public beaches for the afternoon sun, and the pleasure of bathing in the warm, clean Adriatic Sea.

The Lido, as seen in Luchino Visconti's 1971 adaption of 'Death in Venice'

Public transport in Venice is the vaparetto, a water bus. Or you can hire a water taxi, though it is expensive (€80 in some cases). The former option is the cheapest but not necessarily so, as a 60 minute ticket costs €7 (which will realistically only be a one way journey). Residents of Venice can get a special pass so traveling between islands is much cheaper, at around €1.30 a journey. Some of the others here with who are working for the three month duration of the Biennale are finding it difficult to obtain these cards. It is a shame that there isn't better value for tourists here, even short term residents, as we are. We opted for a 12 hour ticket, costing €18.

San Giorgio Maggiore taken from in front of the Doge's Palace, on San Marco

After a leisurely afternoon on the beach we made our way to the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The Church here, San Giorgio Maggiore, was designed by Andrea Palladio and built between 1566 and 1610. The paintings in the church include works by the famous Venetian Renaissance artist, Tintoretto. Entry to the Church is free but it costs €5 to go up the bell tower, which apparently boasts the best view of Venice, even better than San Marco. I regret not going up at the time!

The interior of the church is very bright with massive engaged columns and pilasters on undecorated, white-surfaced walls. The interior combines a long basilican nave with a cruciform plan with transepts.

While we were there we had the advantage of taking in an exhibition at Fondazione Cini (on San Giorgio Maggiore) - Carlo Scarpa. Venini 1932–1947. Scarpa was an Italian architect, influenced by the materials, landscape, and the history of Venetian culture, and Japan. His work can be seen in many of the buildings around Venice, particularly at the University.

The exhibition consists of over 300 works, reconstructing Carlo Scarpa’s career in the years when he was artistic director of the Venini glassworks, from 1932 to 1947. Wonderful exhibition, on a beautiful island.

That evening we wandered up to Fondamenta della Misericordia, north of San Marco, to Paradiso Perduto where we found ourselves in a large group, seated cross legged beside the canal, as Venetians do, drinking from a €6 jug of red wine, chatting for hours, forgetting about our sunburn if only for a while. The place was buzzing with locals and students, with a great vibe and what looked to be some delicious food. I'd recommend it, and hopefully will find myself back there another Monday evening for some jazz before I leave!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Critical Dialogues: Scotland + Venice

Beautiful interiors of Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice

On the evening of Saturday, September 8th, the Venice Takeaway stewards attended the Scotland + Venice public party held in Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice (a convent turned community centre), the studio hub used by the Scottish practices as their Venetian headquarters. I felt a personal obligation to call in, having lived and studied in Glasgow for a year and a half.

Within the space visitors could watch the screening of edited footage and documentation of the weeks actions and events under the theme of "Critical Dialogues", this year’s Scottish contribution to the Venice Architecture Biennale. Scotland does not own a pavilion in the Giardini and as well as a number of other countries, they exhibit in other venues in association with the main Biennale, for a set period of time.

It marked the end to a week long series of events and projects within the public realm, organised by four emerging practices that explore the social role of the architect and the creative boundaries of architecture. These are: DO Architecture, GRAStudio, Pidgin Perfect and Stone Opera.

Over a few glasses of prosecco, we got chatting to two of the exhibiting practices about their projects:

Pidgin Perfect

Pidgin Perfect's project "Banchetto" organised a tour of the main Biennale for a group of local residents who had never before crossed its threshold, and invited them to eat, drink and talk architecture at an open air dinner held in in the old Castello Alto-Basso neighbourhood of the city. Last night the dinner table was recreated, some of the residents were in attendance and images from the night were screened, for people to view.

Becca Thomas of Pidgin Perfect explained the significance of the project, the importance of engaging local communities within the wider discussion around architecture. Interestingly, their design for the curtains and tablecloth were made of up of doodles, that they had collected from cafes and pubs all over Glasgow, from the city centre, to Cowcaddens and the Gorbals. Thus creating a rich tapestry of interconnectedness, with contributions from all sorts of Glaswegians, from every walk of life. Pidgin Perfect provided people with three words - "Openess", "Empathy" and "Equality" - these were the prompts that were to inspire the persons sketch/


The Transient Art Gallery

Lindsey Koepke (of the Canadian Pavilion) & Gunner Groves-Raines of GRAS

We explored GRAStudio's "Transient Gallery", located just next door to the Ludoteca Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, in the courtyard of the hostel there. The Transient Gallery is a temporary structure that aims to explore "the significance of everyday architectural objects which create or enhance a sense of collective identity across the communities that use them." The well seen here, is one of 231 remaining of the estimated 6,782 which once existed in Venice.

The Transient Gallery highlights and celebrates the existence of Venetian wellheads to encourage a wider debate on the importance of these types of shared, functional objects in public spaces around the world. The gallery will remain here for the duration of the Biennale. Unexpectedly, we were made privy to the placement of bottles of Scottish water around the well (numbered, 64 in total), for visitors to take away with them. As well as creating a transient tangible-intangible link between Scotland and Venice, the symbolic gesture of taking water from the no-longer functioning well, is a reminder of its once use function and prompts us to think of what can now be done with this spaces, a tactile reminder of what has past, in this ever-shifting city. You can read about the process of assembling the gallery, at the GraStudio blog here.

Critical Dialogues is a partnership between Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and British Council Scotland.