Thursday, 7 January 2016


Photos: © David Weeks & Brian Sibley 2015/16

Tuesday, 5 January 2016


It is the crown of Venice, set upon the point where the Grand Canal flows into the Bacino San Marco...

Santa Maria della Salute – in translation: 'Saint Mary of Health', sometimes 'The Basilica of Good Health' – and commonly referred to simply as the 'Salute'.

This iconic feature of the Venice skyline – later painted by every artist who ever set up easel in Venice from Canaletto to J M Turner and John Singer Sargent – owes its glorious existence to a human disaster of tragic proportions.

In 1630, Venice – and the whole Veneto region – was reeling from the devastating onslaught of the Plague. It began in August and the Black Death, in a matter of months, and claimed over 46,000 of the City's 140,000 population. In the October, the Patriarch, Dodge and Senate led the people in an act of penitence and made a vow to build a church to the glory of God as a thank-offering if the City were spared.

That church is the Salute and it remains the focus of an annual act of remembrance ever 14 November, when the city crosses the Grand Canal by pontoon bridge to make its devotions.

The Salute's architect, Baldassare Longhena, wrote: 'This church... being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think – with what little talent God has bestowed upon me – of building the church in the... shape of a crown.'

Begun in 1631 and completed 50 years later it is in the form of an octagonal rotunda and, as
Longhena noted, 'It is a virgin work... curious, worthy and beautiful, made in the form of a round monument that has never been seen, nor ever before invented, neither altogether, nor in part, in other churches in this most serene city...'

The high altar features a dramatic work of Baroque theatricality: a sculptural group by the Flemish sculptor Josse de Corte, depicting 'the Queen of Heaven expelling the Plague'...

Venice (on the left), with the symbol of Venice's government, the Doge's Cap, placed submissively upon a cushion, pleads for the City before the Madonna and Child while a cherub wielding a flaming torch drives away the evil of Plague.

Over the years, like every other visitor to Venice, David and I have photographed the Salute many times in sunlight, fog, rain and snow. Here are a few of our pictures...

Photos: © Brian Sibley & David Weeks

Sunday, 3 January 2016


I posted this photo on Facebook recently and received a number of compliments –– as well as an observation about the strength of the light-bulb in the street lamp!

Anyway, it prompted me to dig back into some of our Venice photo-files from the past featuring the city's characteristic lamp-posts...

Photos: © Brian Sibley 2011 & David Weeks 2015

Friday, 1 January 2016


Highlights of last evening's firework display over the Bacino San Marco, here in Venice...

Filmed by David Weeks


Photos: © Brian Sibley 2011 & David Weeks 2015

BUON ANNO 2016...


Photos: © David Weeks & Brian Sibley 2015

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


It's quite often an apple...

The fruit chosen to depict the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden is now habitually referred to as having been an apple, although the First Book of Moses, Genesis, does not specify what kind of fruit grew on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil –– other than the Knowledge of Good and Evil!

One guess is that the choice of the apple by generations of artists may have originated as a Latin pun: Eve ate the malum (apple) and succumbed to mālum (evil).

On one corner of the Palace Ducal on the Piazzetta San Marco, there is a sculpture of Adam and Eve at the moment of when they gave into the urge to pick and eat...

Adam and Eve's nakedness is decorously concealed by artfully arranged tree branches whose leaves are clearly those not of the apple, but of the fig!

And – apart from the tell-tale leaves – the forbidden fruit for which Eve reaches (encouraged by the human-faced serpent) and is quite clearly a FIG!

Photos: © Brian Sibley& David Weeks 2015


It is a common sight in Laguna di Venezia (and here in le Canal de la Giudecca) to see cormorants perched atop the stanchions, opening and closing their wings. Whilst spending their lives in and on the water, a cormorant's feathers are not waterproof, hence their need to dry them after fishing. In past centuries, these fisher-birds were themselves hunted on the Lagoon in what has been described as a form of underwater falconry. Just such a hunt was depicted some 500 years ago by Vittore Carpaccio...

 But the cormorant has another Venetian connection via the Bard. Wanting a name for the villain of his play, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare selected Shylock.

The Shakespearean scholar, Sir Israel Gollancz (1863-1930) notes:
The book which was read by Elizabethans for everything relating to the later Jewish history, and which went through edition after edition, was Peter Morwyng's translation of the pseudo-Josephus, A compendious and most marveylous History of the latter Times of the Jewes Commune Weale... In Marlowe's Jew of Malta, and elsewhere in the plays of Elizabethan dramatists, the influence of the book can be detected. 

Near the beginning of the History we read: "About that time it was signified also to them of Jerusalem that the Askalonites had entered in friendship with the Romans. They sent therefore Neger the Edomite, and Schiloch the Babylonian [my italics], and Jehochanan, with a power of the common people; these came to Askalon, and besieged it a great space. Within the town was a Roman captaine called Antonius, a valiant man, and a good warrior." 
This passage, suggests Gollancz, may well account not only for 'Shylock' but also for 'Antonio', the Merchant of the title.

And Shakespeare, the inveterate player with words, may have also made another connection: the Hebraic word for 'cormorant' is 'shalak', (meaning 'plunging' or 'darting down') as can be seen in the list of forbidden, 'unclean' creatures listed in Leviticus 11: 17...

12 Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. 13 These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, 14 the red kite, any kind of black kite, 15 any kind of raven, 16 the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18 the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, 19 the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.
The cormorant, because of its voracious appetite, also came to be a symbol of usury as can be seen from a 16th Century reference to attempts to rescue "poor debtors" from usurers and "the claws of such cormorant harpies".

Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, may, therefore, owe some aspect of his name to the shalak, the cormorant of Laguna di Venezia, that would have been a familiar sight both to him and to Antonio, the Merchant of Venice...

Photos: © David Weeks 2015

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


Do you remember having – or, maybe, you still have – those delicate glass (as opposed to plastic) decorations we used to hang on our Christmas trees?

Every year the box would be carefully opened and the tissue paper gingerly unwrapped and we would be transported by rediscovering those fragile, shiny, treasures.

Each one, selected with care, would then be lovingly hung upon a branch where it might reflect the shimmer of tinsel, the twinkle of Christmas lights – and distort our faces like miniature fairground mirrors...

Sometimes, with a pang, we would find that the ball or pendant, the golden fir-cone or the smiling Santa face had failed to survive another year in storage and was now nothing more than a mass of tiny slithers of shimmering silvered glass.

Wandering through Campo San Pantalon, the other day, we discovered a shop selling the most unusual and exotic glass Christmas Tree decorations. It was closed (which was, perhaps, as well) but we managed to photograph some of their many unusual offerings...

In addition to the Father Christmases, Nutcrackers, Carolers and Nativities, there was a veritable Noah's Ark of wildlife including cheetah, giraffe, zebra, rhino, polar bear, flamingo, seahorse –– and walrus!

 There were elephants (obviously)...

Turkeys (less obviously)...

And (totally unlikely) lobsters!!

There are also specifically Venetian decorations including a Rialto Bridge and several Moors which despite the City's connections with Othello are, one would have thought, nowadays politically incorrect.

Maybe, before coming home, we need to go back and see if the shop is open...

Photos: © Brian Sibley & David Weeks 2015