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There are cities and then there are CITIES in capital letters. One of those undoubtedly is Venice, Italy. Can one ever write enough about Venice?

In previous posts, we gave homage to Venice on several occasions, and then this book came along in its blue cloth binding with that Art Nouveau  medallion pastiche on the cover!

img570The book was published in 1905 in two volumes, and I have only volume one. The book is a fine cooperation between an American author, the historian and novelist Francis Marion Crawford, and a well known American illustrator, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). Crawford who for all intents and purposes was more “Italian” than American lived almost his entire life in Italy.

What enticed me about the book were the 225 illustrations by Pennell, an accomplished etcher and illustrator who traveled extensively, and who had acquired a real love for Italy.

The volume itself is a very competent history of Venice with an extensive, mostly Italian sourced bibliography in the back of the book, and is one of the better non fiction works by Francis Marion Crawford (1854-1909) who was better known for earlier novels usually set somewhere in Italy.

Crawford was born in Italy in Bagno di Lucca, son of the sculptor Thomas Crawford, well connected to the upper Bostonian classes. Francis Crawford was one of the  main sources of Italian influences which led Bostonian socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner in her never ending professed love for Venice, and to adopt the city as her second home. He helped her with Italian grammar by reading some of Dante’s works with her during his short stay in Boston during the winter of 1881-1882. (page 6 from the 2004 exhibition catalog Gondola Days, Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Palazzo Barbaro Circle, held at the museum of the same name in Boston.)Those few words at the top of the above page are still true. When you visit this marvel in an off-season and walk around late at night through a quiet Calle, you know that the description is more than accurate. The mists tend to engulf the place in a surreal fashion, as if, time comes along bringing past memories to those who dare to venture past the old wooden, and well worn doors and crossing the centuries old stone bridges.

img574Pennell skilfully knows how to convey atmosphere in his illustrations. He had made his home in London earlier, and taught at the Slade School of Art and was an acquaintance of Whistler.

img576I love the finely sketched drawings throughout the book. They appear, to me made for another age, to be preserved for future generations, just like Venice itself has been miraculously preserved at great costs over time for us.

Judgement about skills of an illustrator can be made after you have seen a lot of work by him, and studying these numerous illustrations only confirms the opinion that others held of him evidenced by winning a Gold Medal at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, and another medal at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

For centuries travelers came and wondered, the rich and the poor, the old and the young from all backgrounds; painters, poets, poseurs, pranksters for carnival, princes, prowlers, factory men and lovely women.img578 img579and writers, some stayed and sung its praise, some wrote about the city, but did not care for it, but no one ever left untouched by the magic of Venice. In an earlier post, I wrote about an original signed Joseph Pennell drawing in my archive shown below which I now, having seen the drawings in this book, can approximately date to the time of the making of the Crawford book. SALVE VENEZIA!

joseph pennell drawing