The Charm of Venice, Italy

Isabella Gardner’s Museum in Boston

“Fenway Court,” I told the driver, and he left immediately, not hesitating for a moment in case I changed my mind.

That was that!  And…

“Here I am!” she said. (Her portrait by Anders Zorn)

I could see her.  Her arms opened in a diagonal, and the way her fingers were determinedly placed on the balcony doors, with the darkened canal as a background, depicted her unbridled will. Her lemon-yellow dress, more narrow around the legs, gave me the impression of a flame, and this was the best expression of her unbelievable vitality. The very long necklace around her neck, made up of a single string of pearls and culminating in an impressive ruby, reinforced her status of a vastly wealthy heiress.

This was Isabella Gardner, whose home-museum I was now entering in Boston. It was not just her eccentricity, but also a healthy dose of madness, which turned her into the choreographer of her own fantasies. She had founded one of the finest private museums in the United States. I noticed her favourite saying over the door: “C’est mon plaisir.” She managed, single-handedly, to enrich the cultural life of her country with 2,500 works of art of exceptional value.  Many of these were brought over from Venice.

Fenway Court,  Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

Fenway Court, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

Was she a romantic?  I don’t think so. Was she melancholic? Definitely. She went through a period of depression when she lost her infant son, but rediscovered herself by taking long journeys, filling her sketchbook with small, beautiful sketches. When she finally arrived in Venice, she was won over by the city.

As I continued to walk along, stopping at this exhibit or that, without completely understanding when and how, Venice started to absorb me once more. Quite at random, I found myself observing the architectural elements that decorated Fenway in a perfect American order and symmetry, those items which Isabella had collected (under the guidance of Bernard Berenson), just like on the day when, at the last possible moment, she was able to save a Madonna when she happened to see some workers in a church attempting to break it off with their hammers.

“Stop hammering and help me take it off the wall.  I’ ll buy it.”

It was somewhat in this way that she acquired all of her collection, but not always.

And, finally, arriving at the top floor and walking around slowly, where there was some small treasure to admire with each and every step, and each one took me further along where I had no desire to go, my gaze fell upon the Seated Scribe by Bellini.

Isabella must have been exceedingly charmed with the small watercolour. She had it placed in a glass box on a table…

An excerpt from the book: MY VENICE

The Seated Scribe , Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

The Seated Scribe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston

Barbara Athanassiadis