The Colours of the Orient in Venice, Italy

Homage to a Venetian painter friend


Looking at the Basilica of San Marco, I think of the expression that defines it: the Fable of the East. When I close my eyes, I see in my mind the same words: The East begins in Venice. These words are not spoken lightly, but arise from images embedded in the collective memory, as the precious stones are embedded in the cabochons in the Pala d' Oro. Like a seagull, I fly in a jet over the ancient sea routes. It's my Mediterranean: Istanbul, the Aegean islands, Cyprus, Antioch, Acre, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Alexandria.

The legendary East is familiar to me. I have travelled its length and breadth. Its wealth and its colours have filled the city with their glow, giving Venice the reputation of the "city of gold", when Europe was still in the darkness of the Middle Ages.

From Byzantium came the domes of the Basilica San Marco, decorated with beautiful mosaics which had travelled from Constantinople to the dome of the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and to the Great Mosque of the Ummayads in Damascus. The winding streets of Venice and the delightful gardens can be found in Aleppo, the buildings on the water with gondolas resemble those of the pashas’ caiques studded with gold, the noisy markets of Rialto reminiscent of Chania in Crete, and up there on the lintel above the fortresses of the Serenissima located along the coast of Greece, the winged lion symbolized the omnipotence of Venice at a time when her dominion extended over almost the entire Mediterranean.
My imagination feeds me, the stories enrich me, the art often makes me feel like I am flying, arousing in me emotions that are mixed with rationality. I need to elaborate both emotions and logic to discover my personal harmony, which is supported by beauty.That's why I am enchanted by the world of my friend painter. In her Venetian themes, expressed with vigorous strokes that embody an abstract style, I see the chaos of the East.That is, a fusion of bright colours.

The Historical Regatta in Venice

The Historical Regatta in Venice

On closer inspection, however, I perceive the object of my search. Through the solidity of the structure, I discover the European formation of the painter who adopts strict structure to support a wide range of colours, just like the noisy bazaars of the East conceal an organized system on a rigorous basis of principles and regulations behind the bags filled with fragrant spices and scents. Thus the symmetry, in my opinion, is not everything in the expression of an artist. At times, indeed, it appears dull. Harmony, on the contrary, is essential because the steady rhythm of a work of art, like the tolling of the bells of San Marco that are lost in the wind, vanish into the sea, echoing in the bell of an Orthodox church on a Greek island and finally we hear again the voice of the “muezzin” inviting the faithful to prayer, somewhere in the East.

The elegant Mecidiye Mosque on the Boshporus in Istanbul, Turkey

The elegant Mecidiye Mosque on the Boshporus in Istanbul, Turkey

This is our Mediterranean. Its voices, its rhythms, and the goods that its people exchange. Now and in the remote past. It is our sea which unites us and that carries all that matters in our lives. In every area of our lives. And especially, it knows how to surprise us with its unpredictability. Looking at the turbulent brush strokes of the painter, I undertake a journey without limits.

 At the Ottoman court I meet Bellini, sitting according to the oriental custom, intent on painting the portrait of Sultan Mehmed II. In the streets of Constantinople I feel stunned to hear the voice of Andrea Gritti, expressed in perfect Turkish.  I see Arabs teach the secrets of seamanship to the still inexperience Venetians.The remains of St. Mark were stolen in Alexandria. Marco Polo goes by caravan up farther to the East in search of his destiny, and finally I smile when, during a banquet at the Palazzo Ducale, the Byzantine princess, unique among the guests, extracted a golden fork with a gesture of refinement.

But in addition to the stories, there are the pictures to help trigger the mechanism of my imagination. These touch my sensitivity, aware that the fragile world of words can vanish at any moment as the words easily get lost in the memory. In contrast, the colours remain. And I need to feel Venice and the East, all this beautiful world that my friend knows how to offer me through her eyes, because at some point the magic that she gives me, merges with mine. Sometimes I wonder what unites a painter to a writer, beyond the colours and words. Well, perhaps it is the amazing journey of a dream.

Venice 2015

Preface from the book: MY VENICE

Luigi Bevilacqua Silk Velvet in Venice

Luigi Bevilacqua Silk Velvet in Venice

Barbara Athanassiadis