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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
First Impressions of Venice
By Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847)
 
From the ‘Letters from Italy and Switzerland’: Translation of Grace Wallace

IN Treviso there was an illumination,—paper lanterns suspended in every part of the great square, and a large gaudy transparency in the centre. Some most lovely girls were walking about in their long white veils and scarlet petticoats. It was quite dark when we arrived at Mestre last night, when we got into a boat and in a dead calm gently rowed across to Venice. On our passage thither, where nothing but water is to be seen, and distant lights, we saw a small rock which stands in the midst of the sea; on this a lamp was burning. All the sailors took off their hats as we passed, and one of them said this was the “Madonna of Tempests,” which are often most dangerous and violent here. We then glided quietly into the great city, under innumerable bridges, without sound of post-horns, or rattling of wheels, or toll-keepers. The passage now became more thronged, and numbers of ships were lying near; past the theatre, where gondolas in long rows lie waiting for their masters, just as our own carriages do at home; then into the great canal, past the church of St. Mark, the Lions, the palace of the Doges, and the Bridge of Sighs. The obscurity of night only enhanced my delight on hearing the familiar names and seeing the dark outlines.  1
  And so I am actually in Venice! Well, to-day I have seen the finest pictures in the world, and have at last personally made the acquaintance of a very admirable man, whom hitherto I only knew by name; I allude to a certain Signor Giorgione, an inimitable artist,—and also to Pordenone, who paints the most noble portraits, both of himself and many of his simple scholars, in such a devout, faithful, and pious spirit, that you seem to converse with him and to feel an affection for him. Who would not have been confused by all this? But if I am to speak of Titian I must do so in a more reverent mood. Till now, I never knew that he was the felicitous artist I have this day seen him to be. That he thoroughly enjoyed life in all its beauty and fullness, the picture in Paris proves; but he has fathomed the depths of human sorrow, as well as the joys of heaven. His glorious ‘Entombment,’ and also the ‘Assumption,’ fully evince this. How Mary floats on the cloud, while a waving movement seems to pervade the whole picture; how you see at a glance her very breathing, her awe, and piety, and in short a thousand feelings,—all words seem poor and commonplace in comparison! The three angels too, on the right of the picture, are of the highest order of beauty,—pure, serene loveliness, so unconscious, so bright and so seraphic. But no more of this! or I must perforce become poetical,—or indeed am so already,—and this does not at all suit me; but I shall certainly see it every day.  2
  I must however say a few words about the ‘Entombment,’ as you have the engraving. Look at it, and think of me. This picture represents the conclusion of a great tragedy,—so still, so grand, and so acutely painful. Magdalene is supporting Mary, fearing that she will die of anguish; she endeavors to lead her away, but looks round herself once more,—evidently wishing to imprint this spectacle indelibly on her heart, thinking it is for the last time;—it surpasses everything;—and then the sorrowing John, who sympathizes and suffers with Mary; and Joseph, who, absorbed in his piety and occupied with the tomb, directs and conducts the whole; and Christ himself, lying there so tranquil, having endured to the end; then the blaze of brilliant color, and the gloomy mottled sky! It is a composition that speaks to my heart and fills me with enthusiasm, and will never leave my memory.  3
 
 
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