Colour and Style from This Paradise of Exiles; Richard Edmonds Explores the Rich History of Art and Music in Venice PROFILE

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Byline: Richard Edmonds

VENICE at carnival time was a riot. Eighteenth century travellers to this grandest of cities - the Queen of the Adriatic - found the piazzas thronged with mountebanks, street vendors, travellers, rich and poor, musicians, and prostitutes (of both sexes) hobbling around.

In the open squares commedia dell'arte troupes performed the latest satire on the city's overlords to cheers from the onlookers, while hawkers of everything conceivable, from oranges to cheap jewellery, books to bawdy, hawked their wares from dusk to dawn in the shadow of some of the finest architecture Europe had ever seen.

And yet the curious site upon which Venice was built, gave rise to a completely unique urban structure, all of it based upon communication by water.

The "anything goes" myth of Venice was established early on with the rise of a democratic Republic, where art and music thrived and one could lose one's identity quietly and comfortably and where the police turned a blind eye to what one might call the byeways of sexuality.

The English poet Shelley, political and social atheist, called Italy that "Paradise of exiles" and the sense of freedom Shelley discovered was a Venetian hallmark. It was a city of masks, where identities could be revealed without too much fuss.

Art and Music in Venice edited by Hilliard T Goldfarb, bursts with colour and information on every page, including lavish reproductions of paintings from Tiepolo, Canaletto and Tintoretto among others. It moves in all kinds of ways which never fail to catch the imagination of the reader.

In fact the images of Venetian theatres and stage sets are breathtaking in themselves, including a mention of the huge candle-lit chandeliers which rose and descended according to the intervals of the piece in production.

Clearly artistic and musical creativity thrived in Venice between the 16th century and the close of the 18th century, when dramatic political change and social unrest clouded the Venetian horizon, and laughter died away in the streets.

But in its glory days, Venice was known for its superb operas and musical events. At one point the city boasted seven theatres including the famous La Fenice.

So when there were concerts of music by the great Antonio Vivaldi or Adrian Willaert, native Venetians jostled in the queues for tickets with music aficionados visiting the city from England, France, Germany or the Balkans, in fact from wherever the arts thrived. …