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Wagner's legacy in visual arts at Palazzo Fortuny

Wagner's legacy in visual arts at Palazzo Fortuny Through April 8, 2013

The impact of Wagnerism on Western culture cannot be overestimated.
Over the last 150 years, artists from all disciplines were inspired by the aesthetic conceptions shaped by Wagner on the nature of art.

Approaching the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth (May, 22 1813), the Fortuny Museum of Venice hosts a fascinating exhibition. This is the result of a wide research project, centered on the influence in iconography and aesthetics that Wagner's work exerted on visual arts in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mariano Fortuny himself was one of the leading figures in Wagnerism, and his Wagner inspired cycle – including 47 paintings owned by the museum - will be on display for the first time for this event.

Besides Fortuny’s works others from several artists such as Balestrieri, Palanti, Viazzi, Prati, Previati, Marini and Wildt will be on display, all inspired by characters and scenes from Wagner’s plays, a sort of ‘visual tales’ in the arts.
The halls of the 15th century Pesaro Palace, later to become Fortuny’s home, are thus the perfect setting for this 150 piece exhibition: paintings, engravings, drawings, sculptures, all enlighten Wagner’s artistic legacy.

Another section illustrates the widespread fame of the German composer in the society of the late 19th and 20th century through a series of items like books, magazines, illustrations, and old postcards. A series of works by modern artists - A. Tapies, B. Viola and A. Kiefer - also showing the far-reaching sway of Wagnerism are included as well.


Richard Wagner and Venice

Richard Wagner visited Venice six times in the second half of the 19th century.
His first sojourn lasted eight months from August 1858 to March 1859. He found Venice a very interesting place and he truly enjoyed the reigning silence and peacefulness of the city, the perfect environment he was looking for to work. The outcome was the completion of the second act of ‘Tristan and Iseult. He stood at the Danieli first to move later at palazzo Giustiniani, now the seat of Venice University. Although he was upset by his health as he suffered from dysentery and a painful ulcer on his leg.
And he also was upset by the police. Venice was at the time under the iron rule of the Austrian dominion and Wagner was under constant harass by the police because of his former revolutionary past in Dresden during the European uprising of 1848. He wrote about the harsh ambiance of Venice under Augsburg rule. He observed how the Venetians never applaud at any of the Austrian army band performances in san Marco square.

Wagner come the second time to Venice in 1861 for a short stay to visit some local friends. This time he saw Titians’s ‘Assumption of Mary’ in the Accademia where the painting stood for 102 years before getting back to the Frari church. He wrote he was so awed by this masterpiece that inspired him to start the composition of ‘Die Meistersinger’.

After settling in Bayreuth with his wife Cosima Litz and their three sons (the first festival took place in 1876), Wagner travelled a lot in Southern Italy looking for a better climate that could alleviate his health problems. He was mentally upset and he experienced erysipelas, angina pectoris and gastric pain. In 1880 before reaching Palermo, he visited for a few hours the small town of Ravello and he was totally captivated by the beautiful gardens of Villa Ruffolo and the breathtaking view over the Amalfi coast. Right there is where he said he had ‘seen’ the Gardens of Klingsor of his later work ‘Parsifal’.

The last stop of this trip was Venice and this will be his last visit to the city. He arrived in September 1882 and rented some 18 rooms of the mezzanine floor for his family and his retinue at the palazzo Loredan – Vendramin the present seat of the Municipal Casino. Wagner had recently developed heart trouble. During this final sojourn he enjoyed very much going to the caffè Lavena in san Marco square where in the winter days he liked to drink hot chocolate and sip a cognac and occasionally also eat a piece of cake. But one day he fainted in the coffe house asking all presents not to mention the episode to anyone of his entourage. One of his last public appearances was on Christmas eve in the exclusive Apollonian rooms at la Fenice opera house where he organized a party and a concert he directed to celebrate his wife’s birthday.
By February 13 1883 he was dead. During the last part of his life his health worsened as he was now suffering from cardiac dilation. His body was embalmed, put into a special crystal coffin and transported by train to Bayeruth. His body left Venice on Feb. 16 after a grand tribute was given by the Municipality attended by artists and citizens. They all escorted the great master in silence and solemnity along the Gran Canal to the railway station.

The Wagner Museum – Cà Vendramin Calergi Municipal Casino

Since 1995 the room where he passed away has been assigned by the City Council to the Wagner Association. In 2003 a few more rooms were added hosting now the Lienhart collection including rare documents, posters, music scores, singed letters, paintings, records, paintings and memorabilia. This is now the largest collection dedicated to the German composer outside Bayeruth. You can join one of the guided tours in the Wagner rooms.

More information: www.casinovenezia.it/en/museo_wagner.jsp

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