Friday, 21 August 2015

Lazzaretto Vecchio

The Dutch Pavilion, hosting the veteran artist herman de vries, (and yes, that is how you write it...he's a lower-case kind of guy) is one of the better ones in this year's Biennale. And beyond the pavilion itself, de vries has also created a number of works on two islands in the lagoon.

Madonna del Monte lies between San Giacomo in Paludo and Mazzorbo and was originally the site of a Benedictine monastery, and, later, a church dedicated to Santa Maria del Rosario. Now in private hands, it seems impossible to visit without the use of a private boat. There may well be some art to be seen there but - passing by on the vaporetto to Torcello - we failed to spot any.

His other works are on Lazzaretto Vecchio. From 1468, it served as a quarantine station. And then, during the great plague of 1576/77, it served as the house of last resort. If you were diagnosed with the plague, you would be brought here in order to isolate you. This island would be the last thing you would ever see; and you would - as likely as not - be dead within a week. Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate...



Death might be the great leveller, but money could still buy you a few privileges in the run-up. There was an, if you like, executive wing reserved for those with the wherewithal :-



Graffiti still survives from the earliest residents. Here, you can just about make out the figure of an angel.


There are other examples of a less exalted nature, at least one of which is spectacularly rude. No, I'm not posting it, you'll have to go and look yourself.

Over the years, it was used as a leprosarium, gunpowder magazine, military base and stray dogs' home (not all at the same time) and gradually fell into disuse and ruin, until restoration work began in 2004; during which the skeletons of over 1500 plague victims, in individual and mass graves, were recovered.

The island is now being maintained by the Archeoclub di Venezia. Trees and foliage have been cut back, a basic supply of running water has been restored  and there are hopes of making it more easily accessible by linking it to the Lido via a short bridge. The ultimate aim is for the island to become a museum.

de vries' interventions are subtle ones. The fields have been seeded with herbs, a reference to the plague doctors who wore masks stuffed with aromatics in the hope of some protection against the contagion. And a number of text-based pieces have been place throughout the island. No better way, really, than to finish with this...




3 comments:

  1. Thanks Phil. More information shortly please. Love this stuff.

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  2. Thank you both. More of this sort of thing when we return from holiday!

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  3. Can't wait to get back there and see the progress. I agree, please write more of this stuff. I think you have a "Secret Venice" in you!

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