It was Truman Capote who quipped that "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go." It brings you ever so much pleasure. And much of the pleasure is derived from the treasures you bring home from your visit to this magnificent city.
Venice was long an artistic enclave among European cities. Though the Venetian merchants lost a share of their market at the turn of the 16th century, their city enjoyed enormous wealth. Along with this wealth came prestige. Members of nobility were increasingly dedicated to a life of luxury which included a firm dedication to the arts and letters. Poets and painters journeyed to Venice. Intellectuals sought refuge here after the fall of Constantinople, thus forming an indelible cultural base. Among the notable masters of the time were Aldo Manuzio the famous printer, The Bellinis and the Vivarinis, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno, and Montegna and Carpaccio who created the Venetian school of painting. Tiziano, Giorgione, Veronese and Tintoretto joined the others. Composers and musicians, the finest in their field, followed to provide entertainment in the palatial chambers lining the Grand Canal. It was a world of supreme elegance.
Master craftsmen joined these artists, bringing with them laces and leather goods, silks and delicate blown glass objects. For, as with the arts, members of nobility demanded nothing but the finest quality craftsmanship and set a standard that remains in place to this day. As one who enjoys such quality, you'll be pleased to peruse Venice's finest display cases and tasteful showrooms for traditional items.
The origins of this art form are lost forever. However, the craft was perfected on the tiny island of Murano. While you can see blown glass demonstrations throughout Venice, you can visit an actual factory on Murano. Here, the artisans plunge long blowpipes dipped in molten glass into furnaces which glow from the heat. The men blow through the pipes, increasing the size of the shape, then twist, turn and trim the glowing glass molding it into a variety of forms. You can purchase everything from small, inexpensive pieces to elaborate, exquisitely ornate chandeliers. The factories can ship these items directly to your home so you avoid the dilemma of transporting such fragile cargo.
Early lace-workers lived on the island of Burano. They worked tedious, long hours creating elegant tablecloths, beautiful shawls, and ornate collars to be worn with dresses. Today, you may purchase any of these items at one of the many lace shops near St. Mark's Square. Delicate handkerchiefs make lovely souvenirs and are lightweight and unbreakable - the perfect gift for someone back home.
The Europeans have long been in love with quality leather pieces, and none more so than the Italians. They are willing to spend a small fortune for an elegant handbag or a handsome jacket for they know, if properly cared for, these items will last a lifetime. The Italian designers offer fashion pieces from this season's collection, as well as standard styles. You need only feel the softness of the hide to know you'll be purchasing the finest quality available. Gloves make wonderful gifts and are relatively inexpensive. Wallets and passport portfolios are also very nice. While you're at it, wouldn't you love a new briefcase from Venice?
Gondolier dolls are wonderful gifts for little people back home, as are their traditional velvet slippers with rope soles. Venetians love fantasy and nothing is more whimsical than the papier-mache carnival masks whose prototypes date back to the 17th and 18th century. You can find everything from the devil to the loveliest princess.
Should you walk away from Venice empty-handed, it will matter not. For it is sure that your heart will be filled with memories to last a lifetime. As Marcel Roust wrote in his letter to Madame Strauss, "When I went to Venice - my dream became my address."
Karyn L. Planett