We linger in Venice. Not that anyone really needs an excuse, but there is another reason not to rush. I’m here to absorb as much of the city as I can – it’s sights, smells, sounds. The feel of it. It’s what I need to make the swirling thoughts in my head come alive, to create the world of Catarina d’Armano, who will come of age in the Venice of the 1500s, at the apogee of its splendor. Many thanks to La Serenissima. Remove motorized boats and tourists, and there is the city, much as it was then. I have only to repopulate it with men in their distinctive black hats and knee length, wide sleeved black coats (vestas) serving as a background for women clothed in Venice-woven fabrics of elaborate silk brocades and velvets, in colors bright as the palazzos they lived in.
So, here I am, walking the lanes, crossing the bridges, gasping at the vistas, looking for the perfect palazzo for my heroine. I have decided that she should live close to my favorite of all Venice’s churches – St. Maria dei Miracoli, a jewel box – very small by Venitian standards.
It all began in the summer of 1480, when a painting of the Virgin and child, which hung in a niche a few steps away from the current church, attracted enormous devotion because of recurring events starting with the healing of a woman stabbed by a relative. The family owning the painting proposed that a chapel be built to house it. Money poured in from the faithful (indulgences were granted for contributions) and in 1489, the miraculous picture was moved to its new home.
Clad in veined, pale peach marble panels, set between classic pillars upholding rounded arches, it is further decorated with porphyry lunettes, and the whole thing glows.
Above is another one of those marvelous Venitian ceilings, vaulted, with paintings of patriarchs and prophets set off by elaborate gold leaf. The raised choir sheltered the chorus of St. Clares resident in the nunnery across the way. A dozen steps above the congregation is the altar, crowned by the famous painting. It is perfection.
We walk the narrow lanes leading from the Campo, turn a corner, and there it is. Catarina’s palazzo. Situated with canals on two sides, it rises from the water, pale rose, with a marble balustrade flying the banner of Venice – the golden winged lion on a scarlet background. Ca’ Pizzani.
I have found my inspiration.