For centuries, Venice has been attracting great writers, musicians and artists. The city has been a stage set since Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" through John Berendt's "City of Falling Angels." From Casanova in "Story of My Life" to James Bond in "Casino Royale", Venice has been the city where dreams are made. From Vivaldi's Four Seasons to the famous Pink Floyd concert held on a floating platform in the middle of Grand Canal, Venice inspired, seduced and showcased the genius in many genres, and no group surpassed the artists.
Today's Venice is virtually upholstered with masterpieces. By the year 1500, artists and craftsmen living in the city had developed their own artistic style which differed from that of Florence or Rome and during the Renaissance, Venice gave birth to a distinct school of painting. Venice's isolation made it less susceptible to outside influences; being a port-of-entry for exotic pigments and dyes made the Venetian artists use them extravagantly. Finally, Venice is uniquely situated in a lagoon. Light over water, falling from every direction in a lagoon, produces dramatic optical effects and these have heightened the sensitivity of Venetian artists to color. Four hundred years prior to Impressionism, the Venetian painters were keenly interested in the relationship between light and color and their canvases clearly explore this interplay through the smooth brushwork, making for a velvety surface texture. Because tempera and fresco were unstable in the humid sea air of Venice, oil paints were introduced by Venetian artists and their use allowed for more subtle coloring effects.
Pioneers of the Venetian School of painting in the 15th century was the Bellini family (descendants of the Murano glassworkers). The Bellini were of particular importance, and are credited with bringing the Renaissance "style" to Venetian painting. Most works dealt with religious themes but certain wealthy Venetian patrons created a market for what we refer to as "Venus" scenes.
Other renowned works are created by Giorgione, Andrea Mantegna, Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, and mysterious Lorenzo Lotto.
Due to the city's reputation, many famous artists traveled to Venice and spent time in the workshops there. Antonello da Messina, El Greco and even Albrecht Dürer all studied in Venice during the 15th and 16th centuries.
In the Rococo period, another Venetian native, Rosalba Carriera, created her pastel works here, being the first artist to work in this medium.
Later, there were the Venetian landscapes of Francesco Guardi, intriguing waterscapes by Canaletto, and perfectly executed sculptures of another famous Venetian Antonio Canova.
In later centuries, Venice attracted painters from many countries, representing many different trends. JMW Turner painted his sunsets here and what better place to study the light so important to Impressionists than in Venice.
In 1894 the first Biennale dell'Arte was held and, except for World War interruptions, has taken place every two years since, becoming a Venice institution. In 1910 Klimt and Renoir had their own exhibition rooms, while Picasso was removed from the Spanish salon over concern his paintings were too shocking. Picasso's work was finally shown in 1948, the same year Peggy Guggenheim brought her collection to Venice at the Biennale's invitation.
Biennale, started as an art festival held every two years, but during the century-plus of its existence it's outgrown the name, becoming one of the world's major interdisciplinary art expositions. "Biennale" now refers to several festivals of art, film, music, dance, theater, and architecture.
The Biennale dell'Arte takes place from mid-June to early November in odd-numbered years. The Giardini della Biennale, located in the Castello sestiere, was developed specifically for the event. In this park like setting overlooking the lagoon, 30 countries have permanent pavilions to exhibit works by their native artists. In the neighboring Arsenale's Corderie, a long, beautiful building holds works by artists from smaller nations, as well as some more avant-garde installations. Numerous palaces, warehouses, and churches all over town also hold exhibits, often allowing for visiting buildings not normally open to the public.
The Biennale del Cinema (also known as Venice Film Festival) was first held in 1932 and soon turned into an annual event. Films are shown in several theaters at the Palazzo del Cinema. Ten days of screenings include films vying for awards as well as retrospectives and debuts of mainstream releases. The night after films play the Palazzo del Cinema, they're shown at Campo San Polo's open-air cinema and at the Giorgione Movie d'essai. San Polo screens the winner of the Leone d'Oro (Golden Lion) prize the night following the awards ceremony.
Since its launch in 1930, the Biennale Musica has attracted world-famous composers and performers. Igor Stravinsky premiered his Rake's Progress during the 1951 festival, and four years later it was George Gershwin's turn with Porgy and Bess. The annual event stretches over several months, with performances in some of the city's smaller venues.
Scheduling is similar for the newest addition to the cultural family, Biennale Danza, as well as the Biennale Teatro, both of which stage some performances in the city's campi. The Theatro Verde, an outdoor amphitheater on the island of San Giorgio, was restored for Biennale use, and can't beat the Venetian lagoon as a backdrop. The least established of the Biennale events, the Biennale of Architecture, began in 1980.