de jonckheere old masters

Giuseppe Bernardino Bison

Departure of the Bucentaur Towards the Venice Lido, Ascension Day

Canvas: 35,5 x 50 cm


Aside from Carnival, the holiday that best embodies the Venetian spirit is certainly Ascension Day. The event held on this day involves the Doge, accompanied by the leading figures of the city, embarking on the Bucentaur, a flat bottomed barge powered by oars, which is rowed out of the lagoon and out to sea by the Lido port in order to perform a very special ceremony.

This Sposalizio del Mare (the Marriage of the Sea), where the Doge would toss a golden ring into the Adriatic to symbolise the city's union with the sea, but above all, its maritime dominance. Once the ceremony was over, the ship returned to Venice, accompanied by many boats and the festivities would continue on land. The first such ceremony can be reliably traced to around the year 1000; it was held for the last time in 1797, prior to the abdication of the last Doge before the troops of Napoléon Bonaparte. This secular tradition had thus already been relegated to the history books at the time that Bison chose it as a subject.

A painting by Canaletto originally inspired this composition. Now lost, it is documented through numerous copies from the workshop as well as an engraving by Giovanni Battista Brustoloni. The other renowned vedutist, Francesco Guardi, also painted a version of it. It is no doubt thanks to the same engraving that Bison would have been familiar with the motif and came to depict it. Bison chooses to stay very close to this composition: he maintains the point of view from the eastern end of the Riva degli Schiavoni, which extends along the right-hand edge of the image, dominated by the Campanile. On the left, we see the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, with, in sequence, Giudecca and the Church of Redentore, and in the centre, the entrance to the Grand Canal with the Punta della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute. This panorama of the Bacino di San Marco is extended longer in the work of Bison than in the original, as the format of the work differs slightly, however the artist preserves the same arrangement of buildings. The dock is occupied by a multitude of characters, completely identical to those appearing in the engraved model, as they scramble for a glimpse of the beautiful boat passing majestically before their eyes.

The speed with which Bison worked allowed him to offer numerous and diverse scenes representing the Serenissima to his clientele in Trieste. He spent a large part of his career working there, delighting the public with his charming little scenes portraying the city in an idyllic light. His paintings are always meticulously composed, whilst containing a personal touch in the small brushstrokes that give shape to the figures and other details as well as the shimmering reflections of the water of the lagoon which are rendered with great virtuosity.

Provenance :
Private collection.