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Venice: The Art of Living

Book Review

Venice: The Art of Living

Venice: The Art of Living
Text by Frédéric Vitoux,
Photos by Jérôme Darblay
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1991
Hardcover, 252 pages
ISBN 1-55670-425-9

If Venice is the kind of city that inspires coffee-table books, Venice: The Art of Living is the sort of book you'd expect to find arranged next to a Sotheby's catalog in a Park Avenue duplex.

But make no mistake: Handsome as this book may be, with its large glossy format and hundreds of color photographs, it's more than just an accessory for the well-appointed living room.

The author's premise is summarized in the opening pages:

"The art of living in Venice--it seems too simple to write, as if it were self-evident. Yet it is the last thing non-Venetians think about. Perhaps it is unimaginable. Though Venice has inspired countless artists and writers over the centuries, their catalogue of images and impressions has overshadowed the simple fact that Venice is a city where one lives."

A chapter titled "The Lagoon" shows a sight that may seem more reminiscent of Chesapeake Bay than the waters surrounding La Serenissima: two hunters in a boat, accompanied by a gun dog. The same chapter describes the activities of fishermen, regatta oarsmen, and a grocer who "on the weekends can think of nothing more enjoyable than to get back into his boat and make his family for a picnic on another island."

The next chapter, "Decor," takes the reader into through the neighborhoods of Venice with photos of rooftops, walls, bridges, narrow passageways, and architectural details to illustrate how "Venice is a place with a thousand corners to turn, an extravagant and labyrinthine house, with its rooms, hallways, galleries, guardrooms, staircases, attics, drawing rooms, sitting rooms, and laundry rooms. Venice encloses its inhabitants, spellbinds them, leads them astray, grabs them, surprises them, alows them no skyward escape."

Venice: The Art of Living - Venice Italy book review

ABOVE: Produce barge near the Campo San Barnaba,
from Venice: The Art of Living

"Interiors" is divided into sections that include "Patrician homes," "Profiles," "Venetian extravagance," "Gardens," "Artists' homes," "Writers' homes," "Modern style," and "On the lagoon." This will be the heart of the book for many readers, since it's about real people in real dwellings--the literary equivalent of a Junior League home and garden tour, but without the parking hassles. If you've ever wondered what life is like behind the walls of Venice's palazzi--or inside a Torcello farmhouse, for that matter--here's your chance to find out.

"Traditions" is a celebration of Venice's artisans: the glassblowers, etchers, foundrymen, goldsmiths, bookbinders, boatmakers, printers, floormakers, and textile artists who continue to ply their trades for a clientele that appreciates (and can afford) traditional quality.

"Rendevous" gets down to practicalities: Where to eat, sleep, and sightsee in an atmosphere whose "most irresistible the past."

Finally, a section headed "Venetian Notebook" lists hotels, restaurants, wine bars, museums, palazzi for rent, and shops for each of Venice's districts and the neighboring islands.


If you've ever dreamed of owning a palace (or even a modest flat) on the Grand Canal, this book will re-ignite your fantasies.

About the author and photographer:

Frédéric Vitoux is a novelist, essayist, and biographer. He writes literary and film criticism for the Nouvel Observateur in Paris.

Jérôme Darblay photographs interiors for Elle Décoration, Architektur und Wohnen, and other European magazines. His most recent book is Inside Paris.