Sunday, November 30, 2014


For several years now, I had been attempting to find a generic name with 'oomph' -- for an architectural motif I think has been mis-named.

What’s in a name anyway? Juliet and that nursery rhyme about “sticks and stones” aside, I think proper or accurate nomenclature can be essential-- for good or not-- for power and beauty-- for attribution. I propose that to a disinterested --that is impartial-- observer with no preconceived associations, the word “diarrhea” is a prettier word than -- let’s say --“pulchritude.” And I am certain that had Adolf’s father not changed his surname from Schickelgruber we might never have had to experience the trauma of World War II. Can you imagine “Heil, Schickelgruber?” Anyway, back to architecture. (Though it is a pity the selecting panel at the Vienna Art Institute didn’t bend it’s rules, swallow their pride or just plain do whatever it took, to accept young Adolf.)

So what I was seeking was a generic word to describe what in England is commonly called ‘Venetian,’ in Venice is usually referred to as a ‘Serliana,’ and in America is labeled ‘Palladian’~~ that is, a center-arched triple window. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania, where we had numerous splendid examples of this motif in windows and doorways. You find it at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, sometimes at banks, frequently in fine old brick Georgian mansions. I’ve always loved the design and wondered where it came from. As I learned about Andrea Palladio, the great Italian Rennaisance architect, I found that even his name was made up - a rather high sounding attempt to connect with classical times, perhaps Pallas Athena. In any case, Palladio used the motif for the first time in his re-do of the basilica in Vicenza about 1549. Serlio employed it perhaps earlier. There really are not many examples of the motif in Venice, though both Serlio and Palladio wrote books of architecture and first published them in Venice; so I suppose that is some kind of Venetian connection. So I thought about calling it: “Venetian (?)” -- that is with the paranthetical question mark. But that’s rather fussy and not completely accurate; because as I did some research, I discovered a good forty examples before the time of Serlio and Palladio and quite a few were more than a thousand years before their births. The earliest example I came across is depicted in low relief on the side of a Triumphal Arch to Julius Caesar in L’Orange France. That it was on the side at first misled me ~~ until after many years,I finally came up with an appropriate name. And interestingly enough, it originated --of all places-- in Venice.

I was looking at a book on Titian and came across a photo of his tomb in Santa Maria dei Frari the church where his magnificent Assumption of the Virgin is the altar piece. The ornate and rather clumsy memorial was erected by the Austrians in 1852. But the motif is clearly a “Venetian-Palladian-Serliana.” The caption to the photo said:.....”Crowning the triumphal arch above him is the Lion of Saint Mark.... with the Habsburg shield.” Triumphal Arch--- of course! That’s exactly what it is. That’s what the doors are-- that’s what the windows are. The motif is TRIUMPHAL. And think about it-- a three syllable word describing a triple motif. In architecture, “triumphal” almost invariably connotes “ARCH,” and the word actually begins with the Latin prefix for three. It’s perfect. So my new name for my favorite window is “TRIumphal.” That can be a TRIumphal door, window, series---you name it. Dennis asked me: “So what’s an ‘umph’?” I don’t know; but the name has exactly what I was looking for: a generic name with “oomph.”

Seven years ago, I was back in Venice with some of Dennis' ashes. (My latest trip was just a month ago when most of my posts were on FaceBook.) Dennis died in early April 2006 almost exactly one month after our final trip together to Venezia. He's at the base of an olive tree in one of our favorite cloisters in the Zattere, and sprinkled around several rose bushes. I also left an inlaid box of his ashes under a very large chest in the Frari within sight of the marvelous Titian altar piece. Someday I'll join him.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)