Susan Ruth Steer
Originally from England, I first came to Venice twenty years ago as an art history undergraduate with an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which I followed with a stint as a supervisor of the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale. I returned to England to finish my degree, but the experience of living and working in this extraordinary city had changed my life. I had fallen in love with Venice, with its architecture and art, as well the lifestyle in this most beguiling, if sometimes vexing, city. So I came back to Venice to study for an MA and then a PhD specialising in Venetian art. Now married to Paolo, who is Venetian, and with a young son, I continue to share my time between the UK and Venice.
For my MA, I specialised in Venetian medieval art and architecture, and for my PhD I researched Venetian altar paintings. As a post-doctoral researcher and editor based at the National Gallery in London, I contributed to the UK’s national catalogue of European paintings. I have published on Italian art in academic journals and I have also taught History of Art for leading universities in the UK and Italy.
When you come to Venice you will naturally wish to visit the impressive major monuments; I aim to share these with you in such a way as to defy the crowds and get beneath the superficial. But I also invite you to sites away from San Marco. Some of my favourite works of architecture and art are found in the other neighbourhoods of the city: there are few buildings more exquisite than the marble-clad votive church of the Miracoli, more impressive than San Rocco, or more brilliant in design than the Salute. Extraordinary artworks can be found in unexpected places, such as Cima’s sublime Baptism of Christ in the modest parish church of San Giovanni in Bragora and, close by, Carpaccio’s festive canvases at the meeting rooms of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, or, in an oratory at the architecturally hotch-potch parish church of San Polo, Giandomenico Tiepolo’s technically imperfect yet brilliant Stations of the Cross, painted when the artist was barely out of his teens. As an art historian, I am keen to share superlative works of art still in situ at the Frari and, naturally, the masterpieces of the Accademia galleries, the greatest collection of Venetian painting in the world.
To appreciate the splendour of Venice’s glorious excess in the hedonistic eighteenth century, a visit to Ca’ Rezzonico is a delight, with its sumptuous decorations and collections of eighteenth-century art, including luminous ceilings by Giambattista Tiepolo and the surprisingly trippy frescoes painted by his son Giandomenico for his own home.
My favourite themed Venetian itinerary comes directly from my PhD research: Plague and Pestilence in Venice. We will explore the ways that the city responded to this deadly threat, not only through innovative and often draconian sanitary measures, but also in the form of artistic offerings to the Almighty. This macabre theme will take us on a surprising journey through the city – from Palladio’s famous Redentore, to the Baroque extravagance of Longhena’s Santa Maria della Salute, we may take in the masterpieces of Tintoretto at San Rocco, and perhaps visit the church of San Sebastiano in a quiet backwater, and you will discover how many joyous works of art and architecture were created in the teeth of a health catastrophe.