St. Mark’s Place, after all I had read and all I had heard of it, exceeded expectation: such a cluster of excellence, such a constellation of artificial beauties, my mind had never ventured to excite the idea of within herself; though assisted with all the powers of doing so which painters can bestow, and with all the advantages derived from verbal and written description. It was half an hour before I could think of looking for the bronze horses, of which one has heard so much; and from which when one has once begun to look, there is no possibility of withdrawing one’s attention. The general effect produced by such architecture, such painting, such pillars; illuminated as I saw them last night by the moon at full, rising out of the sea, produced an effect like enchantment; and indeed the more than magical sweetness of Venetian planners, dialect, and address, confirms one’s notion, and realizes the scenes laid by Fenelon in their once tributary island of Cyprus. The pole set up as commemorative of their past dominion over it, grieves one the more, when every hour shews how congenial that place must have been to them, if every thing one reads of it has any foundation in truth.
The Ducal palace is so beautiful, it were worth while almost to cross the Alps to see that, and return home again: and St. Mark’s church, whose Mosaic paintings on the outside are surpassed by no work of art, delights one no less on entering, with its numberless rarities; the flooring first, which is all paved with precious stones of the second rank, in small squares, not bigger than a playing card, and sometimes less. By the second rank in gems I mean, carnelion, agate, jasper, serpentine, and verd antique; on which you place your feet without remorse, but not without a very odd sensation, when you find the ground undulated beneath them, to represent the waves of the sea, and perpetuate marine ideas, which prevail in every thing at Venice. We were not shewn the treasury, and it was impossible to get a sight of the manuscript in St. Mark’s own hand-writing, carefully preserved here, and justly esteemed even beyond the jewels given as votive offerings to his shrine, which are of immense value.
The pictures in the Doge’s house are a magnificent collection; and the Noah’s Ark by Bassano would doubtless afford an actual study for natural historians as well as painters, and is considered as a model of perfection from which succeeding artists may learn to draw animal life: scarcely a creature can be recollected which has not its proper place in the picture; but the pensive cat upon the fore-ground took most of my attention, and held it away from the meeting of the Pope and Doge by the other brother Bassano, who here proves that his pencil is not divested of dignity, as the connoisseurs sometimes tell us that he is. But it is not one picture, or two, or twenty, that seizes one’s mind here; it is the accumulation of various objects, each worthy to detain it. Wonderful indeed, and sweetly-satisfying to the intellectual appetite, is the variety, the plenty of pleasures which serve to enchain the imagination, and fascinate the traveller’s eye, keeping it ever on this little spot; for though I have heard some of the inhabitants talk of its vastness, it is scarcely bigger than our Portman Square, I think, not larger at the very most than Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields.