THE ACCADEMIA. II: THE SANTA CROCE MIRACLES AND CARPACCIO
The Holy Cross—Gentile Bellini’s Venice—The empty windows—Carpaccio’s Venice—The story of S. Ursula—Gay pageantry—A famous bedroom—Carpaccio’s life—Ruskin’s eulogy.
In Room XV are the Santa Croce miracles. The Holy Cross was brought by Filippo da Massaro and presented to the Scuola di S. Giovanni Evangelista. Every year it was carried in solemn procession through Venice and something remarkable was expected of it.
The great picture by Gentile Bellini, which shows the progress of the Holy Cross procession across the Piazza in 1496, is historically of much interest. One sees many changes and much that is still familiar. The only mosaic on the facade of S. Mark’s which still remains is that in the arch over the left door; and that also is the only arch which has been left concave. The three flagstaffs are there, but they have wooden pediments and no lions on the top, as now. The Merceria clock tower is not yet, and the south arcade comes flush with the campanile’s north wall; but I doubt if that was so. The miracle of that year was the healing of a youth who had been fatally injured in the head; his father may be seen kneeling just behind the relic.
The next most noticeable picture, also Gentile Bellini’s, records a miracle of 1500. The procession was on its way to S. Lorenzo, near the Arsenal, from the Piazza, when the sacred emblem fell into the canal. Straightway in jumped Andrea Vendramin, the chief of the Scuola, to save it, and was supernaturally buoyed up by his sanctified burden. The picture has a religious basis, but heaven is not likely, I think, to be seriously affronted if one smiles a little at these aquatic sports. Legend has it that the little kneeling group on the right is Gentile’s own family, and the kneeling lady on the left, with a nun behind her, is Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus.
Bellini has made the scene vivid, but it is odd that he should have put not a soul at a window. When we turn to Carpaccio’s “Miracle” of 1494, representing the healing of a man possessed of a devil, who may be seen in the loggia at the left, we find a slightly richer sense of history, for three or four women look from the windows; but Mansueti, although a far inferior artist, is the only one to be really thorough and Venetian in this respect.
One very interesting detail of Carpaccio’s “Miracle” picture is the Rialto bridge of his time. It was of wood, on piles, and a portion in the centre could be drawn up either to let tall masts through or to stop the thoroughfare to pursuers. It is valuable, too, for its costumes and architecture. In a gondola is a dog, since one of those animals finds its way into most of his works. This time it is S. Jerome’s dog from the picture at S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni. An English translation of the Santa Croce story might well be placed in this room.