According to Vasari, Giorgione, like his master Bellini, painted the Doge Leonardo Loredan, but the picture, where is it? And where are others mentioned by Vasari and Ridolfi? So fervid a lover of nature and his art must have painted much; yet there is but little left now. Can there be discoveries of Giorgiones still to be made? One wonders that it is possible for any of the glowing things from that hand to lie hidden: their colours should burn through any accumulation of rubbish, and now and then their pulses be heard.
CHAPTER XXIX AND LAST
ISLAND AFTERNOONS’ ENTERTAINMENTS. II: S. LAZZARO AND CHIOGGIA
An Armenian monastery—The black beards—An attractive cicerone—The refectory—Byron’s Armenian studies—A little museum—A pleasant library—Tireless enthusiasm—The garden—Old age—The two campanili—Armenian proverbs—Chioggia—An amphibious town—The repulsiveness of roads—The return voyage—Porto Secco—Malamocco—An evening scene—The end.
As one approaches the Lido from Venice one passes on the right two islands. The first is a grim enough colony, for thither are the male lunatics of Venice deported; but the second, with a graceful eastern campanile or minaret, a cool garden and warm red buildings, is alluring and serene, being no other than the island of S. Lazzaro, on which is situated the monastery of the Armenian Mechitarists, a little company of scholarly monks who collect old MSS, translate, edit and print their learned lucubrations, and instruct the young in religion and theology. Furthermore, the island is famous in our literature for having afforded Lord Byron a refuge, when, after too deep a draught of worldly beguilements, he decided to become a serious recluse, and for a brief while buried himself here, studied Armenian, and made a few translations: enough at any rate to provide himself with a cloistral interlude on which he might ever after reflect with pride and the wistful backward look of a born scholiast to whom the fates had been unkind.
According to a little history of the island which one of the brothers has written, S. Lazzaro was once a leper settlement. Then it fell into disuse, and in 1717 an Armenian monk of substance, one Mekhitar of Sebaste, was permitted to purchase it and here surround himself with companions. Since then the life of the little community has been easy and tranquil.
The extremely welcome visitor is received at the island stairs by a porter in uniform and led by him along the sunny cloisters and their very green garden to a waiting-room hung thickly with modern paintings: indifferent Madonnas and views of the city and the lagoon. By and by in comes a black-bearded father, in a cassock. All the Mechitarists, it seems, have black beards and cassocks and wide-brimmed beavers; and the young seminarists, whom one meets now and then in little bunches in Venice, are broad-brimmed, black-coated, and give promise of being hairy too. The father, who is genial and smiling, asks if we understand French, and deploring the difficulty of the English language, which has so many ways of pronouncing a single termination, whereas the Armenian never exceeds one, leads the way.