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Venice Observed (Art and Places) Paperback – September 25, 1963

3.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

MARY MCCARTHY (1912-1989) was a short-story writer, bestselling novelist, essayist, and critic. She was the author of The Stones of Florence and Birds of America, among other books.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 158 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books (September 25, 1963)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015693521X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156935210
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #824,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mary McCarthy's VENICE OBSERVED is neither history nor a guide book but rather a literary reflection written by a young 1950s "single" woman who has visited a beautiful place and now sits at her desk and muses over what she has seen.
McCarthy was a writer and an educated woman in an age when educated women were few. She probably wore white gloves and a little hat and visited Europe after graduation from college. One can picture the author of THE GROUP traveling abroad, continuing her education. As part of her formal training, she read James and Ruskin and then she visited the sights they described and wrote her own impressions. I found McCarthy's book intriguing because she was intriguing and women like her don't exist any more. I picture her looking a bit like Katherine Hepburn arriving in Italy in "Summertime." Maybe McCarthy wasn't a "career girl" as single women sans husband and children who worked for a living were called in those days, but this is how I picture her on reading VENICE OBSERVED.
I've just finished reading JJ Norwich's HISTORY OF VENICE and if you want history Norwich's book is the definitive history. VENICE OBSERVED is for women who want a bit of information to complement their education mixed in with another woman's reflections. VENICE OBSERVED is for educated women who travel alone.
McCarthy includes some history, but only as a backdrop to her real interests which are art and literature. She assumes you know who Tintoretto and Titian were and that you've at least seen pictures of their works. Where Norwich mentions Tintoretto in passing (Norwich is more interested in archtecture) McCarthy dwells on him.
VENICE OBSERVED is not an art book however. McCarthy's writing reminds me of James or Ruskin, both of whom she quotes.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of McCarthy's most delightful books, although it may also be her least controversial. VENICE OBSERVED might be the best single travel book ever written on Venice, and MCarthy's tone is leisurely and informative, her style witty and engaging. Her asides about her personal experiences in the city complement her grander historical and artistic musings: you never feel alienated from her prose (the way you can in her earlier THE STONES OF FLORENCE). Her anecdotes about the doges, Tintoretto, Veronese, the Councils, etc. greatly enhanced one's understanding of the city, and her musings on the art are thoughtful and illuminating.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Written in 1956, "Venice Observed" was a precursor to "The Stones of Florence" (1959), one of the better travel books ever written. As in "The Stones of Florence," McCarthy weaves a tapestry of art, history, literature, sociology and cogent observation, but this earlier effort is not as well organized as the later book, leaving the reader to dig out the gems that lay within.

Apparently the original hardback versions of both books contained high-quality photographs, and were experiments in presenting the two modes of communication together. Depending upon which edition you buy, the paperback versions either lack photographs altogether or contain low-quality reproductions. While that obviously detracts from the experience, the text standing alone bears witness to an extraordinarily well-disciplined and fine mind at work.

Since McCarthy was born in 1912, she would have been 44 at the time this book was written, hardly the ingenue that other reviewers suggest. In fact, after reading both books, one suspects that this woman was born mature.

It is interesting to note that throughout this book, McCarthy refers to John Ruskin's "The Stones of Venice," which explains her choice of title for "The Stones of Florence."
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Format: Paperback
While this seems less known than its 1959 predecessor The Stones of Florence, I liked it more. McCarthy reveals in framing vignettes more about where she stays, and the irascible, over-familiar family she resides with. Also, the book is set up thematically in chapters that don't just roam over the abundant art, but focus on characters and topics that let this erudite author convey information better.

I am reviewing a large-format illustrated edition of this 1963 book. With end-notes on the art photographed, and short essay by an art professor, it better meets the needs of readers who are not as familiar with the considerable context necessary for appreciating the displays written about and shown. She starts by noting that no corner of Venice can be kept from the tourist, and that residents must share its passageways with all, for all must walk its labyrinth. She then tells of how the ideally placed port gained its "loot" and why it prospered and then declined. The fate of its Jews in the ghetto and the rise of the Most Serene Republic's "only thinker" the friar Paolo Sarpi enliven the tales told.

Its glory years with Giorgione and Carpaccio, Titian and Tiepolo follow. A trip to the islands of Murano and Burano conjures up their appeal, or the limits of such. McCarthy regales us from a time fifty-plus years ago when Burano's fisherfolk looked different than Venetians, and when beggar children still could be found in the ghetto. Her Venice already feels very distant to a traveler today.

This is dated, of course, but for the way it conjures up some of the theme-park ambiance of Venice, recommended. It's an elegant but accessible introduction, and with the notes, one can learn about the artists and architects responsible for forging this island kingdom out of marble against the salty sea.
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