A Spectacular Veduta of Venice

Written by  Antonio Romagnolo
A rare and valuable 19th century work has been returned to the public.
This year's international Salone dell'Arte e della Conservazione dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali, the important specialist art event held in Ferrara, featured an outstandingly unusual and beautiful Veduta of Venice by Giovanni Biasin, a tempera painting on a roll of paper twenty-metres in length and one metre seventy in height displayed on a fine circular wooden structure.

This great veduta gave spectators the impression they were on a boat in the middle of St Mark's basin observing the shore as it would appear were the craft to follow a rotary course of almost 360 degrees, starting from the gardens of Sant'Elena and finishing at the entrance to that arm of the sea that leads to the Lido.

Such an unusual pictorial feat belongs to the singular 19th century genre known as diorama, invented by the French painters Louis Daguerre, the inventor of photography, and Charles Marie Bouton and introduced in Paris in 1822 to great public acclaim.
These days, works like this one are no longer to be found, at least not in museums, even those devoted to magic lanterns.

The work in question has been in the Pinacoteca dell'Accademia dei Concordi in Rovigo for about twenty-five years.

It was donated by Adelaide Cochetti Papini, a relative of Giovanni Biasin, who said that the artist had executed the work aboard a boat equipped with two rollers designed to make the paper unroll as the boat changed position and Biasin gradually depicted the shoreline.

This seems rather unlikely considering the instability of boats and the precision of the painting.
At the time of donation the roll of paper was in very poor condition but the generosity of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio made it possible to put the painting into the capable hands of Maria Beatrice Girotto, whose long and painstaking restoration revealed the spectacular nature of the diorama.

This spectacular veduta of Venice is the masterpiece of Giovanni Biasin, known prior to this work as one of the many 19th century academic painters who attempted to steer a course through historic, allegorical and patriotic painting, portraiture and neoclassical decoration, according to the tastes of the day.

Giovanni Biasin was born in 1835 in Venice, where he studied at the Academia delle Belli Arti.

He devoted himself to painting right from the start and won a certain fame when, in 1863, Antonio Gobbatti met him and invited him to decorate the hall of his palazzo in Rovigo: he was the first to reject the "LOCAL daubers" who "besmirched the rooms OF rich old men".
Biasin decorated the ceiling with a tempera depicting Apollo's chariot and the walls with scenes showing Zephyr and Flora, Ceres and Triptolemus, Bacchus and Arianna and the Abduction of Proserpine.

These paintings can still be seen in palazzo Gobbatti and, even though they are in ill repair, they reveal a painter with a sure touch whose neoclassical leanings probably reflected the influence of the client.

The work met with approval and led to Biasin's receiving other similar commissions. The city of Rovigo had need of a real artist and Biasin filled that gap. He left Venice and settled in Rovigo. He stayed in this hospitable adoptive city until his death in 1912.

The recovery of the spectacular veduta of Venice had led to a reassessment of Biasin, who emerges as a painter with a marked sense of mood and one able to render the particular, magical atmosphere of Venice with great skill.