In the mid 1960s Warwick was a very new university; it had to do new things and teach in new ways. One of the first departments to be established was History, and the first Professor of History was John Hale, an Oxford historian in his early 40s who was making a reputation for himself as a Renaissance scholar and a committed Europeanist. His idea of British undergraduates undertaking study abroad, first in the USA, and then in Europe, was revolutionary for the time; one third of the academic programme for the early intakes was to be conducted abroad, much of it taught by American and Italian staff. The majority of the students taking Warwick history and, a little later, History of Art degrees in those early years had little experience of foreign travel. This made it important that the group should be kept together and not dispersed around European universities, in the way that it had been in America. The choice of Italy as the European focus of this unique scheme was not surprising, given the emphasis placed on Italy in those early days as “the birthplace of the modern world”.
It was John’s choice, and it was also his decision to switch the location of the programme from Florence to Venice, following the great floods in November 1966, which, in different ways, made both great Renaissance cities unlikely venues for experimental undergraduate teaching programmes. Unlike Florence, which had already attracted some twenty U.S. programmes, Venice had little to offer newcomers. Its university was very small at that time; the city had little experience of encouraging and embracing foreign students except as tourists; only two bars remained open after 9 pm! However, what had emerged as a result of the flood of 4th November 1966 was a realisation in Venice of how vulnerable the city was, and from this came a temporary outburst of concern to do something about it. Out of this was born, amongst other initiatives, an organisation called Venice, Island of Studies. John Hale on his visits in the first half of 1967 found a heightened interest in attracting young people to Venice. Families opened their doors, libraries became more generous and welcoming to undergraduate readers from abroad, and above all a sponsor, himself the owner of one of the largest and best maintained palaces on the Grand Canal, came forward with the offer of space for a teaching centre.
In fact, Count Brando Brandolini’s generosity went much further than that. When the group of twenty-nine final year History students arrived in Venice in late September 1967, they were ushered into a world beyond their wildest dreams. The space provided on the fourth floor of Palazzo Brandolini for the study area included a large room with balcony on the Grand Canal for lectures and reading room, two seminar rooms, an entrance area from where our first library began to develop, and a kitchen. There was a tiny lift – a rare luxury in Venice at the time, lined in gold cloth, which we tried to ban students from using, largely unsuccessfully! In addition there was a small flat, with a front room lavishly decorated in gold and purple, in keeping with the probably mistaken legend that Wagner wrote Tristan there. John insisted that Patricia and I should have the flat as recompense for being the first in the line of fire if any problems emerged. All this was rent-free and was to be the University’s Italian base for the next seven years. The advantages of having a ‘good address’ became very clear to us in the following years!
We had allowed a week for the students to get used to the families to which they had been allocated, and to prepare for work. The day after their arrival the host families assembled at Palazzo Brandolini to take their new lodgers off to lunch. Three hours later they began to straggle back, protesting that they could not be expected to work seriously after spumante lunches, and were assured that it was not going to happen every day!
In the next few days tables and chairs were borrowed from a local school, books were hurriedly bought, or loaned by staff, a timetable for the first week of teaching was put together over gin and tonics. By the end of the week John and Sheila had arrived with newborn baby, having sent the next lot of students off to their U.S. universities. The Venice term had started.
The Brandolini Years
There was no fixed contract with Count Brandolini; we relied on his good will and our care of his property, to extend the arrangement from year to year. The first big test of his good will came when we revealed to him that year two of the Venice term would be attended by over fifty students as the university rapidly expanded. John and I were already wrestling with the problem of teaching the planned additional numbers. A ten-week lecture course on Venetian art, given by Terisio Pignatti was already part of the programme for the first year, as was a five-lecture study of the Venetian constitution provided by Paolo Selmi from the Venetian Archives. Now the problem was the planned increase in seminar numbers, and appropriate graduate students were recruited to help at different stages in the next few years.
This problem became more acute when John announced his departure from Warwick in the summer of 1969. However, he agreed to a short-term contract to teach the Venice term in the autumn of 1969 while arrangements were made to appoint a new permanent member of staff to replace him. This brought Martin Lowry on to the team. The loss of John so early in the development of the programme was a severe blow, but morale remained high as the 1969 finalists turned in six Firsts in their finals’ results, an achievement that was not to be equalled until more than twenty years later.
Meanwhile, as we moved through the Brandolini years, certain additional institutions were taking shape. A farewell party for the host families and Venetian friends became part of the rituals in the first year, and in year two we launched the first of the annual Venetian symposia – with invited guest speakers, particularly from the Harvard Center of Villa I Tatti in Florence. Over the years there were to be few British and American scholars temporarily resident in Italy who were not drawn into this annual occasion. Rather more frequent were the student parties organised in the ground floor vestibule of the Palace opening onto the Grand Canal. Bruno and Antonietta, the guardians of the Palace, came to the fore on these occasions, and were to be remembered with affectionate gratitude by generations of Warwick Venetianists.
Hanging on in there: hard times in Venice
The 1973 term was to be the last one based in Palazzo Brandolini. We had known this for nearly a year and were able to beat an orderly retreat. The number of families prepared to take students had gradually diminished, and so by 1973/4 we were largely dependent on small pensioni. In addition to the Iris (see below) we now began to use the San Cassiano, superbly sited on the Grand Canal, but otherwise very rundown in those days. At one stage as many as twenty students and one member of staff were crowded in there, and another year it also served as the teaching centre. This focusing of accommodation was a relief to our very part-time ‘secretary’, Signora Reinisch, who survived from the Island of Studies family days, and was still trudging around the city each week distributing our rent packets. In addition to a new teaching centre we also had an urgent need for some serious secretarial and administrative support.
For a centre we turned to the Commune of Venice. By this time we had built up some good contacts in Venice, but there was to be no sudden solution to the uncertainty and insecurity at the heart of the programme. For the autumn of 1974 and the next two or three years we were housed by the Assessorato alla Cultura in the part derelict Palazzo Fortuny. From there we moved to a small suite in the Arsenal, which we shared with a language school.
Humfrey Butters had joined the Venice staff in 1974 to give more flexibility to the staffing and to take on some of the burden of our unsettled organisation. Additional help with teaching was also to come from Michael Knapton, already living in Vicenza and struggling to force his way into the Italian academic system. These were valuable boosts to our staffing in the late 1970s, as was also, in a less direct way, the arrival in Venice of Warwick art historians in 1976. It now became possible for the Warwick staff in Venice to take sabbatical leave more easily, and take on wider departmental duties.
Fortunately this period of hand-to-mouth existence ended in 1983 when we came to an agreement with the Observant Franciscans of S. Francesco della Vigna to rent, for 10 weeks each year, the Scuola di S. Pasquale. This was an early 17th century meeting house that belonged to the Franciscans but was little used except for parish meetings, etc. We paid a small rental for our use of it and for about 10 years it represented the height of our ambitions in terms of a teaching centre. We had been gradually moving towards Castello as being the cheaper end of town, and at the same time as we settled on S. Pasquale, we also rented a large staff flat in the nearby Via Garibaldi, which was to be a happy and long-term arrangement.
The new stability achieved by the moves of the early 1980s bore fruit in a number of respects. The library, which we were able to leave in place throughout the year, was built up more rapidly, and we were able to establish closer contacts with the local shopkeepers. Planning ahead got easier and we became regulars on the Consulate guest lists. In November 1984 the visit of the Queen Mother to Venice was the occasion for a series of parties on board the Royal yacht Britannia and her frigate escort. Our staff-student liaison committee responded by organising a return event in S. Pasquale for the petty officers of Britannia.
Meanwhile, the students of those years were becoming increasingly adventurous in their choice of objectives for travel in the so-called ‘art week’ in mid-term. The sense of isolation and home sickness which had tended to afflict their predecessors was alleviated by growing numbers of parents and loved ones coming out from Britain.
Amongst visitors to the programme in the early 1980s were Jack and Doris Butterworth. Jack was the first Vice-Chancellor of the University, and this was a visit to be repeated by his successor Clark Brundin in 1988. For that occasion we had persuaded Sir John Hale, as he by then was, to return and give a special lecture, followed by a reception in the Ateneo Veneto – a major step forward in terms of the profile of the Warwick programme in Venice.
However, along with the party going and a growing confidence that the Venice term was going to survive, came one of the most significant changes in the Venetian environment. In the mid 1980s it became apparent that short-term accommodation for visitors was being provided by flats as well as rooms in pensioni. The renting of flats, even for quite short periods became increasingly viable – and provided some protection from the price rises in Venetian restaurants. Over a period of two to three years we abandoned entirely the use of small pensioni and began to create a network of flats that passed from one year group to the next. It was immediately apparent that we needed to have a part-time secretary throughout the year to supervise the accommodation arrangements and to represent us in Venice.
Discussions with Clark Brundin in 1988 were to be the beginning of a campaign to find sponsorship for the development of three areas in particular: the establishment of an effective, centrally located centre, funding for a part-time Venetian secretary, and expansion of the library. A continuation of the story of our search for secure funding for these objectives can be found below…
My earliest memories of teaching the Venice term are, unsurprisingly enough, associated with water, two sorts of water in fact, for my first task on arrival in Venice in September 1974 was to load the entire Venice library onto a motorboat, in order to transport it in pouring rain from the Palazzo Brandolini d’Adda to our new teaching centre, the Palazzo Fortuny, which had belonged to the famous couturier. It has to be admitted that the total number of books was much smaller then than it is now; but the physical effort was such that I had to have recourse to a glass of wine after the job was completed, in order to recover my strength. We used the Palazzo Fortuny until 1982. It served our purposes, but had neither the charm nor the amenities of the Palazzo Brandolini d’Adda. In our first year there teaching took place in a dark basement, and on one occasion I found myself delivering a lecture to one student, though I never managed to discover whether it was my lecturing style, the nature of the topic or the Stygian gloom of the surroundings that had deterred her fellow students from attending. Luckily for us the group coped well on the whole with the problems of their environment. A year or two later, I was descending the stairs in the early evening after a lecture when I was accosted by a very elderly English lady of aristocratic origin, who wanted to know whether it would be possible to repair the ball gown that Fortuny had made for her after the First World War.
Four years later I had another wet experience, for at the beginning of the term in 1978 the eccentric proprietor of the pensione San Cassiano, which we had used for many years, ejected the students who were lodged there. The loud noises that he claimed they had been emitting may simply have been a pretext, since he sold the establishment shortly afterwards. For three days, again in pouring rain, Paul Hills, Michael Mallett and I scoured the city for affordable pensioni, and managed to find rooms for all the exiles from the San Cassiano. Once again we were greatly helped by the understanding and good humour of the students affected.
In 1982 we were once more on the move, since the authorities at the Fortuny wished to make use of the spaces that we had been occupying, and in the following year we established ourselves in the Scuola di San Pasquale, formerly the site of a confraternity, which belonged to the friars of San Francesco della Vigna. The rent was extremely reasonable, and one year it was exceeded by the heating bill, for the extensive main sala had a very high ceiling. The friars were delightful landlords, and I particularly remember padre Oreste, a perfectly cherubic friar whose principal jobs were those of local soccer coach and electrical expert. In the middle of a lecture I was surprised to see his beaming and benevolent countenance appear at the top of the stairs. He apologised for the interruption and asked whether he might inspect the new strip lighting that he had installed recently. After he had inspected it to his satisfaction, he departed, and at the end of the lecture a keen and attentive student rushed up to me in great excitement and asked me whether Oreste was a real friar. Clearly, unknown to us, the city was full that year of troupes of actors pretending to be friars..
Five years later, in what proved to be a very positive development, our system of student accommodation was revolutionised. Hitherto we had relied on pensioni, but in that year some of the students began to find flats, and within a short space of time most of the group had managed to do the same. Since pensioni were becoming ever more expensive, the students benefited from the move to flats; and my only regret was that I no longer had the pleasure of dealings with pensione proprietors whose personal foibles were every whit as extraordinary as those encountered in the pages of a novel by Dickens or Gogol.
From the early 1990's to 2006 our teaching centre was the Querini Stampalia, which served our purposes very well. In the first years, when the lecture room was on the ground floor, an unusual feature was the continuous stream of architectural students from Japan, who were anxious to see the famous Scarpa garden, which is laid out in the Japanese manner, and to which the lecture room afforded access. They were invariably very polite and it was difficult to deny right of passage to someone who had come all the way from Tokyo to see the garden. In 2007 we moved once more, to the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, an excellent centre. The wheel has in one sense come full circle, for we started in the 1960’s with a palace on the Grand Canal and we are now ensconced in another nearby.
The very first term 1976 remains still clear in the mind : an intrepid band of 10 students and their somewhat apprehensive professor. The historians, who had already started their Venice term, Michael Mallett, Martin Lowry and Humfrey Butters made us welcome. They seemed a little puzzled, and indeed always remained so, that we should wanted to go out and actually look at paintings and sculpture in Venice. In the early years students shared rooms in a pensione – or occasionally as a guest in a Venetian family. They could sometimes be seen late at night hunting for one of the rare launderettes then open in Venice : the Pensione Iris, one of our early bastions, had draconian rules against washing and drying clothes in the rooms. The great and beneficent revolution of student flats was to improve all this. In those first years too, there were always several students for whom Venice was their first ever trip abroad.
In 1976 we lived on the the Giudecca with a ten-month old daughter : I recall my appalled perception as I wrestled a primitive version of the McClaren baby-buggy over the bridges that all the Venetian buggies had huge, balloon tyres, and that I was clearly doing irretrievable damage to her brain by this constant bumping. (She is now grown up and has an Oxford Ph.D, so the damage was clearly limited). The Giudecca was less cosmopolitan then, although I remember Signore Casagrande, who then ran the grocery near Sant’Eufemia, confiding to me that he wished to make his establishment the Fortnum and Mason of the Giudecca.
Another perception is that anything that could possibly have gone wrong, did go wrong at some stage in the last thirty years, and was invariably coped with. The serial faller into canals (five was the official count), the episode (thank goodness on Michael Mallett’s watch) when one of our mature students discovered that as she hung her (evidently elegant and expensive – the insurance claim was for a considerable sum) designer underwear on the clothes-line which she wound out over the street that someone at the other side was collecting them for purposes unknown.
Early visitors’ experiences – a somewhat formal German professor who came to see us in our flat near discovering that he had walk a hundred metres through of acqua alta and arriving, evidently ungruntled at our front door with his suit trousers rolled to the knee and his black shoes slung round his neck by their laces like a pair of long-dead lobsters. Another periodical visitor many of us remember was Paul’s father, one of those Anglican priests who found the prospect of an interlude at St. Georges in Venice irresistible.
Teaching began in the romantic dereliction of the Palazzo Fortuny. Then came an interlude at the Arsenale and thereafter we spent several years in the Scuola di San Pasquale next to San Francesco della Vigna, remote, beautiful and at times lethally cold. Then began the happy epoch at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia and its austerely ingenious rooms designed by Carlo Scarpa when architectural enthusiasts from Japan, where Scarpa died, would come press their noses against the peering in at the interior. One also recalls the unbelievable improvement in our organization, and the enrichment of our Venetian contacts brought about by three remarkable executive secretaries, Lorenza, Martina and Chiara, efficient, impeturbable and invariably helpful.
The site visits marked all our memories. The differences between those which had been carefully prepared by repeated visits to the Frari, handouts and bibliographies, and the others where the victim confronted the Scaliger tombs at Verona, or Giovanni Bellini’s haunting Baptism of Christ at Vicenza together with her or his eager audience, for the first time. A mid November trip to Bassano during the 1980s where the only way to steady the troops was to order fifteen post-breakfast grappas to restart the circulation. Adventures in travel week form another picturesque chapter – pioneers who went to Prague or Palermo and the long enthusiastic stream who spent a memorable week in Rome, Florence or Siena. Or the enterprising but necessarily nameless student who ran up a very substantial bill on his father’s credit card in the casino at Nice.
One remembers the then traditional coach trip to Ravenna with the historians on the first Saturday of term, pausing at Pomposa, protruding gauntly from the flat, watery landscape, to glimpse its fourteenth-century frescoes. Humfrey outside San Vitale, gesturing eloquently with Notung his mythic rolled umbrella, as he filled in the inexplicable gaps in our knowledge about Justinian. Then too the coach trip later in the term to the Palladian villas, with the picnic at Asolo, and padding around the Villa Barbaro at Maser in the huge felt snow-shoes that they required us to wear to protect the floors, and admiring the joyous elegance of the frescoes by Paolo Veronese. Later still a visit to Mantua became traditional, with its added thrill of the opportunity to compare Mantegna’s frescoes in the Camera picta with his precocious San Zeno altarpiece, which we had already looked at in the great abbey of San Zeno at Verona.
In the 1980s was born the splendid institution of the Venice Lecture – given by distinguished art historians like Joe Connors, the Director of Villa I Tatti or Wolfgang Wolters from Berlin and Deborah Howard, and the parties with our Venetian friends that always followed the lectures. All this suggests to me that the richness of the Venice course in terms of collected teaching experience, the development of the Venice Library and the arrival of computers made the Venice term something very special indeed, a Warwick institution without serious rival among English, or indeed European universities. Encouragingly the Venice term remains in excellent hands with a new team of enthusiastic experts and a handsome palace near the Canale Grande.
I look back at my twentyone years of teaching the Venice term (1977-1997) with a rather confused sensation about what to say. Not because the recollections are few or vague, but rather the contrary.The autumn course inVenice in fact looms very large and sirprisingly clear in my memory, and I am gratefuly aware that in terms of professional experience, of income, but also of often pleasant and sometimes profound personal relations, it made a major contribution to keeping me afloat materially and morally in the long and uncertain wait for a permanent job as an historian in an Italian university. This only arrived in 1995, and only in 2009 will I perhaps get recognition of my Warwick teaching for the purposes of career-linked pay scales (the joys of bureaucracy!).
I therefore perhaps run the risk of colouring what follows with sentimentality or self-indulgence, already a built-in risk of memoirs in any form, and I apologize to readers in advance. I have arranged my material a little whimsically around key-words. It contains a number of anecdotes, which I sincerely hope offend nobody.
Another of the difficulties of writing these few pages is due to the fact that different generations of Warwick students had a short but fairly intense experience of Italy in very different periods. Venice is of course timeless in many ways, but only up to a point, and I suspect that individual former students’ remaining sense of Venice and Italy may still be partly shaped by how things were during their term in Venice – whereas I all too easily forget the feel of this or that period, because I live here (near Vicenza) in a present all too mindless even of the very recent past. Only a couple of generations will remember, for example, the very odd consequences of the Italian Mint’s temporary but major shortcomings in producing coins from 5 to 200 lire, in the late 1970s (I think!). The dearth of small change for all sorts of daily transactions was covered in rather Heath Robinson fashion by the alternative use of phonebox tokens, postage stamps and even sweets. The shortage also induced the banks to issue mini-assegni for sums like 50, 100 or 200 lire, printed on paper much flimsier than banknotes, and rapidly reduced to grubbiness. They nonetheless served to pay for things like the gondola ferries across the Grand Canal, and presumably meals in the mensa!
My first contact with Warwick in Venice came about at the 1973 end-of-term Symposium, at which I gave a paper. I had then just begun archival research in Padua on my doctoral thesis, and was in an isolated situation both workwise and in general, so I doubly appreciated the friendly welcome from staff. This yearly contact through symposia continued, while personal choices – my marriage to an Italian girl in 1976 – kept me in Italy. As I neared completion of my thesis Warwick offered me my first experience of university teaching in the autumn of 1977...
Nobody then remotely imagined that wand-waving by politicians in the 1990s would upgrade Britain’s polytechnics to universities, generally inferior in age, and in some cases a good deal else, to the universities founded in the 1960s. Warwick in the 1970s was a young university, as yet not particularly high in prestige rankings. Student grants fortunately still existed and really made the difference for quite a lot of the Warwick history students, allowing university access to potential which hadn’t necessarily had the sort of home cultural support that well-off middle class families are reckoned to produce more easily. I remember a Venice term student of my early years who confided that her mother, greatly proud of her, was practically illiterate; this was an extreme case, no doubt, but part of a genuine social mix. Every time I met a new Warwick group in the early years, incidentally, I was reminded how speech and accent – posh or otherwise! – were virtually automatic categories of mutual definition in the U.K., whereas the Italian I mostly heard and spoke for the rest of the year really didn’t trigger similar labelling of social placement (at least a trace of local accent was and is virtually general practice, and only muddling Italian with dialect was a clear social downgrader).
To get back to the point, at a time when almost everybody travelled abroad much less, because of the cost but also of the closer horizons of general experience, and when international phonecalls were an expensive and sometimes uncertain ritual kept for urgencies or emergencies, a whole term spent living in Venice was both an extraordinary challenge and a unique opportunity for so many students, for reasons far beyond the subjects studied.
In those early years the first groups of art historians blended very little with the historians, partly because of the markedly different course routines. This diversity fed some resentment among historians, tied to a tough schedule of lectures, reading and writing, with the added anxiety of a first Finals mark based on the term’s result, making them inclined to part envy, part despise art historians who ponced about in aesthetic poses on an endless round of trips bereft of any real sweat or worry...! My ironic language here also wants to convey a sense of the different social background of the two groups, which really existed, though it later thinned down, partly because history and much else in Warwick gradually moved up the rankings among U.K. universities, with inevitable effects on the social profile of students admitted.
In 1973, my first year of contact with the course, teaching took place in the Palazzo Brandolini on the Grand Canal, but it has led a pilgrim’s life: via the Hotel S. Cassiano (briefly) to Palazzo Fortuny, to the Dante Alighieri Institute, to the Scuola di S. Pasquale, to the Querini Stampalia building (and now Palazzo Papafava). Each centre had its own atmosphere, though almost all the pre-Querini ones were cold once autumn set in.
Warwick’s use of the top floor of the rambling, enormous and liftless Palazzo Fortuny was long subject to eviction threats, justified by mutters about the building’s dubious solidity, but these were partly belied by rumours of obviously more lucrative proposals for its alternative use, no doubt the real reason for our ultimate departure. On entering and leaving we staff often exchanged greetings, sweetened on the other side by the tips given for looking after Warwick, with an overmanned porter’s office opposite the first flight of stairs, its occupants to be found watching TV, eating, drinking or smoking – but seemingly never much else – at more or less any time of day.
The Dante Alighieri is as far from the heart of Venice, near the Arsenal, as its successor (S. Pasquale), and – like all of Venice – good for the fitness it imposes on you in terms of walking. Living near Vicenza and using trains to get home, I became familiar with the pros and cons of all the shortcuts on the way to the station from the Dante, though broader calli often represented less risk of bottlenecks than an apparently more direct route; I once legged it from the Dante to the station in a little over twenty minutes without (I hope) knocking anybody over... I felt we were visibly temporary guests in the Dante, though treated kindly enough. Seminars conducted perched on rather austere chairs in a curtained off bit of a larger hall might be rendered more problematic by having Humfrey Butters conducting a seminar with another group simultaneously the other side of the curtain.
San Pasquale, next to the church of S. Francesco della Vigna, is in a considerably less frequented part of town, and it didn’t need much in the way of mist and occasional echoing footsteps to conjure up thoughts of Christopher Lee, his talents then underused in parts such as Dracula in lowcost movies (who could have foreseen his recognition in the Lord of the Rings films?!). The seminar room halfway up the stairs was also base to some latterday association of beneficent knights whose ceremonial garb ran to heavy cloaks, quite in keeping with the general atmosphere. Cold weather in a place with permafrost walls and a high ceiling drove some duty librarians to dressing up like inner-city down-and-outs – luckily for the girls fashions hadn’t yet got to short tops and low-waisted jeans... The cold didn’t deter one American woman scholar who sat through a symposium paper with her legs and the long slit in her skirt so angled as to offer the spreaker a unique view; all credit to Jack Scarisbrick for not losing his concentration.
The move to the Querini – which Warwick used different bits of over the years, as restoration work revamped the palace in stages – was a visible sign of the course’s growing prestige, with greater visibility for the programme in Venice itself matched at last by a less penny-pinching attitude by the university administration back home. This was something which staff worked very hard to achieve, Michael Mallett in particular, and which also allowed a higher profile and regular office presence in the Querini by the course secretary – for so many years the Venice term entailed enormous direct administrative and “pastoral” responsibility for the academic staff doing the term, over and above their teaching duties. Being in a famous, centrally sited building favoured other things, like the launch of an annual lecture open to the town at large, a good public relations gambit. It also meant, in the early phase of ordinary lectures conducted in a groundfloor section of the palace previously worked on by the distinguished 20th century architect Scarpa, occasional temporary adjuncts to the back of the class in the form of American architecture students looking round the building.
Lectures, Seminars, Essays...
The Venice term was my first experience of university teaching, and I hope this didn’t damage or scar students irremediably in my early years, when I was much helped by colleagues and very glad of it. For reasons of character as much as technique I never acquired Martin Lowry’s zany approach to the lecture hall; I hope it’s not sour grapes if I say I found him occasionally liable to overbalance in presenting issues, but he certainly knew how to draw and hold attention. On this last point, I remember one slightly older girl student who came regularly to my lectures, sat towards the back, and smilingly wrote copiously while I talked. I felt some satisfaction at the time, but later discovered she used most lectures to write letters to her husband, who was then – if I recall aright – on active service in Northern Ireland. I also remember AB, who duly got a much deserved First, and whose essay on Venice behind the myth rendered some of my lecture material in rather clearer shape than I had delivered it.
The conduct of seminars varied very much on the basis of single groups’ makeup, though with some constant features. From my point of view there was often excessive reluctance to chip in. Partly because individuals concentrated their week’s work on the different topics they were to write about, they often kept silent for the unjustified fear of saying something which might seem silly. One of the more helpful seminar members I remember was someone with Student Union experience, one of the very few who over the years chose to do the exam in Finals rather than the programme of assessed essays (he was thus freer to enjoy the non-academic side to Venice!), but he often contributed amiably to discussion. I no longer recall with certainty, but I think he was the same student who in an essay transformed the words “Saint Mark’s” into “Saint Marx” – a spin-off from student politics? At the opposite extreme to his nonchalance in seminars, initially at least, was a student in a different year. She was able and ambitious, and much more uptight, and I failed to put her at her ease in the first seminar – to the point that she suddenly left the group, and the loo door in the Dante was not enough of a barrier to muffle the sound of her throwing up... I really hope I mellowed, in her and other students’ perception.
The thorniest moment for me of essays was their aftermath, i.e. the individual tutorial in which I handed over comments and a provisional verdict on the work done. I gradually adopted a routine approach which often – I would like to think! – eased a little of the tension, by asking students what previous tutors’ comments and marks had been; since these very often proved similar to my own perceptions, it made my pronunciation come as less of a surprise, apparently out of context. At the back of my mind there was also an episode of the early ‘70s, when disappointment with the end-of-term verdict had chastened a student’s hopes of his Finals grading very grievously, causing him to over-react drastically and dangerously. In terms of visible reactions to my verdicts – but perhaps there was much stiff upper lip in students’ control of their emotions! – I saw almost no tears. In one case the news of a likely II/2 drew them from a girl of solid enough potential, who I think knew perfectly well she’d enjoyed Venice to an extent incompatible with a II/1 – may I have my hanky back?!
At the 1973 Symposium (the first I attended) one of the history students gave a paper, but this was an admirable exception to what later became a performance exclusively by academics – hopefully still an interesting opportunity to see us in the throes of research... A surprising number and variety of Renaissance scholars have graced Symposia over the years, some when already senior – thus David Herlihy and Frederic Lane, to give but two of many possible examples – and others at a much earlier stage, including many in the throes of doctoral research: like me, but also Sam Cohn to name but one. My recollection is that papers’ interest and value didn’t always increase in direct proportion to the speaker’s seniority. I remember for instance a rather lengthy and laboured demonstration, with computer-elaborated quantitative data, of the fact that on average girls with bigger dowries accumulating in the fifteenth century Florentine Monte delle Doti tended to marry younger than their poorer counterparts...
Sometimes there were unexpected features of interest. A Symposium session held in the Pensione S. Cassiano was followed attentively and quietly by a small dog, though the subjects touched on – including sex – might have justified excitement. (The dog’s owner, also present, later published a critical edition of Pietro Aretino’s I modi..., an illustrated Renaissance compendium of positions for the sex act). That symposium was in fact threaded through with tension among the academics present, and has remained memorable for me because of the extent to which American scholars present showed deference to Herlihy, whose status in academe could well have been analyzed in terms of the patron-client relations Warwick students had to come to terms with in understanding politics in Medicean Florence. Quite the opposite in terms of liveliness was a Symposium held some years later in the Ateneo Veneto, when a particularly successful student evening party deflected from the following morning’s session all students inclusing, I think, the chairperson deputed to present the speakers.
There’s a risk here of my slipping into commonplaces all too similar to those used for the recently deceased: never an ill word, at least in public statements! The comparison is inauspicious, and I anyway have no intention of whitewashing, though hints in previous paragraphs do rightly anticipate my gratitude and good feelings towards my Venice Term colleagues, and even if it sounds naive, I really can’t think of anything significant to whitewash!
Martin Lowry is alas deceased, and much of my personal Warwick history came back to me when I had news of that event – though a positive side to it was a cordial exchange of e-mails with his daughter, whom I’d met at intervals over the years in Venice, starting from before she was big enough to walk. Martin generally didn’t do things by halves, and this occasionally vexed me – as a cook I was affronted by seeing him bury more or less any dish served him under chili pepper or the like! – but this approach to things also extended to a very warm companionship: his staying nights in my Italian home (and running round the nearby hills with me); also welcoming my wife and me to his village home, where I remember walking with him along a minor railway line from which he pilfered wedges used for the stability of the track (they made good firewood!), while simultaneously berating British Rail for its poor maintenance and security.
Jack Scarisbrick came only occasionally to Venice, but I made the best of such meetings as we had. He may perhaps have inspired awe in students – I myself was incidentally much struck by his ability to lecture without notes! – but there was a great deal else. One end of term evening seemed set to pass seraphically for staff with a fish dinner at Da Remigio’s, but an invitation to a student disco in a seedy place near the station as a follow-on rather dampened my prospects of enjoyment – Remigio dinners are best followed by another grappa or two in quiet company. We duly trooped into the disco, and I was ignobly hugging the bar and wondering about a getwaway, when I noticed Jack on the dance floor bopping up and down with the punkiest of the girls, smiling and chatting: an example that the rest of us then followed, though he was smart enough to get away before somebody organized a dancing competition between the staff present...
An early memory of Michael Mallett is seeing him turn up to a student fancy dress party at San Cassiano smartly rigged out in a maxi black garbage bag, such as to belie any overstaid ideas I might have had of him. Social life (including a weakness for the aperitif Punt e Mes) regularly found room in his Venice routine, which in fact made space for an incredible number of things, since he regularly got up – though with noiseless tact towards other occupants of the staff flat – a couple of hours earlier than most of humanity. This allowed him to combine a more than respectable flow of high quality scholarship with major commitments to teaching and administration, and as mentioned above, his merits were immense in obtaining recognition within the university and beyond it for the unique oportunities offered by the Venice course.
Of all members of the History Dept. rotating in doing the Venice term, Humfrey Butters was the colleague I saw most of, and he didn’t shirk when I asked him to become godfather to my son (the academic mafia!). We are also linked by common friends like Ben Kohl – and I’ll take the opportunity to put the record straight. After a restaurant lunch party one year for Ben’s birthday, when he was on sabbatical researching his Carraresi lords of Padua, we accompanied him back to the Ca’ de Stefani, with the abundant liquid part of the lunch affecting his steering a bit, while Humfrey as always was master of his drink, and I’d drunk nothing stronger than beef tea because of colic – but the version circulated shortly after by a young male chance observer (gossip is no women’s prerogative!) had us all paralytic...
Students’ experience of lodgings in Venice divides pretty sharply between the pensione phase, now long ended (about 1980?), and the flats phase, though there was some overlap between the two.
Some pensioni were more welcoming and tolerant than others. I recall a final evening of term party whose last lap, in the early hours of the morning after, was a room in the Ca’ de Stefani, where a fair number of those squeezed into it were complete outsiders to the pensione. The noise generated produced only a mild request by the porter, well aware of the illicit visitors, to try and disturb other guests less. The San Cassiano was a bit less liberal, and as I stayed there during the cold autumn of 1974 overlapping with Warwick students, I got a good angle on what conditions could be like: feeble heating, even feebler lightbulbs, hot water which wasn’t. The elderly maid probably thought youth was for living to the full whatever the environment, and kindly contrived to put me and a young American student, also working for her doctorate, in adjacent rooms in a quietish part of the hotel, but we must have disappointed her. Whatever the young LC may have thought, even if the hotel hadn’t been cold and depressing I was anyway lovesick, and used my military greatcoat laid over the bedding as a less sociable, alternative source of warmth. The pensione era for the majority of Warwick students ended brusquely when (I seem to remember) untoward noise made during an inspection by the owner of the San Cassiano made Mario, his tenant and manager of the pensione, throw all the Warwick students out shortly after the start of term, triggering panic action by staff to find replacement berths. Coexistence between students in the close quarters of pensioni produced its share of frayed nerves, occasionally recounted to us staff, but it also favoured camaraderie to an extent that the later use of flats rather denied, as well as making the Venice Univ. mensa a much more commonly used facility.
A further by-product of pensione life was the pleasure quite a lot of students seemed to take – I hope you weren’t just being polite! – in occasional staff invitations to come and have supper, and indeed to prepare it, in staff flats. These flats, like teaching quarters, varied greatly over the years.
The first I actually slept in was just next to the fishmarket, on the other side of the Grand Canal from the Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop, and indeed the lighter sleep of early morning was easily breached by the noise of the day’s first n° 1s reversing their engines to come alongside the pontoon and then accelerating away from it. When walking away from there towards whatever the day offered it was tempting as well as logistically convenient to walk through the fishmarket and observe its occupants, both those atop the slabs (dead and alive: eels, softshell crabs and various small wiggly things among the latter) and their buyers and sellers.
Strategically sited but much more expensive for shopping was another flat next to the church of S. Maria del Giglio, off the main tourist walkway from the Accademia to St. Mark’s – its windows actually looked down into the courtyard of what later became Venice Univ.’s History Dept., for which I worked in a pretty ungratifying job from 1985 to 1995.
It was succeeded by the piano nobile of an extraordinarily grand and very beautiful fifteenth century palace – visible on the Barbari map of 1500! – near Santi Apostoli. Its lady owner kept what I felt was an interfering eye on it from afar, worried (amongst other things) that Red Brigades terrorists might occupy it. We staff weren’t the only ones to have the key. One day I went in at lunch time to find a friend of the owner’s playing the piano, having received instructions to use it at will; on another occasion the family retainer, housed below and perenially fearful of milady’s fits of temper, let himself in just as a member of staff and his wife were finishing a bit of marital whatsits.
The family retainer – with a keen interest in the British royal family – was also a feature of that flat’s long-lived successor, which overlooked the Via Garibaldi. It was hardly centrally sited, but there were many compensations for that: it’s a very Venetian, relatively untouristy neighbourhood, and gives a much stronger sensation of living in a community. It also offers splendid cityscapes whichever route you use to come or go: down the Via Garibaldi on a bracing, clear morning looking across to S. Giorgio Maggiore, then along the Riva towards St. Mark’s, in a gradually growing flurry of people; or, quite different but equally beautiful, towards the Arsenal canal and over the wooden bridge facing the main entrance... By dint of long and repeated stays there Humfrey Butters got to know a good many of the shopkeepers pretty well, and (memory or imagination?) was on chatting terms with the more affable neighbourhood dogs too.
At least part of the student sociability of the Venice Term has always seen staff involved. A long running fixture was an early term welcome drinks party, which mixed but very rarely blended students and a number of Venetians, the latter invited because friends of Warwick and the course for one reason or another. For many years a similar mix occurred with the end of term party, a pre-supper drinks do, though it later turned into a farewell dinner with no outsiders. Warwick’s initial launch in Venice had made the most of friendships and contacts of John Hale’s in polite society, including the odd contessa, and these names – ironically known to staff as “pezzi grossi” – stayed on the invitation lists for drinks parties long after Hale’s passage from Warwick to a chair at London Univ. I remember feeling – or being made to feel? – distinctly peasant at a party in the Fortuny, when moving in to greet a smartly dressed and perfumed Venetian lady, who evinced great disappointment at Hale’s absence; with some effort she remembered Michael Mallett’s name, but hearing that he wasn’t on duty that year, and dissatisfied with “Would Martin Lowry or I do instead?”, she beat a rapid retreat. A more amiable memory of the Fortuny was a party which didn’t want to end, since the students present – plus some young Dutch who’d shown up somehow or other – were sufficiently tanked up that the end of the booze didn’t dampen things; on Martin’s advice I got to work with the hoover, and the message sank in without ill feelings given or taken. I incidentally tried periodically to point out the superior virtues of higher quality wine, since in Venice it’s cheap enough not to make plonk the only option, but I fear with little effect on students’ perception...
Venice and the Venetians
Venice is certainly as capable of anywhere else of souring one, sometimes with peculiarly Venetian characteristics: for example acqua alta as something getting you unpleasantly wet and cold, and making life in general more difficult, sometimes for days on end; the generally overhigh prices of Venetian eating places and the often surly, sometimes fuck-you attitude of their staff; the way almost all forms of social life seem to die down early in the evenings, except for a few locations; the sad abandonment and sometimes dirt to be encountered in buildings in many corners of town.
Yet my feelings for Venice were rarely of this sort, and despite frequenting it for long years (and doing the drudge job I mentioned for Venice Univ.), I had difficulty in not feeling that it was anyway special, and that I was somehow lucky. Now that I work elsewhere, in a respectable and properly paid academic position, I frankly miss it and greatly enjoy my rare return trips. I never tired of things like the gondola ferries, of crossing Rialto bridge, of discovering and exploiting new routes around town, of recognizing places and people (when I go now I always run into friends or acquaintances somewhere or other: Venice is an on-foot town, and what a difference that makes!), of experiencing its visual beauty – and I am a singularly prosaic person... One end of term evening is a last memory to recall here, though words are simply inadequate: walking back after the final party towards the Via Garibaldi flat with a clear sky and a chilly breeze, and first hearing and then seeing a wedge of migrating geese flying overhead.
As someone whose recollection of the events of life is such that his autobiography would read 'Errrr', a request to come up with Venice memories rather stumped me. I can't even recall in which year I went out to teach for the first time, although I'm pretty certain of the circumstances that surrounded this dramatic widening of my pedagogic horizons. I always suspected that Paul Hills, a person to whose natural generosity all will attest, may have invited my wife and me to spend a spectacularly enjoyable weekend with him in Venice because of a subconscious hope that exposure to the city in general, and then, at a crucial moment, to Titian's Assunta and, after I had regained the power of speech, to Bar Frari, might sow in my mind the seed of the possibility that I too could share something of the pleasures and burdens of the Venice term; for having to carry it all on his own shoulders was, in reality, a hard ask. The suggestion itself came from Julian Gardner, and was phrased in characteristically Gardneresque logic: 'You teach English Palladianism?' 'Err, yes?' 'So you know something about Palladio?' 'Err', 'So you can go and teach Palladio in Venice'. And so I did, and much else besides.
Students – except the occasional freak who took one look at Venice, realised it was 'foreign' and decamped immediately for Coventry – were always uniquely affable and the protracted exposure to the place and its art had some miraculous power of intellectual maturation, because once they were back for their Special Subjects people would work at high and challenging levels. Two moments I do remember, both, I think, from The Jary Years.
Once, after chugging round the lagoon, looking at Palladio as per instructions, we returned to San Zaccharia (this was a brilliantly crisp and sunny early November day) and I went with two students to have a quick look at the Bellini altarpiece. It was shortly before noon. The sun was at that wintry angle that allowed its light onto the canvas surface and the strips of landscape along the side miraculously came alive, seem as tangible terraferma, as though the picture was actually a window into another world rather than the material thing that paint on canvas is. I marvelled at Bellini's knowledge, and began pondering on what kind of vision he was offering people whose experience was not principally of meadows and mountains. I still am. And around that same time some students had discovered a bar in Cannaregio which Venetian students used and where they put on live jazz and would I like to go. It was like stepping back into the '60s. The bar was filled with smoke and people who should have been wearing berets and black polo-neck sweaters even if they weren't, engaged in urgent discussion, while a tenor player played some very respectable Coltrane. It was seventh heaven, and so much a time warp that the images I do recall are shot entirely in black and white.
There are more polychromatic snapshots. One early memory of San Pasquale, a place it was possible to become rather fond of, is of some of the boys who used to play football outside chasing the ball through the scuola when, presumably some rebound had shot it up the steps. I carried on lecturing. Paul and I always used to use quite an early train – it left, so far as I remember, at some time around 07.45 – when we took the students to Vicenza. This usually meant an invigoratingly brisk walk to Santa Lucia, an odd enough thing to do at that time of the morning, but made more so the time we found the calle down which were charging blocked by three giraffes, who turned out to be fashion models. This may have been about the time that gigantic shoulder pads on small women were all the go. One of those trips occurred after the passage of a rattlingly fierce front which had introduced startling clean air from the north and the view into the Dolomites revealed itself in Eyckian clarity. By the time we were making the customary post-lunch visit to Monte Berico, whisps of dark grey smog were already rising from points along the landscape as we prospected it from the belvedere there.
Having marvelled at Paul's capacity to navigate the labyrinth of the city, I like to think I have become fairly nifty at it myself. Ambling through Venice, popping into churches to see favourite paintings, taking a refreshing spritz, remains a pleasure. There are things I miss: the tugs that used to tie up in the bacino is one of them. There are things that seem to remain fairly constant; enjoying the pleasure of teaching with colleagues, watching students learn how to cope with the tourists who would occasionally attach themselves to groups. I still cannot understand how so many people cannot be transfixed by the extraordinary effects of light across water, off buildings. I doubt I shall tire of the slippers you put on at Villa Maser. One of the best things about the whole experience was talking earnestly with Paul about matters aesthetic and artistic, which we tended to do fairly often: the kind of thing you're expected to do as a student but don't. Or at least, not at the Courtauld Institute where I was, and where there are other more important things, such as your share portfolio, to attend to.
These conversations offered rather reassuring evidence that, at a time when Universities were already under unremitting pressure to maximise the cost-effective throughput of learning-receptor-units to meet outcome targets integral to the proper aims and objectives of subject provision, what actually mattered was understanding how your own experience of a place coloured your apprehension of the nature of its past, and where it might be possible that there could be common ground between now and then. Developing some expertise in North Italian Renaissance painting and architecture, eye-opening in itself, underpinned my own work in ways I hadn't anticipated. Getting to know Titian helped me understand what Gainsborough was about, to realise that he was consciously working within a painterly tradition that itself laid out claims for what artists and their art could do. Then there were the Turner moments: gliding through the lagoon to Torcello in sunlight misty enough to blur detail when the eye is shockingly arrested by a red triangle of sail. Learning how the city worked, about the functionings of the civic environment or the ways that architectural languages could articulate class oppositions not only inspired some of the work I was to do on London when Louise Campbell and I introduced our course, 'The City', but has helped me to understand much about the architecture of colonial Sydney. And one of these days I may get round to writing something on the Venetian Landscape.
Memories of Warwick’s term in Venice, 1977-1997
Attempting to put together my recollections of teaching sixteen autumns in Venice my task is simplified by the vivid “staff memories” already posted on the web-site by Michael Mallett, Humfrey Butters, Julian Gardner and Michael Knapton. They have touched upon many of the highs and lows, the exhilarations and the brief interludes of “death-in-Venice” dampness and gloom. Michael Knapton, who started teaching on the Venice programme in the same year as me, recalls many of the rituals of the term, including the Pezzi Grossi party which announced Warwick’s arrival. Members of the Social Committee who attended these occasions may remember meeting Venetian contesse, stick thin and carrying lap-dogs, as well as assorted ex-pats, some of whom were only encountered again if you were a denizen of the late night bars. I never quite fathomed how these characters helped our programme. On the other hand, the convegno or symposium with which the term ended was a valuable feature of the academic calendar. Section titles were cunningly invented to yoke together disparate papers from the small but distinguished bands of visiting scholars who happened to be braving Venice in December or enjoying a fellowship at Villa I Tatti in Florence. Over the years many brilliant talks were improvised, some by established scholars, others by PhD-students hot-footing it from the archives. The one I remember best was by Robert Brentano, who spoke with rare simplicity and understanding about St Francis. At the end of term in which, as always, we visited many Franciscan churches, Brentano’s discussion of the social dimension of Franciscan spirituality reminded us of the extraordinary value of studying art not as something set aside in a museum but as enmeshed in the life of the medieval and Renaissance city.
Whereas History was one of the original Departments at Warwick, the History of Art was founded a few years later. Sadly, this meant that the two programmes were not originally planned as a pair. At a time when, in the wider world, the boundaries between History and the History of Art were increasingly broken down, our two programmes remained relatively distinct through the 1980s and 1990s: in retrospect I think that this was a missed opportunity. I personally learnt a huge amount from attending (or sometimes eavesdropping on) many of the lectures of my History colleagues. Michael Knapton refers to Martin Lowry’s “zany approach to the lecture hall”: I also recall how he would improvise into the microphone on the coach trip to the Palladian Villas. What a single cohort of students might never guess is how these improvisations could change: one year, as we approached the Villa Maser, Martin waxed eloquent about Daniele Barbaro, the extraordinarily learned editor of Vitruvius, but a couple of years later our cicerone warmed to the theme of Daniele the totally jumped-up pseudo-intellectual. Martin had a nose for the seamier side of Renaissance society which was a fitting corrective to this art historian’s rose-tinted view of the Renaissance.
Visits within Venice and out-of-town to Padua, Treviso, Verona and Mantua, were at the core of the art history programme. My greatest pleasure was in watching students get the hang of giving presentations on site, in churches and museums, or in front of palaces. Each year they learnt to contend with the pigeons, with tour groups thrusting past us, with the attentions of Italian young men, or on one occasion with the fog that descended to conceal the subject of the presentation, Codussi’s palace on the far side of the Grand Canal. Sometimes we were looked at askance by sacristans, priests or friars, as on the occasion in Santi Giovanni e Paolo when a handsome male student sported a tight T shirt emblazoned with Christ’s words “Noli me tangere”. Every cohort brought fresh insights. To this day I cannot look at Tintorettto’s dynamic Resurrection in the Scuola di San Rocco without recalling the words of the student who described it as “the Jack-in-the-box Christ”. In fact selling Tintoretto was no easy task. On one November morning in the 1970s as we peered at yet another dark canvas in a cold church the groans of the assembled company reached my ears. Such a heartfelt response to Tintoretto prompted me to think about the market conditions which led him to produce work of uneven quality, and in time this bore fruit in a publication.
Many students espoused challenging aesthetic views. Only one preferred Coventry to Venice, but several were impressed by the modernist geometry of oil refineries at Marghera. All were understandably affronted by the furs donned by the women of Venice at the first sign of a chill in the autumn air.
When, from the late 1980s, Michael Rosenthal started to come to Venice for a fortnight in the middle of the term, he opened our eyes to the interplay of landscape and cityscape. On a trip to Asolo he marched us off to the far end of the little hill-town until we came out through a gateway and there, dropping away before us, was the perfect Giorgionesque pastoral landscape. After a night of storm he would rise early and dash to the Fondamente Nuove to photograph the Dolomites etched against the sky as clearly as in Jacopo de Barbari’s famous woodcut. If I was a trifle jaded on my thirtieth or fortieth visit to the church of the Frari, Michael’s wonder as he stood before Titian’s Assumption restored a proper sense of awe.
Guest lectures and special visits were a notable feature of our programme. The great architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri delivered the annual Warwick lecture just a couple of years before he died. Giorgio Gianighian lectured memorably on Venetian vernacular architecture. Lorenzo Lazzarini spoke on the varieties of marble used in Venice and he conducted us round the laboratory for stone conservation in the Abbazia della Misericordia. In the 1990s we regularly enjoyed tours of painting conservation in the disused church of San Gregorio, and we visited the Island of San Servolo where craftsmen of many different nationalities were trained in historic techniques. We witnessed blacksmiths at work in the forge; we saw traditional stucco and plaster work, and were treated to demonstrations of the bow drill. We were taken up the scaffold in front of the façade of Santa Maria Formosa to examine the restoration work undertaken by Venice in Peril. A small group of us visited the Rubelli factory in Cannareggio to see the weaving of luxury velvets following historic patterns.
Other members of staff have written about the teaching venues we occupied over the years. At the Scuola San Pasquale the neighbourhood cat attended all the lectures, apparently the only member of the audience impervious to the extreme chill of the huge upper room. For seminars we squeezed together in a narrow side room, with a blow-fire strategically angled beneath the trestle table. If this induced torpor, it was not long before we were awoken by the bells of San Francesco della Vigna, or occasionally by one of the down-and-outs of Castello cursing all the world in the empty lower hall. At the Querini I particularly valued the friendly presence of our administrative assistants, first Lorenza Savini and later Martina Pizzul. With great diplomacy they usually managed to prevent Japanese architectural students - making the pilgrimage to the shrine of Carlo Scarpa - from interrupting our lectures.
Every few years when the Royal Navy paid a visit to Venice the British Consulate threw a reception for them, and if we were lucky the Navy would invite us to a return party. I remember how the solemnity with which the Warwick contingent was piped aboard HMS Fearless was soon dispelled by the speed with which gin and tonics were recharged. That particular evening ended with the captain (a hero of the Falklands conflict) driving us in his launch at break-neck speed to Giudecca for a late-night bash in the apartment of the painter Geoffrey Humfreys.
The little rituals of the term stick in the mind. I would sit beside Humfrey Butters, his obedient bank clerk, counting out the millions of lire in student grants that we doled out in monthly packets. Each of these packets had to be adjusted according to whether a student was staying in a pensione, in a flat, or occasionally in a family. Humfrey, master of the accounts, would bawl out the names, and woe betide me – “dear boy” – if I miscounted the notes.
Looking back I realize how lucky I was to teach Warwick students in Venice for so many years. Those were the days before academics had to fill in assessment forms at every turn; students and staff exchanged views in conversation in the campo, on the vaporetto, in the bar and in the seminar room. Learning was a part of living in the city, a part of life. There is surely no other art history programme abroad that can match it and it was a privilege to have played a part in its first three decades.