Museo Correr

Museo Correr

FROM DARKNESS TO THE LIGHT: WRITERS IN MUSEUMS 1798-1898. An International Conference

International Conference


Venice, 27-29 April 2016


Wednesday 27 April 2016 3 p.m.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
8 p.m.

Thursday 28 and Friday 29 April 2016 
Museo Correr, Salone da Ballo
10 a.m.-7 p.m. 



Wednesday 27 April 2016, 3 p.m.
(simultaneous interpreting provided)

For April 27, at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and for April 28 and 29 at the Museo Correr, entrance is by invitation, on a first come first served basis.


The International Conference “From Darkness to Light: writers in Museums 1798-1898”, organized by the Venice Committee of the Dante Alighieri Society, with the Fondazione Musei Civici Veneziani, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and the Graduate School of the City University of New York, 27-29 April 2016, aims at comparing the experiences of writers and journalists in museums, galleries, churches, in Europe, in the United States and in Japan, when electric light was not yet used.

Both John Ruskin (from 1846) and Henry James (from 1869) repeatedly wrote on how dark the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was, even if they were both struck with the beauty and power  of Tintoretto’s paintings in the Scuola. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was in fact only lit with natural light until as late as 1937, when Mariano Fortuny was asked to light it with the indirect illumination he had experimented in theatres.

If the date 1937 really seems late for electricity, other museums were much more avant-garde,  as for instance the Rembrandt Peale Museum in Baltimore, which had gaslight as early as 1816, while the Victoria & Albert Museum of London used gaslight in 1857.

These fascinating topics will be the focus of the Venetian Conference, during which international scholars will discuss the museums and the visitors’ reactions, which are very different form those of present day visitors, when the great masterpieces are lit in a much brighter and clearer light.

We will start with the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, now lit by LED, which shows how the experience of 19th century visitors was in fact quite different from today’s experience. We will continue with the gaslight introduced by the Peale family in their museum; with the ways a very famous and very popular painting, The Heart of the Andes by Frederic Church, was lit up in the various venues where it was shown; we will then examine the Yale gallery of “primitivi” collected by James Jackson Jarves, which nobody at the time really wanted.

We will then proceed to the choices of lighting for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, for Sargent’s frescoes in the Boston Public Library, for the Freer Gallery of Washington, for Sir John Soane’s Museum in London (where even now candle-lit tours are organized), for the London National Gallery, the Wallace Collection and the English mansions of Chatsworth and Cragside, for the Prado in Madrid and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier.

As regards Italian museums, there will be papers on the Florence and Rome museums, from the Uffizi to the Musei Capitolini, as seen by American writers, on the Venice Museums as seen by French writers, in particular the Museo Correr, the Accademia di Belle Arti and the Ducal Palace in Venice.

Finally there will be a paper on the Japanese aesthetics of darkness.

Both literary scholars and art historians will participate: art historian Giovanni  C.F. Villa will speak onTintoretto; very well-known writer Melania G. Mazzucco, also the author of important books on Tintoretto, will tell us bout the “unexpected light” in Tintoretto’s paintings;  David Nye, one of the world light-experts,  will speak about the changes due to the different artificial lightings used in museums; Antonio Foscari, IUAV, will offer some thoughts on “time and light.”

It will be possible to experience the new LED lighting in the Scuola, thanks to Alberto Pasetti Bombardella, who will show how the different lights – warm and cold – allow visitors to see in totally new and unexpected ways Tintoretto’s works.