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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

"This Strange Dream Upon the Water": Venice and the Cultural Imagination since 1800 Public Lecture Series

As Charles Dickens's description reminds us, Venice has always allured the cultural imagination.  Rising out of the sea, to which its symbolic marriage was signalled by the Doge's annual casting of a ring into the lagoon, it is like no other human settlement in its physical make-up.  Even now funeral corteges and furniture removals travel down canals rather than roads; as visitors step in and out of vaporetti, they seem to be moving in and out of pictorial spaces. The city brings dwelling, history, aesthetics, and commerce into intimate connection with water.   

This lecture series focuses on the city's representation in painting, music and literature since 1800.  The period is one in which Venice's trading heyday had long since vanished; a byword for lost liberty under Austrian rule, it becomes the subject of elegiac broodings on fallen greatness, but also a place in which masqued revelry, carnival, licence, and dissolutions of normal perspectives still abide as possibilities. In the period, Venice becomes a playground for the imagination, but one in which the playful and the serious, aesthetics and history, entwine.

The public lectures in this series, given by experts in various related fields from inside and beyond Durham, explore how Venice featured in the Romantic poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron (in whose case comparative connections will be made with Shakespeare); in operas by Verdi, Ponchielli, and Offenbach; and in paintings by Turner.  They also analyse how Venice captured the Post-Romantic imagination of Ruskin, Robert Browning, Dickens, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Thomas Mann, emerging as a place of metamorphosis and memory, and a site of mirages and value in a troubled, uncertain world. These lectures draw on a range of disciplines and approaches as they ask what the city's imaginative appeal tells us about the function of the imagination in Western culture since 1800, and about the real and symbolic function of water, the water in which Shelley and Turner saw the alchemising reflections of a Venetian sunset. The intended output from the lecture series is an edited collection from a major press.

These public lectures are free and open to all.  For more information please contact the co-organisers, Professor Michael O'Neill, Dr Mark Sandy, or Dr Sarah Wootton.

We gratefully acknowledge The Bowes Museum in permitting us to use the above image: 'The Bucintoro Returning To The Molo', Giovanni Antonio Canal (called Canaletto) (The Bowes Museum) 

Lecture Programme

All lectures will take place in lecture theatre 201 in the Elvet Riverside building and will start at 6.15pm

19 October 2009

'A More Beloved Existence': From Shakespeare's 'Venice' to Byron's Venice
Mr Bernard Beatty (Liverpool University)

2 November 2009

Dr Mark Sandy (Durham University)

16 November 2009

Mr Andrew Wilton (Tate Gallery)

7 December 2009

Professor Jeremy Dibble (Durham University)

25 January 2010

Professor Michael O'Neill (Durham University) 

8 February 2010

Professor Dinah Birch (Liverpool University)

22 February 2010

Dr Pamela Knights (Durham University)

1 March 2010

Dr Sarah Wootton (Durham University)  

8 March 2010

Dr Jason Harding (Durham University)