Burano in February

As work on the new edition of Blue Guide Venice gets underway, and as I start planning my next trip there, my thoughts turn to the island of Burano. On a sunny day in February—and if we’re lucky there will be some sunny days this month—the colours of Burano’s houses are at their absolute best.

Burano is most famous perhaps for three things: its lace, its S-shaped biscuits, and its colourful façades. But there is more. The little church of San Martino, for example, approached down the wide Via Galuppi, contains a wonderful painting by Tiepolo. It is a rare treat to be able to admire a work of Tiepolo without having to crick your neck back to look at a ceiling fresco. This is a Crucifixion, commissioned by a pharmacist in 1722 (his donor’s portrait is included, in an oval frame at the far left, not shown in the detail here). Christ is depicted victorious, his eyes cast upwards. One of the thieves has already being taken down and his body is being untied; the other still writhes upon his cross. In the foreground, the grieving, grey-faced Virgin swoons into the arms of the two Marys.

Via Galuppi and Piazza Galuppi, where the church stands, are named after the island’s most famous son, the composer Baldassare Galuppi, who was born here in 1706. He was immortalised by Browning, in “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”.

Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, ’tis with such a heavy mind!

Here you come with your old music, and here’s all the good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where Saint Mark’s is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

Ay, because the sea’s the street there; and ’tis arched by—what you call
—Shylock’s bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival…

The skipping rhythm of the verses is intended to imitate the notes of a toccata played on a clavichord. The themes of gaiety and masked revelry and death are particularly relevant in a Venetian February, the season of Carnival and Lent. Though if the sun shines, there is no need to dwell on them for long.

There are plenty of places to eat on Burano. Al Gatto Nero offers local fish dishes, including a risotto di gù alla buranella (Burano-style goby risotto).

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