Monday 10 December 2018

The Good Death II – Michelle Lovric

Five years ago I posted a piece about a fascinating and little-known Venetian scuola – The Company of Christ and the Good Death, the kind men who retrieved drowned bodies from the canals and provided funerals for those corpses who were not reclaimed by any family or friend.

On many afternoons, over many years, I’ve stood wistfully outside this 1644 building at San Marcuola and tried to imagine what it was like inside. It was always closed. Until I could see the interior for myself, I could not use it in my latest novel.

My interest was regenerated when I came across this strange painting at the tiny museum above Sant’Apollonia. It shows the Company at work, accompanying a corpse, dressed in extraordinary and rather terrifying costumes. (Apologies for the bad photograph, snatched against the rules.)

Then, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I limped off the vaporetto at San Marcuola. I was tired, full of notes that desperately needed transcribing (before even I myself would be unable to decipher my doctor’s-daughter scrawls). But, for some reason, instead of turning right towards home, I wandered off to the left. And so I came across the entrance of the scuola – not only open for the first time in my experience, but also bedecked with intriguing objects.

The scuola had been opened for a charity sale to support the parish.

The items for sale would be described in Italian as 'cianfrusaglie' - stuff/bits & pieces. A judgmental person might translate 'cianfrusaglie' as 'junk' or even 'frippery'. I am not that person.

You can guess how fast I scampered inside, and how earnestly I asked for permission to take photographs. Here they are.

Surely these are the processional lamps brandished by the Company in the painting above left?

The building’s interior appears greatly foreshortened – there are two rooms and a staircase behind the altar. Surely these steps (below) lead up to the chambers where the bodies were laid out and prepared for burial. What remained up there? I was shooed away from a full inspection when I dared to open the doors for this tantalizing glimpse.

Now my imagination needs to declutter the space and find my way to its original state, with at least three important paintings on the wall, the candle-holders arrayed with fragrant wax and disposed with dignity, men quietly praying.

I’m working on it.

Michelle Lovric's website 


Mary Hoffman said...

How fascinatng! I wonder if it will be open when we are there at Easter?

Susan Price said...

You have second sight, Michelle -- that's how you knew it would be open.

Joan Lennon said...

Intriguing! The ways of the muse are certainly strange - but what a wonderfully Venetian story!

Unknown said...

Ohmygod - I've been to a jumble sale in there!!! 12 years ago, while retracing the steps of an Edwardian, journal writing lady from 1906 ...(I bought a doll!!) and the year *before* I started my Masters in Death Studies at the University of Winchester. If only I'd KNOWN the previous history!!
Please, PLEASE tell us more as you discover it, Michelle...and thank you once again for the most intriguing and entrancing of posts on the MOST intriguing and entrancing city.
(Sorry for all the exclamation marks as well - just got over excited :-) )

Penny Dolan said...

What a beneficent thing to happen to or for you, Michelle! Good wishes to the new novel as it grows. Sounds very interesting.