Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lady Viscountess Helen D'Arbernon

Monday night I went to a lecture about the lady in the title. She was born in the late 19th century, was a debutant by birth and marriage and lived a life of travel, art, literature and connections. And she spent a great deal of time living in Palazzo Justinian.

There is a regular meeting (in English) of this group in which they have presentations on various subjects relating to Venice. I had been invited earlier in the year but never attended. I thought it good to catch at least one as I make my way through my 'last time to do...' list.

To make a very interesting but hour long presentation short, there was a professor at the local university (Ca Foscari) who took a smoke break and stood under a staircase at the neighboring Palazzo Justinian. She happened to look up and see an inscription that said Helen D'Arbernon restored this dilapidated staircase in 1902. Serendipity.

After much research to find out who she was and her story, our presenter/teacher unpacked this womans life with picture, paintings and tidbits of diary entries from the likes of Ruskin, Brown and Howard.

I have done much reading about Venice during my year here....always fascinated at the history and web like relations of these famous artists, poets and philanthropists who I have heard in passing but never really knew. The Palazzo itself has a very long and vivid history and legend attached to it and it is no wonder that it caught the imagination and love of Helen. Venice has captured the hearts of many over the centuries in one way or another and I am honored to be in their company.

To be at a lecture where I was being read details of Venetian history and having the privilege of seeing pictures and photographs previously undiscovered or unmentioned was fascinating. Her biographical lecture carried us from Helens birth in England to Constantinople to Rome and, of course, to Venice. We covered Italy in WW1 and we peeked in on the lives of the rich society during that time. I can only imagine the 'fun' our teacher had in her research about this previously anonymous, sometime Venetian resident.

I look forward to the publication of this research to read it in depth now that I know its origin and location. Serendipity for the teacher having her cigarette and serendipity for me to attend this lecture.

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