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Veneto Ultimate Culture Guide

There are several reasons why Veneto sees more tourists every year than any other part of Italy. One of those reasons is the region’s powerful culture, which emerges in nearly every form of creative labor there is. Art, architecture, music, cinema, literature, food – Veneto really does have it all.

Perhaps the region’s culture is, at least, partly inspired by the incredible natural beauty that inhabits the area. Veneto is flanked on one side by the tranquil Adriatic Sea and the pristine Lake Garda on the other. To the north are the imposing Dolomites and the Po Valley, along with its gentle rolling hills, dominating the central and southern reaches of the region. In other words, there is a scene for every artist in Veneto, and inspiration is everywhere you look.

One major source of inspiration is Venice, which is among the most artistically active cities in the world, and has been for centuries. There was a reason why Shakespeare set several of his best plays in Venice, after all. Today, it retains its artistic focus, and is filled with breathtaking architecture as well. Vicenza, just 30 miles away from Venice, boasts its own amazing architecture, and both Padua and Verona are home to several city blocks’ worth of art museums and collections.

And though it isn’t quite the fashion capital that Milan is, Veneto, and particularly Vicenza and Treviso, are a major fashion powerhouse in its own right. In fact, they features two of the most respected and recognizable fashion-setting companies in the world, namely Diesel and Benetton. Benetton has long had a presence in Treviso, with several generations of the family calling the city home.

Art in Veneto

Art historians spend a portion of their scholarship studying at the Venetian School of Painting, and for good reason. The Venetian school, which was at its zenith during the 16th century, was on the leading edge of painting expression at the time, and would inspire artists for centuries following its departure. Venice still possesses a great many masterpieces from that era, providing a bounty for art aficionados.

There are too many artists of the Venetian school (or inspired by it) to name, but a handful deserve special mention. Tiepolo is one of them, born and raised in Venice, and creator of Ripudio di Agar and Banchetto di Cleopatra. Tiepolo’s career was enviable as it was successful from start to finish. Prominent English art historian Michael Levey referred to Tiepolo as the greatest decorative painter of the 17th century.

Tintoretto, who predated Tiepolo by about 200 years, was among the master painters present during the height of the Venetian school. Tintoretto was notable as one of the few Italian painters at the time who was clearly not inspired by Florence artists. His works contained memorable personality and energy as well, earning the nickname “Il Furioso” (The Furious).

It is Titian, though, who is generally considered to be the best painter to emerge from the Venetian school. His work is justifiably set next to the best painters ever, like Raphael and Michelangelo. Titian’s most striking displays are the Venus of Urbino, Amor Sacro e Amor Profano and Assumption of the Virgin.

But there is more to Venetian art than just the Venetian school. Canaletto, for example, was a Venice-born artist whose works largely focused on the city’s architecture and design. His seminal work is The Entrance to the Canal Grande, as it depicts Venetian architecture like no other artist is capable of, or was capable of.

Francesco Hayez is another luminary that existed outside of the Venetian school. Another Venice native, Hayez was perpetually inspired by the city’s romance, likely leading him to his work Il Bacio (The Kiss), which is considered among the most romantic paintings ever created.

Before the Venetian school existed, there was Andrea Mantegna. Born in a small village and raised in Padua, he is considered by art historians to be the most clever and versatile artist of the late 15th century. Characteristic of his works was a sculpture-like quality, with metallic colors and depictions of people that could be best described as stony. His chief works include Cristo Morto and Trittico degli Uffizi.

Veneto has its fair share of famous sculptors, as well. Standing at the top was Antonio Canova, who quickly rose to fame with his delicately rendered depictions of nude figures. Canova has plenty of masterful works to his name, including Venus Victrix and Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.

Architecture in Veneto

Veneto’s cities are filled with interesting architecture, but none more so than Vicenza. One of history’s greatest architects, Andrea Palladio, was born in Vicenza and designed dozens of meticulous, grand buildings, most of them featured in Veneto. Vicenza has the most impressive collection of Palladio buildings in the world, with 23 villas, basilicas and palazzos, each a work of genius and each worth closer study. Of particular note is the Basilica Palladiana, which Palladio himself believed could be compared to any great work of architecture that had come before. Another must-see example of Palladio architecture is the Teatro Olimpico, which is one of only three Renaissance theatres still in existence. It features an intricately designed Roman aesthetic that extends to every square inch of the theatre’s interior.

Palladio’s prolific and unmatched career was so impressive that he is not only considered the father of modern Italian architecture, but one of the fathers of modern architecture, period.

Literature in Veneto

Literature may take a backseat to the incredible painters and architects of Veneto, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. A few highly influential writers made their home in Venice. The most famous of them all was Marco Polo, whose travels along the Silk Road and into China were thoroughly documented in Il Milione. Polo’s detailed description of his explorations inspired other explorers to come, including Christopher Columbus. Perhaps Polo also inspired Giovanni Caboto, another citizen of Venice and the first European to officially discover the North American mainland in 1497.

Another giant of Italian literature was Carlo Goldoni, born in Venice and one of the most talented playwrights in Italian history. His influence spread far beyond the boundaries of Veneto and Italy, though, as he is considered one of the primary figures behind the modern theatre comedy. He was the first playwright to reimagine the commedia dell’arte by incorporating more realistic characters into the performances.

More recent and prominent Italian writers include Salgàri Emilio and Buzzati Dino. Emilio was a prolific novelist who produced works in several genres, including drama and fantasy. His character Sandokan was a major success in cinema and spawned both TV and animated series. Dino was a contemporary writer, poet and journalist who was highly respected throughout Italy. His magnum opus was Tartar Steppe, which became a global best seller.

Music in Veneto

If painting is the art form Veneto is best known for, then music is right behind it. Several famous names in classical music made their home in the region, none more talented than Antonio Vivaldi. Nicknamed “The Red Priest,” Vivaldi was a virtuoso, with command of the violin and the composition sheet. One of the most iconic Baroque pieces of music, The Four Seasons, was created by Vivaldi and remains a standard among symphonies today.

Antonio Salieri is known by many as the rival to Mozart, a rivalry depicted both on stage and on the big screen. However, there is little evidence that Salieri and Mozart were anything more than friendly rivals, and there appears to have been a true mutual respect between the two. Salieri even mentored Mozart’s young son after his father passed away. Salieri was a talented composer and conductor, and held the position of Austrian imperial Kapellmeister from 1788 to 1824. He taught some of the greatest too, including Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt.

One of only three artists on this list still with us, Nicoletta Strambelli, also known as Patty Pravo, is among Italy’s most famous and beloved modern singers. She is a huge pop star inside of Italy and is well known outside of the country, as well.

Movies and cinema in Veneto

A pair of famous Italian actors hail from the Veneto region, one known for his Casanova-like abilities and the other for his prominence in that beloved Spaghetti Western genre.

Walter Chiari was plenty successful as an actor and managed a long list of theatrical and comedy credits during his career. But he might have been more famous for his romantic escapades, even entering into a relationship with Ava Gardner at one point.

Terence Hill is still acting in Italian movies and TV series today, but the bulk of his career was acting in many Spaghetti Westerns and acting as one half of the famous Terence Hill and Bud Spencer duo.