Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis

Welcome to a new series I’m beginning today. Since I’ve been getting to know more and more of my readers, I thought it’d be fun to create a set of interview questions to highlight their love for Venice. I’m titling this “Venice, My Muse” to honor the many ways that Venice inspires our community of Venetophiles. Watch out–you might be next!

My first interview is with Barbara Lynn-Davis, who you may remember as the author of Casanova’s Secret Wife, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Barbara earned an art history degree from Brown University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Renaissance art at Princeton. She currently teaches art history and writing at Wellesley and makes time to write novels as well. Here are her responses to my questions:

Head shot Barbara Lynn-Davis

How has Venice seduced you?

I first became enchanted with Venice while working as an intern after college at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I lived with an 86 year-old Yugoslavian countess (she always proudly insisted I call her “contessa”.) She owned a fairly modest, 2-bedroom apartment overlooking the Giudecca Canal. Because she was monetizing her apartment by taking in students, she gave me the most beautiful bedroom, the big one overlooking the water. Watching the shining blue-green lagoon each day, the gondolas and fishing boats and occasional ocean liner, that soft Italian light floating in the windows and onto the Oriental carpets and pastel-painted furniture … I fell in love for a lifetime.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

I love Venice in the dark especially, when the day has been screaming hot and night is a balm. I never fail to stop and inhale the perfume of jasmine climbing through garden gates. I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to be inside such an enclosed and treasured place, as to have a garden in Venice is the ultimate luxury.

Walk or take a boat?

Walk, mostly. But when I was living there working on my dissertation, I also loved the convenience of popping into a gondola traghetto that went from Piazza San Marco to the Church of the Salute. It cost next-to-nothing and was a way to experience a (bumpy) gondola ride that otherwise I could never have afforded!

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Love this question! For me, it’s definitely Campiello Barbaro in Dorsoduro. To me, it is perfect: its intimate size, the canal that runs along one side, and most of all, the view of the back of Ca’ Dario, where a fifteenth century open-air loggia overlooks a high-walled pocket garden. I adore this campo so much that in my book, I imagined my main character, Caterina Capreta, living in this perfect spot.

Ca' Dario and Campiello Barbaro

Ca’ Dario and Campiello Barbaro, photo by Barbara

What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?

I always tell my friends to see the painting by Vittor Carpaccio of St. George and the Dragon in the Scuola di San Giorgio deli Schiavoni. A scuola was a confraternity dedicated to the civic good, and many of the more than one-hundred confraternities in Venice were also patrons of the arts. This painting depicts St. George fighting for the life of a frightened princess in Libya. Carpaccio had never traveled to such an exotic place, and instead, he conjured the scene through his imagination and resourcefulness: for example, to portray the large gateway visible on the shoreline he used a woodblock print (prints circulated widely in Venice at this time) of an actual gate in Cairo. In the end, to see this glowing painting still on the walls of the confraternity is to feel eerily, magically transported back in time.


If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?

With Casanova, naturalmente! I would want to share the meal he tells us he savored with lover Marina Morosini in his casino: game, fish, truffles, oysters, fruit, sorbet and Burgundy wines. I would also settle for a big bowl of macaroni and cheese, which I know he also enjoyed 🙂

Casanova: genius or cad?

In my view he is clever, funny, a risk-taker, adventurous, and seductive. Not afraid to say it: I adore him.

What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?

I’ve done a lot of research on Murano as once an island of convents, villas and gardens. That is, it was Venice’s green space (to use a modern term.) But a visitor today to Murano does not get this feel at all. I dream of somehow recovering this sense of an island devoted to the pleasures of nature, whether restoring a single building and garden or maybe even designing a new green space for people to enjoy and reflect in.


Gazing towards Murano’s fields beyond the houses

If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?

I think I would buy Ca’ Dario, but there’s a superstition that it is the “house that kills” so that’s a bit of a dampener on my enthusiasm.


Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.

I would much rather be a noblewoman. Noblewomen, at least in the eighteenth-century, had quite a lot of freedom. For example, they enjoyed the company of cicisbei, basically boy toys whose role it was to make a woman feel beautiful and accompany her out in society. Sometimes these cicisbei were also lovers, sometimes not. Readers will note that in my book, the social life of Caterina Capreta is very circumscribed, but she is a merchant’s daughter, belonging to the more traditional cittadino class. Noblewomen had it much better (as usual.)

What is your favorite cicchetti? Do you have a cicchetti story?

My favorite Venetian snack are tramezzini (English-style tea sandwiches.) I include a recipe for them on my website, below. I made them recently for my writers’ group and they were a huge hit. Even if you think you don’t like mayonnaise and white bread, you will likely discover that when combined with these savory Italian fillings, you do!

Which gelato flavor are you?

Bacio, for sure 🙂

How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?

Visit my website, for a multisensory experience of Venice: an excerpt from my book, plus art, music, food and drink, and an invitation to “walk with Casanova” in the company of Kathleen’s marvelous guidebook, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.

And a final note:

In order to encourage more engagement with my blog, I’m also offering a raffle! If you “like” this post on WordPress or Facebook and also leave a comment, your name will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of Barbara’s book Casanova’s Secret Wife. Deadline: August 31 at midnight Pacific time.

Carpaccio’s painting at the Schola di San Giorgio (as mentioned in Gregory’s comment, below)

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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17 Responses to Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis

  1. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    This is a wonderful idea and I’m sure the responses will be as varied as the types of cicchetti there are in Venezia!!!

  2. A nice new feature; it’s difficult to 1) reinvent / keep fresh blogs and 2) get engagement. So, good luck – hope it works. (I find it most annoying when a post gets, say 4 likes but has actually had only 1 visit. Grrr, what’s all that about?!)
    Anyway Carpaccio’s St George and the dragon: The Guild of St George – an arts and craft organisation which safeguards the ethos and ideas of Victorian art critic John Ruskin has Ruskin’s copy of the painting as their emblem. I see it often at work – part of where I work houses some of the Guild’s collection. Ruskin said of it, which I think is a nice quote: ‘No other dragon that I know of… no knight that I know of…so perfect, each in his kind as these two.’
    In the UK St George (and the flag of St George) has often been commandeered by the more far right groups with anti immigration views etc although there is an irony to this explained in this article in the Independent newspaper:

    It’s worth adding though that it is also – I’m sure to the vast majority of people who display it – quite simply a symbol of their pride in their country and its values. This, obviously, isn’t racist and it’s a shame that its become such a contentious thing. Quite what Ruskin (and Carpaccio) would have made of it all is anyone’s guess …..

    • Thanks for the added information about the St. George image. I didn’t know it had been co-opted in this way, and that’s a shame for those who just love the image for other reasons. It’s also great to hear the perspective from across the pond…

  3. Nancy Schwalen says:

    Interesting interview. And I too am entranced by the back view of Ca’ Dario.

  4. I’m always fascinated to hear what ignited each Venetophile’s passion for the watery city and Barbara’s story is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing Kathy, keep the stories coming as I’ll never have too much of Casanova, Venice and the fascinating tales you uncover! A presto! xxx

  5. Hilda Haithcock says:

    I have been to Venice many times, but never enough! My first visit was also as a student in Cortona with the University of Georgia….I call Venice the 8th wonder of the world…there is nothing to compare it to. One of my most memorable times was also at night…3 friends and I sat in Piazza San Marco completely alone (can you believe it) all night with a bottle of the quiet that you never get during the day.

    • Wow–that must have felt a bit surreal. Did you see the film I posted a few weeks ago, all filmed at night in Venice? I bet you’d love it. The film is Stanotte a Venezia, and the post is called “Losing Sleep in Venice.” And thanks for commenting–you’re now entered into the raffle!

  6. Gregory says:

    Very interesting interview. And I agree that the Scuola di San Giorgio is a must-see. It appears in a scene in Vikram Seth’s novel “An Equal Music”, and he has a wonderful description of all the paintings but in particular the last one with St Augustine and his little dog. I photographed a page to give you a flavour but see that I can’t attach an image to this post.

    • Hi Gregory–Thanks for the tip. The little dog is so cute! I found the image and have added it to the bottom of this post for anyone who reads your comment and wants to see the painting.

  7. Your post has been in my to-read list for a week but it was certainly worth it. I look forward to read the next ones 🙂 Who do you have in mind for us?

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