François de Nomé is among the most fascinating and enigmatic artists active in Italy in the first half of the 17th century. Often blending real and fantastical architecture, his works seem shrouded in a shadowy hush, enlivened by flickering light and sharply drawn figures. Here, the astonishing and exotic-looking monuments along the Venetian Grand Canal provided ample real life inspiration, as improbable and spectacular as anything from De Nomé’s vivid and strange imagination. The Campanile, or bell tower, is visible at center, flanked at right by the great San Marco basilica. At left is the Libreria, its Doric and Ionic columns, balustrade balconies, and carved statues and reliefs all painted with faithful detail. At right is a somewhat truncated Palazzo Ducale, its crenellated arcades and Moorish architectural flourishes catching much of the light which bathes the square, known as the Piazzetta San Marco. The twin columns at left and right of this small piazza are surmounted, respectively, with statues of Saint Theodore and the Lion of Saint Mark, Venice’s patron saints.
The animated procession underway in the foreground with a vast array of elegant figures suggests the view shows the city on the annual Ascension Day celebration in which Venice renews its symbolic marriage vows with the sea. Along with his companions, the Doge – visible under a ceremonial umbrella at lower right – is preparing to set off on the golden barge at center, known as the Bucintoro, from which he will cast a wedding ring into the Adriatic. The Bucintoro shown here may well be the same as that which appears in paintings by Guardi and Canaletto; the most lavish of all the barges built for this important occasion, this magnificent Bucintoro was the last of the Venetian Republic, destroyed on Napoleon’s orders in 1798.
Though his oeuvre was, for many years, confused with that of his contemporary Didier Barra, recent scholarship – in particular the work of Maria Rosaria Nappi – has carefully disentangled the two painters. De Nomé was born in Metz but relocated to Italy in 1602, settling permanently at some point thereafter in Naples. Although he is not known to have visited the city, De Nomé was clearly fascinated with Venice, producing several painted depictions of it over the course of his career. Heretofore unpublished and never offered at auction, this magnificent scene is an important addition to the artist’s oeuvre, and can be counted among De Nomé’s grandest and most accomplished views of Venice.