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City of Pictures

Martin Gayford


A visual journey through five centuries of the city known for centuries as 'La Serenissima' – a unique and compelling story for both lovers of Venice and lovers of its art

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A Sunday Times Art Book of the Year

Venice was a major centre of art in the Renaissance: the city where the medium of oil on canvas became the norm. The achievements of the Bellini brothers, Carpaccio, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese are a key part of this story. Nowhere else has been depicted by so many great painters in so many diverse styles and moods. Venetian views were a speciality of native artists such as Canaletto and Guardi, but the city has also been represented by outsiders: J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Howard Hodgkin, and many more.

Then there are those who came to look at and write about art. The reactions of Henry James, George Eliot, Richard Wagner and others enrich this tale. Nor is the story over. Since the advent of the Venice Biennale in the 1890s, and the arrival of pioneering modern art collector Peggy Guggenheim in the late 1940s, the city has become a shop window for the contemporary art of the whole world, and it remains the site of important artistic events.

In this elegant volume, Gayford – who has visited Venice countless times since the 1970s, covered every Biennale since 1990, and even had portraits of himself exhibited there on several occasions – takes us on a visual journey through the past five centuries of the city known as ‘La Serenissima’, the Most Serene. It is a unique and compelling portrait of Venice that will delight lovers of the city and lovers of its art.


'Venice isn’t just the most painted city in the world, it is probably the most written about too. Finding a fresh angle from which to view it is a challenge. Gayford’s answer is to understand the city and its history through the splendid and varied art it has inspired. Packed with potted histories and informed anecdotes, this is a tome to pack on a visit to La Serenissima'
Waldemar Januszczak, Art Books of the Year, The Sunday Times

'Elegant, insightful ... Gayford is the perfect cicerone - observant, original and energetic. This isn’t a straight history of Venice or Venetian art, but a book about how artists and writers have pictured Venice and shaped the way visitors see Venice in turn. From Jacopo de' Barbari’s seabird's-eye map of the lagoon to Anselm Kiefer’s’ takeover of the Doge’s Palace, via Veronese, Canaletto, Ruskin, Manet, Monet, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Yayoi Kusama: discover Venice anew'
Laura Freeman, Books of the Year, The Times

'I didn’t think it would be possible to write a new, fresh and original book about Venice, but Martin Gayford has managed it ... I can’t think of a better way of introducing Venice and it makes me want to get on a plane at once'
Sir Charles Saumarez Smith

'Gayford vaults the psychological crevasse between the 15th century and the present with élan, recovering the vitality, energy and thrilling modernity of its innovations … The freshness and precision of his vision reanimates even the most familiar Venetian masterpieces. A Titian scholar, his evocation of the disarming, almost hallucinatory sensuality produced by the dash and flutter of brushstrokes is positively gleeful'
Lisa Hilton, The Spectator

'The book is conversational, amiable; the effect is that of wandering around the city, its museums, churches and confraternities, its calli and campi, its limping bell towers and scene-stealing façades, its duelling bridges and blind alleys, with a thoughtful and well-read friend … [Gayford’s] book is a celebration that sidesteps some of the clichés of a more heritage-driven approach … he roots the project in the elementary pleasure of standing in front of, looking at and thinking about beautiful and interesting things'
Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

'Clear, vividly well written and deeply original ... a very bold, far reaching analysis of this much discussed city ... to offer an original perspective on this important city is a very significant achievement'
David Carrier, Counterpunch

New European

'Engaging, sumptuously illustrated … This is the present influencing the past and vice versa, living history'
Country & Town House

'A compelling portrait of Venice capturing the work of great painters from Titian and Canaletto to Monet and Turner'

'The scale of the book is dazzling, spanning 500 years of history, opera, sculpture and buildings, religion, philosophy – and, of course, art. Along the way, elegant prose introduces a fascinating cast … All told, this is a wonderful lesson in Venetian paintings, and how to look at them. It made me desperate to return to Venice and rush to the Frari Basilica to contemplate Titian’s Assunta'
The Tablet

'Martin Gayford points out, with learning and discrimination, the hidden-in-plain-sight'
Michael Prodger, Country Life

'This is a book to immerse yourself in and to let your imagination run freely'
The Artist

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 464 pp

Illustrations: 186

Publication date: 5 October 2023

ISBN: 9780500022665

About the Author

Martin Gayford is a writer and art critic. His books include Michelangelo: His Epic Life (Penguin), as well as Man with a Blue Scarf (in which he recounts the experience of being painted by Freud), Modernists and Mavericks, Spring Cannot Be Cancelled (with David Hockney), A History of Pictures (with David Hockney), Shaping the World (with Antony Gormley), and Love Lucian: The Letters of Lucian Freud, 1939–1954 (with David Dawson), all published by Thames & Hudson.