Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924)
Festa del Redentore, ca. 1899
Watercolor and pencil on paper
Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Charles Prendergast, 91.18.5
While many of Maurice’s Venice works capture the city’s remarkable architecture, in works such as these, he turns to the other great attraction of Venice—festivals. Festa del Redentore captures the most important city-wide holiday of the year, marking the city’s deliverance from the plague of 1576. Celebrated on the 3rd Sunday in July, carnival processions begin during the day, while at night it is customary for revelers to hire “super gondolas” adorned with brilliantly colorful lamps for travel up the Grand Canal.
Maurice’s depictions of the gondolas at night—his first known nocturnal scenes—convey vivid impressions of the Festa del Redentore. Candy-colored lanterns are seen suspended above floating black gondolas that blend into the inky black-blue sky and canals, gliding parallel to the picture plane.
Festa del Redentore and Fiesta Grand Canal, Venice were executed in diverse media—watercolor and mosaic—each of which captures the buoyant and vibrant festival scene in distinctly different but mutually effective ways. Maurice’s watercolor conveys the glowing luminosity of the colored lamps, while his mosaic—the only known example by the artist—offers highly saturated tones not achievable in watercolor. Maurice was known to admire the mosaic work of early Italian Renaissance artists, such as Giotto, for the evocations of fantasy and bold juxtapositions of color in their work.