22 June, 2006

29. Wherefore art thou, Othello?

This gorgeous balcony window occupies almost the whole width of one of the sweetest little palazzos on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Contarini Fasan, so-called because of the passion of one of its owners for pheasant hunting.

Even though it is one of the narrowest buildings fronting the Grand Canal, it has 'position' in its favour. Midway between Harry's Bar and the Accademia Bridge on the San Marco side, opposite Santa Maria della Salute, is a neighbourhood that's about as swanky as you can get.

One of the most perfect examples of the late Venetian Gothic style of the 15th Century, this skinny palace was built between 1470 and 1480. The three mullioned window pictured, with the most unusual and decorative stone tracery whirls, dominates the piano nobile; there are two single windows with similar stone tracery above; and three small windows without any decoration at all below at canal level. Together, the canal face of this building is symmetrical with lovely proportions and the architect and builders made the best of what must have been a challengingly small space to create a prestige building of great worth and charm.

Apparently, tour guides and even some guide books point out this building as the one belonging to Desdemona, wife of Shakespeare's moor, Othello, in his eponymous tragedy. It is even referred to on some tourist maps as "Il Palazzetto di Desdemona". Regardless of where they come from, it would seem that there are enough tourists who either don't know, choose to forget, or don't even care that Desdemona never actually existed, anymore than did Othello himself, both being completely fabricated characters in a work of fiction.

People will always choose to believe what they want to believe, and some will never let the truth get in the way of a good story.


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