Imagine Seeing Venice When It Was Like This

A diverse and jostling view of the Italian city

Christopher P Jones
5 min readDec 1, 2022

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The Piazza of Saint Mark’s, Venice (1883) by William Logsdail. Oil on canvas. 126.2 × 222.3 cm. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK. Image source BMA (open access)

Venice is a city of splendour.

The great seafaring city-state, which sits at the crossroads of east and west having traded with both, became a city of merchants and travellers, bringing in silks, spices, marbles, indigo and jewels.

William Logsdail’s portrayal of Venice encapsulates much of this rich tapestry — as it appeared in the 19th century. The painting shows a panorama of crowds in the main square of the city, capturing the incessant bustle of the piazza of San Marco.

Detail of ‘The Piazza of Saint Mark’s, Venice’ (1883) by William Logsdail. Oil on canvas. 126.2 × 222.3 cm. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK. Image source BMA (open access)

We see glimpses of the arches and mosaics of the great basilica in the distance, with its multitude of columns and gold, whilst sprawling out in front is a plethora of activity. There are tourists drinking coffee, men with exotic animals, bohemian artists, locals gesticulating and smoking, and friends and companions in the midst of conversation.

The Artist

Logsdail was an English artist who made this painting in 1883, aged only 25 years old. He had moved to Venice three years earlier, after first studying in Antwerp, Belgium, and before that at the Lincoln School of Art.

He would stay in the floating city for the next two decades, living there — with occasional excursions to England, the Balkans, Egypt and the Middle East — until the end of the century.

Detail of ‘The Piazza of Saint Mark’s, Venice’ (1883) by William Logsdail. Oil on canvas. 126.2 × 222.3 cm. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK. Image source BMA (open access)

The Piazza of Saint Mark’s, Venice was one of Logsdail’s most successful works. It perhaps satisfied the interest in the “Orient” that had been gaining pace in Western Europe since the beginning of the 19th century.

A Lively Patchwork

To realise the scene, Logsdail used an impressionistic style of brushwork. Look closely at the painted surface and notice how the paint marks are arranged in blocks to create a lively, almost stylised patchwork.

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