The City of Light Despoiled

Years ago I visited the breathtaking city of Venice, Italy, world-famous for its canals, gondolas, and Renaissance architecture. It is truly the most incomparably beautiful city on the face of the earth. During my visit I strolled through the remarkable Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), taking in the splendors of the Doge’s Palace and the magnificent St Mark’s Basilica.

Inspiring painters from throughout the centuries, the natural light found in Venice is ethereal, unearthly. Bellini, Titian, and Giorgione made the “City of Light” their home. In actuality, oil painting on stretched canvas began in Venice at the start of the sixteenth century, and the city’s Vendecolori, those professionals who sold prepared pigments for oil painting since the 1490’s, attracted artists from all over Italy and beyond. Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo and many other masters came to visit “La Serinissima” – the most serene Republic of Venice.

But this article is not about the grandeur of Venice, it is unhappily about its degradation – and by extension, the decline of us all. Until just recently one could meander through the Piazza San Marco and feel as though you were walking back in time 500 years. Today however, the immediate thing that strikes you is the enormous commercial banner advertisement that hangs over the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana – the National Library of St Mark’s that faces the Doge’s Palace. It is the first time in history that public advertising has been allowed in the city, and there are other colossal advertisements being readied to despoil the beauty of Venice.

Lies on Sale!

[ Colossal ad banner for the Swatch “007 Villain Collection”, hung on the National Library of St Mark in the Piazzetta of San Marco, Venice Italy, 2008. Photo – The Art Newspaper. ]

In an article titled Protest over advertising in St Mark’s Square, Venice, The Art Newspaper of London reports that advertising agencies “dealing in mega-advertising locations have realized they can exploit a recent change in the law” to put public space and building facades on sale to commercial advertisers. In other words, world cultural heritage is being sold off to the highest bidder so that banal, mass produced bobbles can be marketed to the masses. As confirmed by The Art Newspaper; “Currently the villain of a 007 movie looms out of a huge Swatch ad on the Piazzetta of San Marco while two Lancia cars drive over the façade of the Doge’s Palace and even the Bridge of Sighs carries a banner.”

The marvelous renaissance buildings of Venice being draped with inane commercial advertisements is an outrage and a cause for real alarm. It represents, not only an unrelenting dumbing-down of culture and an obfuscation of history, but a foretelling of the day when all public and private space everywhere will become nothing more than a platform for advertising. If the architectural wonders of Venice can be swathed in ads, then why not the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, or the Taj Mahal? The world’s cultural heritage belongs to all of humankind, and it should be treasured and preserved, not turned over to a cabal of marketers and advertisers who have dollar signs in their eyes. It is time to take down those advertising banners in the Piazza San Marco – in fact, it is time to take them down the world over.

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