Some years seem full of fresh developments and some seem to be more characterised by consolidation. (This wise observation is in no way to be related to the ongoing global tragedies of Brexit and Trump, of course, which just fester and get more farcical with each passing year.) Website-wise Siena and Bologna, my two newest pages, got solidly improved after visits in 2018. No new pages were begun, but fruitful visits to Milan and Arezzo made both of these cities possibilities. Other trips this year took in Lincoln, Leeds, York, Florence and Nancy.

No visit to Venice for me this year despite the lure of the Tintoretto exhibitions, but a trip is planned for 2019, to take in the Biennale and a tie-in exhibition devoted to the demolished church of San Geminiano, involving its links with Dutch painters and a Tintoretto once owned by David Bowie.

There was increased contact with academic admirers this year, which is always heartening, and I discovered that The Churches of Venice had been cited and linked to in a reference on the Tate Gallery's website, and on another page there my site is even cited to contradict the previous misidentification of a doorway! Much useful Venetian information and updates (and photos) came from a fair few of you this year. (You know who you are!) Which was all good.

As you may know us retired people need structure, but 2018 developed oddly. April was dominated by a great rush of Venice novels, but my usual clustering of Spring trips didn’t happen, although I did go away more in the Summer. Courses and summer schools, taking in close encounters with illuminated manuscripts, Byzantium’s influence on Italian art, and the Dutch Golden Age kept me well stimulated. And then in the Autumn there was a sudden blizzard of new novels by favourite authors, none of whom are exactly prolific and none of which was less than wonderful. They were The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, Melmoth by Sarah Perry and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller. The last one was verily the best book I’d read in many a year.

In prospect for 2019 are courses on Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, The Courts of Renaissance Italy, and divers Medieval matters. Anticipation of a mosaics course propelled me, at last, to book Sicily in March. Also planned are guided trips to the hilltowns of Umbria (Assisi at last!) and Medieval Shropshire.

I hope that you have plenty to look forward to too.


Spookily featuring a coincidental continuation of the October focus on works by Mantegna and Bellini. Also sadness, guidebooks, a fruity old novel, and a rather fine film.

I had my first visit to the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery this morning, and it's a firm recommendation: intelligent arrangement, impressive and well-chosen loans, good audioguide and not too crowded. Highlights include the Crucifixion panel from the San Zeno altarpiece in Verona, which has still not been returned after Napoleon swiped it, which means it's much easier to see up close and appreciate than the altarpiece is itself. And Mantegna sure has a way with classical architecture, and rabbits. I came away more of a Mantegna fan than before, but Bellini is still my man. How they interacted is the fascination of the show, which moves to Berlin next spring, if that helps.

A bit of a Bellini book bonanza at the moment. Lives of Giovanni Bellini is a palm-size but comprehensive and plushly-illustrated compilation of roughly contemporary writing about Bellini by Vasari, Ridolfi and Boschini, with the letters between him and Isabella d'Este as a bonus. It's edited and introduced by the Getty's Davide Gasparotto and looks like an ideal stocking-filler for the Bellini fans in you life. Giovanni Bellini: The Art of Contemplation by Johannes Grave is a much more major career survey. I'll be reviewing both soon. And then there's the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition in London in prospect, in connection with which I'm going to a one-day talk and a two-afternoon course. I strongly doubt that you can have too much Giov Bellini, but I think that I'm going to find out, one way or the other.

Florence and Arezzo

Searching for something fresh in the fiction line to read on my upcoming trip to Florence (and Arezzo) I'm not getting any anticipatory frissons, I have to admit. There's a new Philip Kazan, called The Phoenix of Florence - we like him but it's not published until next February. Fiction set in Florence featuring Leonardo is far from rare, as are novels where conspiracies are uncovered, crimes committed and members of the Medici family murdered. Also Florence and feminism and female artists is a definite thing. So a series that mixes up all of this stuff, called the Da Vinci's Disciples series, should be no surprise. It features a team of female painters secretly trained by Leonardo and the books look to be dark and tasty, but it takes a lot to make me forgive the making of the heinous Dan Brown mistake of using Da Vinci as a surname, as regular readers will know. There is a new Marco Vichi out while I'm in Florence, but I haven't read his previous one yet. So maybe I will.

Leeds and York

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, with the temperature nudging 30 in London, nothing warms the cockles of a webmaster like the discovery that his Venetian churches site has been cited and linked to on the Tate Gallery's website and on another page on the same site The Churches of Venice is even cited to contradict the previous misidentification of a doorway!



In Venice fiction news: an email arrives from Christopher Jones, the author of White Phantom City which I read and liked a while back. He's been re-writing it and tightening it up, it seems, and it has just been republished as The Breath of the Zephyr. If you missed it first time round...

I'm just back from a week in Bologna, and my trip report will follow. But while I was away news broke that John Julius Norwich had died - a sad day for fans of Venice and for the readers and lovers of his many special books on his favourite city. He revealed his innermost passions to this very website on this page.

As the temperature creeps up and the rain falls it seems that Spring is upon us, with all the yellow flowers and forward-looking that the season demands. Me, I've got a week-long Summer School next week (I know!) at the Courtauld on the Byzantine influence on Italian art, followed by a Spring-term course at the V&A on illuminated manuscripts. Trips booked for the next six months are to Bologna, Nancy, Leeds & York and Arezzo. I hope that you've got good stuff to look forward to too.


During a conversation on my recent trip to Siena the tour manager revealed that she had been a pupil of Donna Leon during the latter's early career as a teacher, and that Donna L. now lives in Switzerland. This last fact is no secret, but it does explain the news that from the next instalment the action of the Brunetti novels is moving to Geneva. Following the unpleasantness at the end of The Temptation of Forgiveness Brunetti and the family are moved for their own safety, it seems. Your guess is as good as mine as to the crimes he might investigate. Antique cuckoo clock forgeries? Chocolate counterfeiting? The Swiss banks hanging onto Nazi gold? We'll see, next April.



Whilst waiting for the April rush of new novels set in Venice -  Donna Leon's The Temptation of Forgiveness and Philip Gwynne Jones's Vengeance in Venice  - and following upon the joys of Gregory Dowling's The Four Horsemen, the last-mentioned author tells me good things about  The Eye Stone by Roberto Tiraboschi. So that one is next up on the Kindle, not least because it's set in the 12th century - a pretty darn rare period for Venice-set fiction.

Short trips: Lincoln

My Books of 2018
Roberto Tiraboschi The Eye Stone
Imogen Hermes Gowar The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Haruki Murakami Killing Commendatore
Sarah Perry Melmoth
Andrew Miller Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Paraic O’Donnell The House on Vesper Sands
Christelle Dabos A Winter's Promise
 Ben Schott Jeeves and the King of Clubs
After spending 2017 reading all of the Jeeves & Wooster stories how topping
it was that Ben Schott was surprisingly able to channel the master so well.

My CDs of 2018
Nils Frahm All Melody
Neko Case Hell-On
Great Lake Swimmers The Waves, The Wake
Death Cab for Cutie Thank You for Today
Frontperson Frontrunner
Aurora Infections Of A Different Kind – Step 1
Eddi Reader Cavalier
Tina Dico Fastland
Dan Mangan More of Less

Evangelina Mascardi Laurent de Saint-Luc: Pičces pour luth
Jadran Duncumb Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas
My lute thing continued (two above) and a modern choral thing took hold (two below)
Latvian Radio Choir Silvestrov: To Thee We Sing
Chamber Choir of Europe Lauridsen: Les Chansons des Roses
Utopia Chamber Choir Piae Cantiones
A nice combination of troubadour pluck and percussion with choral loveliness.

My minor new-year chore was re-organising these News pages, in the light of a whole new one just beginning. Amongst things noticed were that Francesco da Mosta's much-hyped novel,
The Black King, which was due out in 2011, never did appear, and neither did the film of Miss Garnet's Angel, or the remake of Don't Look Now. But one of my favourite books of 2014 Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist was a (reportedly spiffy) big thing on TV over xmas, and another of my 2014 picks Jeff VanderMeer's The Southern Reach Trilogy has the film of its first part out in February, directed by Alex Garland and starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, stars of the Star Wars prequels and sequels respectively. And if you haven't seen the very stirring Star Wars: The Last Jedi yet...why not?!

My Books of 2017
Philip Gwynne Jones The Venetian Game
Sylvain Neuvel Waking Gods
David Adams Cleveland Time's Betrayal
I read all of the Jeeves and Wooster stories and novels in 2017,
but if you read only one make it...
P.G. Wodehouse Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Jennifer Egan Manhattan Beach
Glenn Haybittle The Way Back to Florence
Philip Pullman La Belle Sauvage
Blake Crouch Dark Matter
Ali Smith Winter

My CDs of 2017
Elbow Little Fictions
Dirty Projectors
The New Pornographers Whiteout Conditions
Leslie Mendelson Love & Murder
Grizzly Bear Painted Ruins
UNKLE The Road, Pt. 1
The National Sleep Well Beast
Oh Wonder Ultralife
Jim White Waffles, Triangles & Jesus

My late-life Early Music obsession mostly bedded in this year - no startling discoveries,
just a continuation of the lute-love, especially from Germany in the 18th century,
and the keenness for Biber's violin sonatas.
Ensemble Violini Capricciosi Biber - Violin Sonatas
John Schneiderman Eighteenth-Century Lute Music
Lutz Kirchhof The Lute in Dance and Dream

Festive Greetings!

Was 2017 a worse year, globally speaking, than 2016, or just more of the same? The Trump situation only got worse, certainly, not least for me because every time I read of his latest moronic outburst or action I'd spend the next hour or so humming flipping Nellie the Elephant to myself.
You know...
Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk
And said goodbye to the circus
Off she went with a trumpety-trump
Trump, trump, trump.

My big deal of 2017 was my 60th birthday, in March, when I started getting my work pension, free travel in London and cheaper rail journeys outside London. This last benefit didn't quite get me to as many English cathedral cities as I'd hoped, but they'll get visited in time, have no fear.

Unlike Mr Trump I learned a lot in 2017. My Byzantine and Medieval thing continued, with the Black Death featuring heavily. (Modern scholarship is easing off on the rats and putting the blame more on gerbils, don't you know.) Trips to Venice, Milan, Bologna and Urbino got the year off to a safely Italian start.  Then, following a marvellous Vermeer exhibition in Dublin in the summer, the Dutch Golden Age got my juices flowing, with an eye-opening Rembrandt etchings exhibition in Norwich, during a course dealing with Bosch and Bruegel, with a trip to Vienna to see the very best works of the latter, and a superior example of the former's work too.

As to what all this wider-horizons stuff means for my websites...well I certainly seem to have been writing more trip reports than reviews of novels set in Venice, but lives and enthusiasms and priorities change, as I'm sure you'll agree. My sites will reflect this, as more cities get their churches explored and less Venetian novels seem certain to fascinate.

So I'll sign off with a warm invitation to anyone wishing to share my horizon-broadening in 2018. But if you're happy to stay in Venice I'll see you sometime in 2018 too, no doubt.

Chins up!

Looking forward into 2018, April is looking like a good month for us fans of fiction set in Venice. As ever there's the new Brunetti from Donna Leon, called The Temptation of Forgiveness, but also Philip Gwynne Jones' Vengeance in Venice, the follow-up to
The Venetian Game which was one of 2017's best.


The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that the trip to Florence and Siena mentioned below didn't happen. This was all down to BA cancelling my flight and my not being able to face the queue and the faff of finding another flight, or flights. Or maybe it was simply fate. For by not going to Siena I attended an art lecture I would otherwise have missed. The lecturer there raving about the Rembrandt etchings exhibition at the Norwich Castle museum was timely encouragement for me to spend a few days in Norwich, becoming equally smitten by Rembrandt's etching and the city itself. So, I'm going with fate, and making a brief trip report that I'm calling...
Short trips: Norwich
Then on an evening when I wasn't in Siena I was also moved to search for architecture-themed bed linen on Etsy, and thereby found a spiffy panel of old stained glass (see photo above right) which I bought and which now embellishes my house and life. Further proof that I just wasn't meant to go to Siena, I'm thinking.

Next week I'm off to Florence for a few days, and then to Siena for a few more. Anyway, some Florence-related reading is planned - I might even have a go at The Decameron, but don't take that as a firm promise. I notice that this month has seen new books about Leonardo da Vinci, the Medici and Vasari. Did we need these subjects covered yet again? Well, I sure didn't.

Padua & Verona

Having just added a film called Le Retour de Casanova to the Venice Films page set me to wondering if it would be useful to make a Casanova Films side page, as they don't all have titles beginning with C. And maybe put the books about him on it too. Which made me wonder what other subjects of novels might deserve their own pages. Filippo Lippi has been the subject of a few novels, I realised, so maybe I could combine them and make a Men Famous for Relationships With Nuns page! Or maybe not.

You know how it goes - an author emails you to offer you a review copy of his new novel, and after months of shenanigans involving publishers dithering over delivery, changing their minds, and other hiccups and hesitations, you finally get a copy. And it's 1165 pages long! And to be ahead of the game you need to read and review it before October, when it's published. I'm sure we've all been there. The book is Time's Betrayal by David Adams Cleveland, and as I loved his two previous novels I'm confident it'll be worth the time and muscle pain. Expect a review, but not soon.


Tomorrow we're off to Dublin. Why Dublin? Well, whilst it's not unfair to accuse me of visiting major European art capitals mostly to feed my obsession with Italian art - that being my main reason for visits to Vienna, Liverpool, Birmingham and even Paris in recent years - in this case the main draw is a big Vermeer exhibition - Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting. This is my first visit, to Ireland and Dublin, so ogling of Georgian architecture and literary pilgrimage spots will probably be indulged in too. And then there's The Book of Kells.

A guidebook to Verona has just been published in Germany with one of my photos inside! I tell you this, with scans (see right) not just to blow my own trumpet but to also blow a big raspberry at Brexit - ffftttpppttt!

When I read that Richard Russo's new story collection Trajectory contained a novella-length story set in Venice I was immediately interested, and looking forward to a new story from an author whose previous Venice-set books have been gems. Imagine my disappointment, then, in discovering that the story, called Voice, is just Nate in Venice, read and reviewed four years ago, with a new title. What can I say but 'grrrr'?


‘So, Jeff, what’s happening?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’m off on an art historical tour to Urbino towards the end of next week, and then it’s a biggish gap, trip-wise, until a week in Dublin in August, mostly to see the Vermeer exhibition (which is moving from Paris in June), but the Book of Kells is also a draw, and the city itself, of course. The trip-gap will be used to visit more English cathedrals – my project of 2017. Books-wise there's
 A Trial in Venice being read and the promise of a review copy of Sansovino's Venice by Vaughan Hart, a rare new translation and annotation of the famed guidebook of 1561.

Psst, fancy a good read? Well
in Donna Leon's Earthly Remains and Philip Gwynne Jones' The Venetian Game you'll find that April has already provided a couple of essentials, and my copy of  A Trial in Venice, mentioned below, has just arrived too. In other news, provided by The Venetian Game, it turns out that the long and low arch of striped pipe amongst the chimneys in the oil refinery in Marghera, visible from the Zattere, is called the Arch of Cracking. Who knew?


A couple of new Venice novels with reviews coming soon. Firstly A Trial in Venice by Roberta Rich which sees Hannah, the heroine of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife, return to Venice, and the Ghetto, after some years living in Constantinople. Then there's a novel by Philip Gwynne Jones called The Venetian Game which has a plot involving a prayer book illustrated by Giovanni Bellini. I've also found a 'new' film set in Venice - a musical called The Broadway Gondolier from 1935, starring Dick Powell and Joan Blondell. I doubt there's any location filming but a good deal of the (reportedly preposterous) plot is set in Venice. But firstly to Bologna, tomorrow, for a week.


A quiet February draws to a close and a somewhat hectic March is in prospect. My birthday on the 6th is my 60th and, apart from numerological coincidences, it sees me reach the age when I can get free travel in the whole of London with the 60+ Oyster, cheap fares on train journeys in the whole country with the Senior Railcard, and start receiving my work pension. Hallelujah! The plastic cards for the first two have been acquired and are waiting for action. The process for the last is well progressed too. My birthday is also Michelangelo's and to celebrate his birthday the Accademia Gallery in Florence are introducing a friends' membership scheme, sweetly named The Friends of David! Trips-wise I'm off on the 8th on a guided tour around Medieval Milan, and later in March I'm self-propelling to Bologna. My request for a review copy of the new Donna Leon has as usual fallen on deaf inboxes at Heinemann, it seems, but I'm confident of getting it onto my Kindle by some means, foul or fair. But that's a matter for April, lets celebrate March first.


   A fine cold time was had.

Timothy Williams, the author responsible for the Commissario Trotti series, had the fifth novel in the series reviewed by me in the earliest days of this site. He was not getting published at the time so I championed him by putting up some chapters of the 6th Trotti novel here. He has been comprehensively reprinted since, and at long last Trotti 6 is going to be published, on the 18th of May. I have an advance copy here, so expect a review soon. In other upcoming reviews news... A Florence Diary by Diana Athill and Venice, An Interior by Javier Marías are a pair of slim volumes in the 'personal reminiscence' vein published before Christmas.

Well that's 2016 and its festive period over, and good riddance to both. My lack of festive cheer is due to our cat Peter's illness worsening after Christmas, and us having to make that sad last trip to the vet on the 29th. He was a devoted and affectionate cat who will be sorely missed and warmly remembered. Attempting to lift our gloom we've booked a sudden few days in Venice for later in January, encouraged by those of you who have written recommending the ease and crowdlessness of winter stays. Chins up, then, with wishes for 2017 being a relief after 2016.




click on the links below to read news from
   2007-8   2009-10   2011-12   2013-14   2015-16


Venice // Florence // London // Berlin