NABOKV-L post 0012054, Sun, 13 Nov 2005 16:14:53 -0800

Fw: La Veneziana painting
----- Original Message -----
From: Dmitri Nabokov
To: 'D. Barton Johnson'
Sent: Sunday, November 13, 2005 3:06 PM
Subject: FW: La Veneziana painting

Dear Don,
Maxim is right. Among some further details that might be added: La Veneziana (Venetsianka) was written in Russian, mainly in September 1924; the manuscript is dated October 5 of that year. The full title of the painting was Giovane romana detta Dorotea. Painted ca.1512, it may have been seen by VN at what is now the Staatliche Museen in Berlin. The switch to la Veneziana was probably suggested by the possibility that Venice was del Piombo's birthplace. It was most likely both an homage to the artist and a playful hint to the reader. The sobriquet "Del Piombo" -- "of the lead" -- refers to Luciani's employ as maker of (leaden) seals for the Papacy. It is almost certainly the same artist's Ritratto di donna, which is in the Earl of Rador's collection at Longford Castle, to which Nabokov alludes in his brief mention of "Lord Northwick from London, the owner. . . of another painting by the same del Piombo". La Veneziana remained unpublished until my English translation for Penguin in 1995.


EDRESPONSE to Dane Gill re "original" of "La Veneziana". The picture you sent is not the one VN had in mind. Maxim Shrayer, who is an authority on VN's stories, offered the note below in THE NABOKOVIAN and on ZEMBLA

Entering the Otherspace
"Venetsianka" ("La Veneziana," 1924) deserves special attention by the students of Nabokov's early works because it employs elements of the fantastical in order to explore the connections among desire, painting, and the otherworld as sources of artistic inspiration and expression. The longest among the early stories and only recently published in the original, "La Veneziana," like its coevals "The Potato Elf" and "Revenge," is set in England. The main triangle of desire entails one McGore, an old art dealer and an adviser to a rich art collector known as the Colonel, McGore's young wife Maureen, and the Colonel's son Frank. McGore has located a rare fifteenth-century Italian canvas and sold it to the Colonel . The presumed author of the painting, Sebastiano Luciani, called Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547), was a major Renaissance painter of the Venetian School, and Nabokov might have seen del Piombo's famous canvas, Ritratto Femminile ("Dorotea"), in Berlin (Gemaldegalerie, Berlin-Dahlem; the painting appears on the cover of the French edition of Nabokov's early stories to which "La Veneziana" gave its title; see La Venitienne et autres nouvelles, Paris, 1990). The landscape vista in the background of del Piombo's portrait symbolizes an alluring otherspace, that is a space with a dissimilar set of parameters.

While Maureen and Frank are in the midst of a tempestuous affair in the story, Frank's college roommate, one Simpson, also feels an irresistible attraction to Maureen. More so, after looking at the Colonel's new painting, Simpson notices an uncanny resemblance between Maureen and the woman on the canvas. To add to Simpson's fascination, McGore shares a "secret": years of dealing with paintings have taught him that through an act of concentrated will one can enter the space of a given painting and explore it from within. Simpson is equally drawn to Maureen and the Venetian woman in the painting. At night, literalizing McGore's supernatural metaphor, Simpson walks into the space of the portrait where the beautiful Maureen/La Veneziana offers him a lemon. Simpson "grows" into the canvas, becomes part of its painted space. The story's fantastical spring has now almost unwound itself.

"La Veneziana" embodies several key elements to become central to Nabokov's poetics. Afloat in the story's enchanting and elegant syntax, and never fully synthesized and harmonized, these elements call for scrutiny. One should start paying increasing attention to Nabokov's concern with the problem of entering a space whose parameters differ from the regular space enveloping a character. In addition, Nabokov constructs this otherspace to host visually perfect images. In the case of La Veneziana's portrait, the pictorial space of the canvas becomes charged with the features of the stunning and sensuous Maureen. Frank endows his creation with extraordinary perfection to further his love for the original and thereby not repeat Pygmalion's tragic mistake. In contrast to Frank, his friend Simpson falls in love with an image of idealized feminine beauty which appears to him even better than the possessor of this beauty in flesh and blood. Simpson succumbs to the magnetism of the otherworldly pictorial space, which gleams through an opening in his mundane reality. In his consciousness, the image of beauty wins over beauty itself. To put it differently, when Simpson reads the text of the otherspace within the story by gazing deeply at the portrait, he is compelled to become part of that text. During the act of reading, the reader who follows Simpson in his lunatic exploration thus experiences a textual simulacrum of the pictorial space which Simpson transgresses in the story. What we have then is a story, a verbal text, which frames another text-the pictorial text of the otherspace rendered by a linguistic medium-and thereby foregrounds a specific model of its reading.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dane Gill" <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 8:26 AM
Subject: La Veneziana

I sent a very similar email as this one sometime yesterday, however it
supposedly never went through. So, if this is the second time reading about
La Veneziana please ignore.
I have search the net for a copy of the painting that was the
inspiration for the fictitious painting in this short story. The title
DN gives in his notes (The Stories of VN,vintage 2002) is in Italian -
"Giovane romana detta
Doretea" - but I've only come across this painting (see attachment) titled
in English - "Portrait of a Girl". Could somebody please confirm or
deny this?