Axmatova's "Venecija" (1912) and the Venetian Veduta

Kelly Miller, University of Michigan

"Venecija," a poem Axmatova wrote following her return from a tour of Italy in 1912, contains numerous literary and pictorial subtexts that have not yet been identified. These subtexts point to a solution for the oblique painting allusion in the poem ("Kak na drevnem, vycvetshem xolste") and, in turn, disclose the organizing principle behind the poem itself. "Venecija" deserves close attention not only because it offers a significant example of Axmatova's approach to painting, but also because it participates in a long tradition of Russian poetry on Venice. In particular, Axmatova's "Venecija" reflects Russian poets' preoccupation with the symbiotic relationship between the actual city of Venice and its artistic representations. Indeed, the overarching subtext at work in this poem is the veduta, a genre of eighteenth-century Italian landscape painting, popularized most notably by Canaletto during the era of the Grand Tour. A reading of "Venecija" in the context of the veduta (and early twentieth-century art historical literature that provides mediating commentary) reveals the poem's hidden design, inspired by the following features of the veduta: its striking combination of the minute and the grandiose; its focus on major architectural monuments and points of touristic interest; and its prompting of the viewer's emotional response to the landscape through careful control of the depiction of atmosphere. Axmatova's portrayal of Venice manifests both an acmeist attraction to the visual arts and a tendency to reduce monumental works of art, especially architectural structures, to manageable size, capable of being absorbed into the viewer's personal experience and memory. The veduta thus offers Axmatova a valuable visual model for miniaturizing and thus refashioning Venice in her poetry. In order to craft her laconic vision of the city, Axmatova draws upon a number of verbal texts, including poems on Venice by Aleksandr Blok and Vjacheslav Ivanov, and travel literature, including Pavel Muratov's Obrazy Italii and Vasilij Rozanov's Ital'janskie vpechatlenija.