I had the recent pleasure of reading and reviewing The Gondola Maker, by Laura Morelli. Her book is an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in the past culture of Venice and Italian arts. In addition to writing this historical fiction novel, Ms. Morelli has a series of travel books about Italy. They’re full of interesting facts, insider tidbits, and fabulous photography.
Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More is a handy guide to everything a shopper and traveler needs to know while visiting this city on the water.
It’s divided into sections by topic, and begins with a chapter teaching the reader how to shop in Venice. How does one know if a piece of art is authentic, and what is a fair price for various items? What questions should one ask an artisan before purchasing their wares, and what is the best way to send the new treasures home?
In addition to answering these typical questions that might arise during a Venetian shopping trip, the author gives a short art history lesson about each of the topics. For example, in the chapter on Murano lace, there is information about sixteenth century lace pattern books, and historical designs. She even goes as far as describing how the lace is made.
I found the chapter on masks fascinating, especially the section on a particular style worn by the Plague Doctor, or medico della peste. My favorite chapter is the one on paper and bookmaking, in which the author writes about the techniques used to produce marbelized paper and customized bindings. She even suggests taking a small class with an artisanal bookmaker if you wish to delve deeper into this topic. I think that’s something I’ll have to add to my bucket list.
In addition to her marvelous books, Laura Morelli has an art history blog that I highly recommend. Her articles are short and interesting anecdotes covering all sorts of things you may or may not find in her books. Reading her books and following her blog will make you feel like an expert in Italian arts.
About Laura Morelli
Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.
Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.
Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.
If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy my review of another Authentic Arts book by Laura Morelli.