In Venice

Inspired by Thomas Mann's classic novella, John Piper's Death In Venice (1973) print portfolio explores Mann's narrative and the haunting allure of Venice through a series of ten evocative screen prints. With a blend of darkness and beauty, Piper delves into the city's mysterious atmosphere and reflects on mortality and desire.

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Meaning & Analysis

Death In Venice is a 1973 portfolio of ten original screen prints by John Piper. It takes inspiration from Thomas Mann's famous novella of the same name, reflecting the sombre and melancholic atmosphere of the literary work through a series of prints that explore the themes of decay, isolation, and the fleeting nature of beauty.

The book, Death In Venice by Thomas Mann follows the protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach, as he becomes obsessed with a young boy named Tadzio during his stay in Venice. Aschenbach's infatuation leads to his physical and emotional deterioration, ultimately resulting in his death in the city he had come to adore. Suitably, Piper's prints in this portfolio are characterised by their muted colour palette and abstract, fragmented forms. The use of earth tones and subtle greys creates a sense of desolation and decay, mirroring the decaying Venice portrayed in Mann's novella. The fragmented forms, often resembling crumbling architecture and eroded landscapes, convey a sense of disintegration and impermanence.

The prints in Death In Venice exteriorise the isolation and introspection of the main character, Gustav von Aschenbach, through the bleak quality of their scenery. Suggestive of Aschenbach's gradual degeneration is his increasing attraction to the city's beauty, which Piper portrays bleakly, through compositions featuring large empty spaces, suggesting a sense of solitude and introspection. This emptiness also serves to emphasize the transitory nature of beauty and the fleetingness of human existence.

As ever, Piper's mastery of printmaking enhances the ambience of his portfolio; his choice of print medium adds depth and texture to the portfolio. He employs etching and aquatint to create rich tonal variations and intricate details, further enhancing the evocative nature of the prints. The textured surfaces, combined with the subdued colour palette, evoke a sense of age and weathering, reinforcing the themes of decay and transience.

Death In Venice is a poignant print portfolio in which John Piper skilfully captures the essence of Thomas Mann's novella. Through his evocative prints, Piper invites the viewer to contemplate the fragility of life, the inevitable decay of beauty, and the existential questions that arise in the face of mortality. The portfolio serves as a visual meditation on the themes of the original work, presenting a thought-provoking exploration of human existence and the power of art to evoke deep emotions.