Why did a giant violin pass through Venice this weekend?

The city of Venice in northern Italy is a world leader in crafts, from mask making to glassblowing. The pandemic, however, has been devastating for many artisans and businesses. On Saturday, an oversized wooden violin floated down the canals of Venice in a message of renewal and hope for the city’s artistic industries.

Even before the pandemic, artisans in Venice suffered from the influx of cheap imitation goods flooding local souvenir shops. Then, the catastrophic high tides of November 2019 wreaked havoc, in particular for the Murano glass workshops where the rising water required the stopping of the ovens. The pandemic, however, sounded the death knell for many small independent businesses. The sudden shortage of visitors resulted in decimated sales of artisan products. Businesses deemed “non-essential” have been closed for months. Then, when they were able to reopen, the coronavirus regulations were reductive and unmanageable for some. Glassblowers, for example, had no choice but to ignore regulations requiring objects to be disinfected every time they passed from worker to worker as well as the mask’s mandate.

With the return of a certain sense of normality and the increase in the number of visitors during the summer, Venice is now ready for its revival. However, the city is determined to forge a new identity that leaves behind its reputation as an overcrowded and chaotic tourist Disneyland. Celebrating and promoting historic and new craftsmanship is essential for this new model.

A colossal floating violin was hoping to underscore that message this weekend. It was a surreal scene as the 39-foot-long instrument gently sailed the canals of Venice. Balancing on the violin’s shiny wooden surface was a string quartet (barefoot for a better grip) playing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. The instrument and music were chosen to honor the composer born in Venice.

The ship was named “Noah’s Violin” by its creator, Livio De Marchi, recalling the hope and salvation of the biblical ark. The Venetian artist, known for his extraordinary wooden creations, planned the craft of the violin during lockdown last year. This is a larger scale replica of a real violin made from several different types of wood and with an internal motor. Being an unusual shape for a boat, it took a lot of experimentation to make it seaworthy.

The stringed craft sailed the Grand Canal in Venice accompanied by a flotilla of gondolas, another artisanal product whose makers have been punished by the pandemic. The trip was relatively straightforward, with only a small hiccup of a musical score flying out of a medium, though quickly saved from the water. The trip symbolically ended at the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, a Baroque extravaganza commissioned to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for the city’s deliverance from the plague in 1630.

Performances like De Marchi’s gargantuan violin are essential to show the value and importance that the city places on its artisans. It elevates craft activities and helps attract them to tourists’ radars. This weekend, at least, Venice hit the right note.