NABOKV-L post 0008752, Thu, 16 Oct 2003 10:04:49 -0700

Fw: La Veneziana painting
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

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

> Hello
> 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
> 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
> Doretea" - but I've only come across this painting (see attachment)
> in English - "Portrait of a Girl". Could somebody please confirm or deny
> this?
> _________________________________________________________________
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