Vincent Price on Titian, Tintoretto, cheap hotels and St Mark’s Square in Venice

I Like What I Know (1959)In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Price reflects back on his two-day stay in Venice in August, 1928…

‘On our itinerary Tour 22 offered no diamond in its glamorous array to touch the hope of Italy. If you’re in love with art, the honeymoon is there. All other art seems distant and a little strange without the eyes of Italy to see it through. You may have scattered affairs with other arts – deep passions, even – but the golden wedding partner is waiting for you at home in Italy.’

‘The moment came. We tool the train to Venice. Continents of natural beauties lay between: the Dolomites, the mountains, lakes, lovely towns. But dreams of Venice blinded me, and I’ll never forget, for all this poetic dreaming, the force with which the squalor of Venice hit me. On a tour like ours – so cheap, so all-inclusive – the economy was hotels. In any language, we found ourselves at the Hotel du Gare… next door to the station. This was an easy way to keep us all together, and to get us off for the next place. For comfort, nothing could compare to them. They had none. The food was miserable, the beds were hard, and the baths so involved and tepid that you almost preferred to stay dirty. But I must say they were good places with which to compare the rest of the surroundings! Almost anything looked glorious, in comparison. All over Europe they were the same – especially in color. Soot. Brown.’

‘Venice, from the station hotel, could be Hoboken with wet pavements. Arriving as we did in the dead of night, one had the suspicion that the advertised beauties of this gem of the Adriatic were elsewhere. Maybe another fourteen-hour train trip away?… Even the Venetian morning light lent little glamour to the scene around the station. You could only hope that such glamorous items such as gondolas did exist, since only some shabby, high-prowed canoes were anchored in front.’

‘Sure enough, Venice did exist. We cruised down the Grand Canal and there was the Rialto, the ‘business end’ of Venus, as some wag had put it. And farther on, the canal became wider and we could see the domes of St Mark’s and the campanile, pointing above everything to that incredible blue sky.’

‘What a wonderful square that is, St Mark’s… and those damned pigeons… and those four glorious horses, prancing on the balcony; then, of course, St Mark’s lion, high on his column, looking back – keeping his eye of the pigeons. The Palace of the Doges and the Bridge of Sighs, and once again the feeling of loss that those glamorous barbarians had moved away, and other times (even if for the better) had forever exiled the pageantry of nobility.’

‘There were two painters on the grand scale who knocked one down: Titian and, again, Tintoretto. Guardi and Canaletto certainly tell us the everyday story of their day in Venice, but Titian, in those majestic portraits, and Tintoretto, in his attempt to populate the Doges Palace with the Heavenly Host itself – sacred and profane – they were the genuine echoes of the glorious past. And Tintoretto had another quality that was almost his alone: he could paint flight. He could make a human being soar through the air, light as a bird, light as light.’

‘Vence was almost too much for a sixteen-year-old, falling in love with art, and the hotel by the station, on the sewer canal, was altogether too much. So I got permission to leave the tour and go to Florence a day ahead of schedule. I took the night train alone, and naturally. I went third class…’

Find out what happened next, tomorrow.



Italy | 3 August 1928

DATE August 3rd 1928
PLACE Venice
This morning was free so everybody went shopping and at lunch everybody was displaying their wares. I am saving my money for Florence. After lunch we went to Lido & went swimming in the Adriatic. I left at 11.55 for Florence so as to get there ahead of time to buy things for the bunch.


Vincent Price Travel Journal 1928 (reproduced courtesy of Peter Fuller)

Vincent Price Travel Journal 1928 (reproduced courtesy of Peter Fuller)

Five lire silver coin 1928The lire was the official currency of Italy from 1861 until 1 January 1999. In 1926, Silver five and 10 lire coins were introduced in 1926, while silver 20 lire coins were added in 1927, the same year that the lira was pegged to the US dolllar at a rate of 1 dollar = 19 lire under Mussolini’s controversial Quota 90. This rate lasted until 1934, with a tourist rate being established in 1936. This five lire coin dates from 1928.

[sic] Although Vincent misspells words in his journal, we have kept them as he wrote them.

Italy | 1-2 August 1928

Milan_Collage_2DATE August 1st 1928
PLACE Milan, Venice
Today we left Lugano & passed thru the Italian border into Itay. We ate Lunch at Milan & then went to see the marvelous Cathedral then to the small chapel where the ‘Last Supper’ is [1]. It is gorgeous. Then catching the train again we went to Venice. After a hectic hot ride we arrived in Venice at 8.30. We had a miserable hotel far from the heart of town & had Supper there. Went for a gondola ride after & heard the music boats. Sleeping almost impossible on account of heat.

US baseball star Babe Ruth hits his 42nd home run and is four weeks ahead of his 1927 pace. He ended the season with 54 home runs, which would be the fourth (and last) time he hit 50 home runs in a season. In October, Ruth and the New York Yankees had a World Series rematch with Vincent’s home team, the St Louis Cardinals, who had upset them in the 1926 series. The Yankees demolished the Cards in four games.

venice_postcard_1928DATE August 2nd
PLACE Venice
Today was unbearably hot and they picked a walking tour around the city. Hardly anybody went. Helen, Lucy, Elizabeth & I went downtown alone. Some-body invited us to the glass factory, it was very interesting & then they took us to see how they made lace. Then we went in St Marks which is very ornate, but beautiful & saw the stone on which the transfiguration took place & another on which St John was beheaded. Saw Madonna of the Golden Foot. This afternoon we went in Gondolas to the Cathedral where Titian is buried & there Canova is also. Titan’s Assumption is there & Donelli’s Madonna two of the most beautiful in the world [2]. Another moonlit evening in gondalas.

Italy’s fascist prime minister Benito Mussolini signs peace treaty with Abyssinia (Ethiopia).


Santa Maria dei Frari as it is today

1_August 1928

Vincent Price Travel Journal 1928 (reproduced courtesy of Peter Fuller)

Santa Maria delle Grazie[1] The 15-century church and Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace) is a UNESCO World Heritage sites. The church contains the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, which is in the refectory of the convent.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari[2] Vincent is talking about St Mary of the Friars (Santa Maria dei Frari). This 13th-century church is one of the finest in venice, housing many masterpieces of Venetian Renaissance art, notably Giovanni Bellini’s triptych Madonna and Child with Saints, and the Pesaro Madonna by Titian, who is buried in the church.

[sic] Although Vincent misspells words in his journal, we have kept them as he wrote them.