The Second Plague Of Venice
They say Venice is at risk of falling into the sea. Visit the city in the height of the tourist season and you won’t find it hard to imagine. The sheer human weight bearing down on the city in the summer seems enough to drive it into the Lagoon.
In this piece, ‘Il Dottor Della Peste’, I’ve brought the 16th Century Plague Doctor, with his unmistakeable midieval gas-mask, out of retirement to battle one last plague. Rising out of the stinking canals of the Old City, he pulls the swarms of sight-seers into the deep.
As I sketched for the piece in Piazza San Marco I couldn’t help but compare the flocks of tourists and the flocks of pigeons; travelling as we were in little gangs, wandering aimlessly to and fro and constantly snacking.
The Plague Doctor costume, a cultural icon in Venice and to a lesser extent in other parts of Europe, caught my eye immediately, and its bird-like quality added a welcome twist of Weird next to the pigeon-people. In the end I substituted the human heads in the sketches for human masks on the pigeons. Human masks on birds has been an intermittent them in my past work, and in this case I found it worked well juxtaposed with the Plague Doctor’s bird mask.
I was in the city for Yuko Shimizu’s 2009 Illustration Workshop, and I made this piece during that week. The brief: “I want you to imagine yourself as a superhero saving the beautiful city of Venice from sinking underwater…”
As far as I can tell, human weight actually has nothing to do with the gradual sinking of Old Venice. The problem seems to be about well-drilling and the quays and so on, but I will leave the faithful depiction of civic engineering to another kind of illustrator.