1922–1923Oil on cardboard66 × 51 cmEnn Kunila art collection

On this painting, among others, Mägi turns his interest to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and its church, which is a central feature of the painting. There is no precise reason for such a serial interest – Mägi never mentioned the church in his letters or notes. It is possible that he was inspired by a series by Claude Monet (1908), where the artist also depicts San Giorgio Maggiore on several paintings – Monet exhibited the series for the first time in late May 1912 in Paris and Mägi was just leaving the city at that point. Was he still in Paris and had he seen the exhibit, which had attracted great interest? We do not know.

Mägi probably painted this scene from a gondola, producing a sketch and later, in Tartu, a painting based on it. Similarly to other views of Venice (and Monet’s series) not a soul can be seen on the painting, despite the summer season being in full swing.

It is possible that the motif was chosen because of aesthetic preoccupations, but we can also point to the vertical motif that recurs in Mägi’s works, especially in his Saaremaa and Venetian landscapes. In Vilsandi, he depicts the local lighthouse in a series, while in Venice, he paints the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and its bell tower. In this work, Mägi chose a vertical format, which was generally very rare in his landscape views. Mägi had depicted church towers in the past – a spire-like structure can be discerned in some paintings from Otepää, Kihelkonna and Capri. It cannot be confidently said that the depiction of vertical objects and steeples serves a symbolic or literary purpose — they are probably there to imbue the composition with rhythm, their potential meanings have been left unexplored and they have been used solely in an aesthetic manner.

Yet this work and several other Venice paintings contain another odd vertical object: a black cross on the left margin. The cross already features in the sketch, so it cannot be a later addition, and the fact that Mägi added it twice rules out that it was just an impulsive act. There is no such symbol on the painting of San Giorgio Maggiore executed by Austrian painter Carl Moll that same year.