Saturday, January 30, 2010

Half-Size Gondolas

After the gigantic forcola post, I thought "what better theme to follow up with than tiny gondolas?"

Ok, so they're not tiny by most standards, but they are much smaller than the standard ones which measure out at 11 meters/36 feet long.

Andrew McHardy discovered the enormous oarlock, I've gotta give credit to Tamas Feher for finding these two gems.
They're on the Flickr website in the Arzana collection (in the Squero Battistin section).

click here to link to the first one,

and here for the second one,

then come back and give us your best little puppy-adoring "aaaahhh" - kind of like my daughters do when someone walks by with a newborn baby or a box of kittens.

These are the legendary "half-size gondolas", which are often talked about but hardly ever seen. The ones linked above actually appear smaller than half-size, but they still fall into the same category. Over the years I've had conversations about them with nearly half of the gondola-people I know. Everyone's curious to know more (myself included) and wonders:
a. if an adult could row one,
b. if one could be used for real passenger service,
c. how much one might be worth,

d. how many are there and where are they?

Within the gondola world, a lot of people know of them, but hardly anyone has actually seen one except in photographs.

A half-size gondola is an unusual creation.

Measuring somewhere under twenty feet in length, and quite narrow, they make amazing showpieces. And while they are much smaller than standard gondolas, they are still longer than your average four-door sedan - not something most wives will let their husbands display in the living room.

They were primarily intended for use in parades:
Small boys (usually the sons of gondoliers or boat-builders) would row them while dressed in traditional clothing. Other children would ride inside as passengers.
I'm quite certain that it was the cutest darn thing most Venetians would see all year. I'll bet they made those same puppy-adoring sounds my daughters make.

Most half-size gondolas are quite old, the Tramontins built a handful of them in the early 20th Century. Squero Casal also produced some. Gilberto Penzo's full-size hardback "La Gondola" has a small photo of one being rowed on the lagoon - the boys are in full parade dress and the boat actually has a felze top as well.

The ones in Tamas Feher's links were built by Squero Battistin.

The most recent one I know of was built by Thom Price about eight or nine years ago. It was the only one he built and he did it in a friend's home while on vacation in the U.S.
I have no idea where it is now.

As unique as these pint-sized boats are, their applications are extremely limited. Aside from museum display and parade use, there's not much else they can be used for except in private collections or maybe as decarations at Italian restaurants.

I don't know if they are half as wide as a standard gondola, but judging from the photos I've seen, they are still too narrow to take adult passengers sitting side-by-side. In a community of jockeys maybe, but still, from a stability standpoint, I'd be leary to risk it. One hard lean to starboard and the serene romantic cruise could immediately transform into a spontaneous swimming-lesson.

The one thing a half-size gondola can do though, is separate the "gondola fanatics" from the rest of the population.
When a bunch of people walk into a room and encounter one of these diminutive boats, most of them will just say "hey, I think that's one of those boats from Venice".

But the true "gondola fanatic" will be shocked, amazed, he or she will immediately fall in love with the boat, silently thinking of ways to try and smuggle it out in their coat.

The half-size gondola:
Too small to row, too big to pick up and walk off with.

And one of the cutest things I've ever seen.

To see photos of a half-size gondola in my post from January 19th of 2009, go to:


Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

Gilberto Penzo's site recently posted an ad for a 220cm (7'4") authentic gondola model which once decorated an italian embassy or colsulate in France.

I asked for the price out of curiosity and its a whopping 8.000 euros! Its load capacity is probably enough for a cat couple on honeymoon with a toy terrier at the oar.

Otherwise it's a strange model, being configured as a pre-motorization era "watertaxi", with a shortened passenger compartment and a large cargo hold in front of the poppa gondolier.

Supposedly these boats rowed alongside the Liberty railway bridge for the Mestre to Venice connection.

Gondola Greg said...

I've seen photos of that boat.
It's absolutely gorgeous.
Don't know what I'd do with it, but I'm starting to salivate.

Tamas Feher from Hungary said...

> they are still too narrow to take adult passengers sitting side by side

One real-world possibility would be the little people (a.k.a midgets). Venezia probably has big enough tourism that could keep one or two midget gondoliers in business, rowing half-sized gondolas for midget couples.

If one is just 3'3" tall and cant't even see over the railings of a 33' boat, Venice may not turn out to be such a splendid sight.

René Seindal said...

These small gondolas could in theory be rowed like a sandolo a sbatola, which is to say, like a kayak.

René Seindal said...

Here's a bit about the sandolo a sbatola: