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Venice was unique among major Italian cities in having no classical past of its own. As such, it experienced the Renaissance in a manner quite different from that of Florence or Rome. In this pathbreaking book, Patricia Fortini Brown focuses on Venice's Golden Agefrom the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuryand shows how it was influenced by antiquity, by its Byzantine heritage, and by its own historical experience.
Drawing on such remains of vernacular culture as inscriptions, medals, and travelers' accounts, on more learned humanist and antiquarian writings, and most important, on the art of the period, Brown explores Venice's evolving sense of the past. She begins with the late Middle Ages, when Venice sought to invent a dignified civic past by means of object, image, and text. Moving on to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, she discusses the collecting and recording of antiquities and the incorporation of Roman forms and motifs into Venice's Byzantine and Gothic urban fabric. She notes, as well, the emergence of a new imperializing rhetoric in its historical writing. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, Brown observes the personal appropriation of classical motifs and prerogatives to celebrate not only the state, but also the individual and the family, and the fabrication of a lost world of pastoral myth and archaeological fantasy in art and vernacular literature. Through the adoption of a literary and architectural vocabulary of classical antiquity in the sixteenth century, civic Venice is shown to claim for itself an identity that is universalizing as well as unique. Brown thus weaves the visual arts into a tapestry of historical and aesthetic sensibilities that embrace both the public and private spheres and the "high" and so-called "minor" arts, giving voice to those who created and participated in the culture that was Renaissance Venice.
|Publisher:||Yale University Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||8.75(w) x 11.25(h) x (d)|
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Read an Excerpt
There are two Venices. One is that of which the ancient histories speak, extending from the confines of Pannonia up to the river Adda. Its capital is the city of Aquileia, in which the Holy evangelist Mark, illuminated by divine grace, preached the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ. The other is that Venice which is situated in the insular zone in the gulf of the Adriatic, where the water flows between island and island, in a splendid position, pleasantly inhabited by a numerous people. This people, from what we know from their name and from the annals, draws its origin from the first Venice.
John the Deacon, early eleventh century
Thus begins the earliest surviving Venetian chronicle (Plate 10). Addressing without apologies the delicate question of Venice's obscure beginnings, the chronicler goes on to explain that inhabitants of the first Venice, led by the patriarch of Aquileia and carrying their most holy relics, sought refuge on the island of Grado at the time of the Longobard invasions in the sixth century. Migration continued over the next century to eleven other islands in the lagoon:
Thus they gave to these islands the name of Venice, from whence they came, and those who live in these islands today call themselves Venetici. Eneti, although in Latin it has one more letter, is a name that derives from the Greek and signifies "worthy of praise." After these [immigrants] decided to establish their residence in these islands, they constructed some well fortified castles and cities, and in such a way they recreated a new Venice and altogether anexcellent province.
John the Deacon thereby established a genealogy and an etymology for the second Venice: probably the only major city in medieval Italy that could not boast of a Roman foundation. Its extraordinary mode of settlement matched by its singular setting, it could now, moreover, trace its ecclesiastical authority directly back to apostolic origins in the person of St. Mark the Evangelist.
For another three centuries the Venetian sense of time and space would be dominated by the necessity to invent a civic past. This demand engendered strategies both textual and monumental, infiltrating chronicles and histories of the city and influencing the articulation of the urban environment.
A BORROWED PAST
A major aspect of the monumental approach involved the fabrication of a web of visual allusions to an antique or early Christian past. Such a tendency has already been noted in the thrice-built church of San Marco, constructed in the ninth century, and reconstructed in the tenth and again in the eleventh centuries, on the model of the sixth-century Apostoleion of Constantinople (Plate II). It is surely no coincidence that the Venetian doge Domenico Contarini initiated construction on the third church of San Marco around 1063 during precisely the same period that Pisa, a rival maritime power, began to build its new cathedral. But Venice, without an equivalent Roman foundation to boast of, looked back once more to the less ancient, but more pious tradition of early Byzantium. Contarini's architects would have been working with a remarkably serviceable model that was by then five hundred years old. The church is, in the view of Otto Demus, the earliest still visible instance of a deliberate architectural archaism in Venice. But it would be misleading to attribute both echo and re-echoes to the same motivations, for Venice was still closely tied to the Byzantine Empire in the ninth century, while two hundred years later she had become politically and economically independent. It is thus probable that the first replication was intended primarily to claim political legitimacy (by emulating an imperial palatine model for the state church) and the later ones to imply antiquity and ecclesiastical authority (by claiming preeminence in conserving and continuing the ancient Christian past).
With the growth of a Venetian national church centered at San Marco, St. Mark took on an ever more politically determined role in state iconography. A handful of coins and ducal seals bear mute, but eloquent, testimony to his upward trajectory in civic symbolism. The earliest imagery was impersonal and generic, with a denaro of c.855-80 featuring the schematic facade of a church encircled with the inscription "Christe salva Venecias." Only in the period 1056-1125, more than two centuries after the arrival of his relics in Venice, was St. Mark himself portrayed on a coin, now in company with an enthroned Christ on the reverse. By the time of Doge Pietro Polani (1130-48), Mark has replaced Christ as the dominus of the city. He sits enthroned on a ducal seal and hands over his vexillum to the standing doge. No longer simply a protector and patron, the saint is now an essential figure in the political chain of command with the doge his earthly delegate and standard-bearer.
The remade basilica was decorated during this period with mosaics based on Byzantine imperial models. The twelfth-century mosaic in the presbytery depicting the Reception of the Relics of St. Mark by the Doge owes an obvious debt to the sixth-century Dedication Mosaic of Emperor Justinian in San Vitale in Ravenna (Plates 12-13). Such an emulation may be ascribed to the authority of ongoing tradition, or it may be, as Demus suggests, "part of a consciously archaistic political tendency" inspired by the need to create a national past. In all likelihood, it was due neither completely to one nor to the other, but to an intertanglement of both motivations.
In the later eleventh century, two outside observers had already interpreted the Venetian message (whether gained from written or visual sources) in terms of rebirth and filiation. St. Peter Damian proclaimed Venice both "a reborn Aquileia," by virtue of her possession of St. Mark's relics, and a daughter of Rome by reason of affinity between those relics and St. Peter, the prince of the Apostles. Pope Gregory VII expanded on the theme by praising Venice's liberty, which she had received ab antiqua from her Roman roots. If the Byzantine character of San Marco was recognized as something alien to the Latin tradition, it posed no hindrance to either writer in reaching back further into the western past and defining the Republic of Venice as a rightful successor to Rome as an apostolic city true and proper.
A PRIMEVAL PAST
And yet, with their fortunes on the ascendant, Venetians were not content with a borrowed past. Venice had begun building her powerful trading empire in the Levant in the eleventh century. She consolidated her position in the twelfth by establishing permanent Venetian colonies on islands throughout the Aegean. These outposts would function in turn as centers for even more rapid expansion following the territorial gains made after the Fourth Crusade and the conquest of Constantinople in 1204. As Venice grew into an imperial power, her ruling class would continue to refine an already impressive civic image and her chroniclers would revise the historical record many times over.
Already in the twelfth century, a new sense of the city's identity had begun to appear in the chronicles in terms of its place in time and of its place in the larger world. John the Deacon's elegant, but austere (and basically accurate) model of lagoon immigration as a consequence of Longobard invasions no longer sufficed. The Origo civitatum italie seu venetiarum (also known as the Chronicon Altinate and the Chronicon Gradense) now offered a more richly articulated and satisfyingly detailed account of a primitive foundation of the city in the pre-Christian and pre-Roman past. The Origo, whose authors are not known, is as much a process as a single text. Weaving together themes that had appeared in yet earlier chronicles of the ninth and tenth centuries, it appeared in a first redaction around 1081 and underwent at least two revisions by the end of the twelfth century. Giorgio Cracco defines it as a "choral" work, adding that, as such, it may be regarded as "a more faithful mirror of the current mentality of cultivated Venetians."
Three themes in the Origo are particularly revealing of a developing historical consciousness within the ruling elite. First, Venetian roots push down more deeply into the past into primeval times when men still lived in woods and caves. The chronicler begins his account with Orpheus, who charmed uncivilized men with his eloquence and taught them how to live together in cities. The first such city was Troy, named for his grandson Troilus. But this intriguing notion, which seems to have no foundation in any classical text, was only a preface to the issue at hand: the revelation that the city of Venice was a direct linear descendent of this most ancient city of all. For the inhabitants of the first Venice were now held to be of noble Trojan ancestry, with a famous founding father in the person of Antenor, "who had by the shore entered the lagoon with seven galleys, and in that place built the city named Aquilegia, because it was bound by waterways." The tribal name of the freedom-loving Venetici or Eneti never subject to any foreign power also received an appropriately expanded etymology; it was now said to be derived from Aeneas. Admittedly, claims of a Trojan heritage were common to many cities in the medieval and Renaissance period. But in the case of Venice, the Trojan myth could serve two particular objectives. On the one hand, with civic roots as deep as civilization itself, Venice was already formulating a paradigm of primeval consensus and harmony the benefits of the civil life that would become part of the "myth of Venice." But on the other, with a distinguished Trojan pedigree, the groundwork was also laid for universalist pretensions that would be played out during Venice's rise to empire.
The second theme involves the cultivation of Venice's Christian roots. The destruction of Aquileia and antiqua Venecia was pushed back a century and given a richer, if often muddled, chronology. Instead of the Longobards, it was now the "impious pagan named Attila, most savage, with a great army," who had driven the Christian descendants of the original Trojan settlers from their homes in the cities of the terraferma, to take refuge in wood huts on uninhabited islands at the edge of the lagoon. By giving Attila, Flagellum Dei, precedence over the Arian Longobards, the chroniclers could now distinguish the Venetians as specifically Christian refugees, fleeing unambiguously pagan hordes (Plate 14).
During the historical caesura between the total destruction of Aquileia and the seventh-century foundation of the city of Heraclea as the first political capital of the second Venice, the refugees lived on Grado and the other islands, just as Cassiodorus had seen them: humbly, simply, and by the toil of their hands. With Grado identified as Nova Aquileia an equation that had not been accepted by John the Deacon the second Venice could rightfully inherit all the jurisdictions, especially the ecclesiastical, from the first. Thus the foundation of the second Venice on the eleven islands of the lagoon was not just a continuation of the migration, but a legitimate rebirth. It was also, according to the Origo, divinely sanctioned. The people of Altino, uncertain as to where they should flee, heard a voice from the heavens: "Go up into the tower and look towards the stars." From the tower they saw the island of Torcello, and, taking refuge there, at first called it Turris in memory of the vision, and later Torcello.
Finally, these early immigrants now have identities. For the Origo places a notable emphasis on lineage, with the founding families themselves given an ancient past and written into the history of the city. While John the Deacon had named only high political and ecclesiastical figures, there are now inventories of several hundred names. Their diverse origins were clearly a source of pride, for each family was listed with its original homeland. The chronicler began with the earliest stock, who had settled the mainland territories of the first Venice, presumably along with the descendants of the Trojans. To cite only a few: the Candiani from Candia; the Ystoli from Este; the Barbolani from Parma; the Centranici from Cesena; the Silvi from Bergamo. Others came from Reggio, Garda, Grado, Fano, Forli, Ferrara, Florence, Mantua, Gaeta, Capodistria, Noale, Capua, Cattaro, Pisa, Salerno, Calabria, Adria, Pola, Cremona, Trieste, Bologna, Ravenna, and, of course, Mestre. The inventory continued, extending well beyond the shores of the Italian peninsula. The chronicler concludes: "For all these most ancient and noble Venetici, whom we have named one by one, were from the stock of their men of old, as we have mentioned; but then they came together in antiqua Venecia from diverse provinces; building castra, there they remained."
This first migration was only a preface to the second, for the lists resume. Accounting for some 115 families, many of them repetitions from the earlier migration, the chronicler observes:
For all these, whom we have recorded by name, who left Cittanova Eracliana [Eraclea] and Padua, came to live in Malamocco and Rialto, and many other men with them whom we are unable to name; they made and built many beautiful churches in all the squares of the island that is now called Malamocco or constructed houses with all their ornament.
The focus then shifts to the new city and to the great landlords who had contributed so much to its spiritual patrimony. For example:
The Valeressi and the Pipini, having much [wealth], were protectors of the body of St. Martin the Confessor. Joining together with other neighbors, they built a church in his honor; and also through their influence in this church of God [they built] a scuola in honor of St. Michael the Archangel and of St. Vito the Martyr; and in that place [provided] gold and silver for their welfare, for the tithe that they established in perpetuity.
Here is the first vivid sense in Venetian historiography that the city is defined as a community of men. This model of collective genealogy will reappear again and again in Venetian chronicles. With the great compendia of patrician and cittadino families of the sixteenth century, it would become an established independent genre in itself. The paradigm is quite different from Florence, where families typically kept their own personal diaries, called ricordanze. In Venice, the history of an individual family was typically to be told only in short notices and only in the context of the entire polity. As the eighteenth-century historian Marco Foscarini observed: "Thus it seems that to our ancients it was enough to have that single memory of their ancestors that was conserved in public documents, from which then in these last centuries entire genealogies were composed."
The sense of historical destiny and the ideal of community expressed in the Origo had their counterparts in the visual and building arts of the period. Indeed, similar ideas may well have inspired the development of the urban center around San Marco. Begun in the 1160s, and carried out in several phases, the architectural elaboration of the piazza area took a century to complete. But at least two major components were in place before 1204. First, the piazza in front of San Marco was enlarged and linked to the area now called the Piazzetta to the south of the church. The resulting L-shaped space was not only the earliest civic square in Italy, but also the largest by far. Second, a communal palace was constructed on the south side of the doge's residence. Begun under Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-8), it would eventually be joined by seventeen others that were built in towns on the mainland over the next forty years. But, like the piazza, the Venetian communal palace was the first of its kind.
Ziani was something of a "new man," whose surname was not listed in the Origo among the ancient tribunal families. He had made his fortune in trade and financial dealings and owned considerable real estate in the city. According to Marin Sanudo, writing in the late fifteenth century, Ziani's great wealth had been based upon an archaeological discovery: "he was rich; he found, it is said, a basin of solid gold in Altino." But his finest moment a triumph that would later be enshrined as one of the iconic events of Venetian history was his role in the Peace of Venice of 1177, where he served as a mediator between Pope Alexander III and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the signing of a treaty. By the mid-fourteenth century, this episode had grown considerably in the telling, with Venice's participation given a more heroic tone than it deserved. And yet, later hyperbole should not diminish the importance of the moment as experienced in its own time. The Historia Ducum Veneticorum, written within the lifetime of witnesses to the event, presented an impressive picture of Venetian diplomatic spectacle. To the unnamed writer of the chronicle, one of its most noteworthy features was the attendance of a great number of dignitaries from throughout Europe. Through her role as mediatrix, Venice was able to proclaim her sovereignty and also to claim a certain equivalence to pope and emperor the two great world powers. Venice was now playing a role on an international stage, even though such a role was still at this point more ceremonial than substantive. Asserting her spiritual credentials as a faithful daughter of the Roman Church under the special protection of St. Mark, Venice could also establish herself as a lover of peace, appropriate to a direct linear descendent of the pacific Orpheus of the Origo.
A STOLEN PAST
The conciliatory moments of 1177 would soon be overtaken by the bellicose events of 1204, when Venice joined with the Franks in the Fourth Crusade (Plate 15). The enterprise had begun in 1201 with the high and holy purpose of regaining the Holy Land from the infidel. But moved by greed and politics, the crusaders ignored a papal ban of excommunication and detoured instead to Constantinople. Their initial aim was relatively limited: to restore the young pretender Alexius IV to the throne, a service for which they would be paid the handsome reward of 200,000 marks of silver. Within six months of his coronation in Hagia Sophia, however, Alexius was deposed and murdered, and the crusaders had been paid only half the promised sum. The crusaders seized the moment. After a savage three-day sack of the city in April 1204, Count Baldouin IX of Flanders was elected the first Latin emperor of Constantinople and a Venetian patriarch was installed at Hagia Sophia.
The illusion of 1177 had become a reality: Venice was now a well grounded imperial power, with dominion over three-eighths of the former Byzantine Empire. By the time the Greeks retook the capital in 1261, an already established Venetian colonial trading empire was further entrenched in the East. Their share of the booty of 1204 estimated at 500,000 marks of silver alone, the Venetians loaded their galleys with a fortune in material spoils marbles, relief sculpture, architectural fragments, mosaic tesserae, reliquaries, and precious objects with which to enrich the Treasury of San Marco and to embellish the city center. Indeed, the Torcello relief of Kairos, the personification of Opportunity, might well be considered the icon of the moment. It was again time to recast the civic image and to rewrite the civic past. A new sense of Venice's place in history and in the world was destined to emerge.
For nearly four decades, our present-day understanding of thirteenth-century Venice has been enriched and, indeed, dominated by two important paradigms: Gina Fasoli's formulation of a "myth of Venice," a compelling image of an ideal republic born and continuing to flourish under divine providence always free, but secure; wealthy, but pious and just; peace-loving, but also a militant defender of liberty and a faithful daughter of the Roman church; and Otto Demus's compelling thesis of a politically inspired renovatio imperii christiani in art and architecture.
Demus's argument centers on the fabrication of a fictive early Christian past for the Basilica of San Marco through the deployment of late antique and early Byzantine elements in its decoration. Some of these elements were re-used spoils true and proper ill-gotten gains of the Fourth Crusade but others were newly made imitations. These fictitious historical artifacts, whether extensively reworked originals or clever replicas of fifth- or sixth-century prototypes, ranged from obvious copies to totally convincing fakes.
Given the dependence of the thirteenth-century renovatio on imported spolia, the degree of intentionality remains an open question. Was the early Christian look simply a matter of availability of spoils rather than of conscious choice? What objects did the crusaders destroy or leave behind in Constantinople? And what were the criteria for selection and eventual use? Were the imported objects chosen for their utility, for their rarity, for their beauty, for their holiness, for their Christian (as opposed to pagan) iconography, or simply for their antiquity? Or if, as seems likely, all these things mattered, was there a hierarchy of selection? In sum, what was the Venetian sense of this particular past?
Any attempt to answer such questions must begin in Constantinople. There may have been as many as one hundred antique statues of Roman provenance in the city at the time of the Fourth Crusade. To many of the Christian population, even persons of imperial rank, these simulacra of bronze and marble were thought to be still inhabited by demons; they were thus to be dealt with cautiously. In times of crisis they could become powerful allies or treacherous opponents, and, as the Byzantine chronicler Niketas Choniates attests, fear could overtake judiciousness. In 1203 as the crusaders' fleet approached the Golden Horn, the citizenry attacked a monumental statue of Athena that had stood for centuries in the Forum of Constantine. Over fourteen meters tall, with her right arm extended, it "appeared to the foolish rabble that she was beckoning on the Western armies." The mob pulled down the statue and smashed it to pieces: "they discarded the patroness of manliness and wisdom even though she was but a symbol of these." And yet, Choniates deplored their actions not because they were motivated by superstition, but because they were based upon a misconception; the goddess, he declared, was looking toward the south and not the west whence the Western armies came.
The Franks and the Venetians would have been no less credulous. After they took the city, "the Latins resolved to overturn the celebrated ancient palladia of the City stationed along the wall and fosse to ward off the enemy ... especially those which had been set up against their race." With much of the city devastated by wild fires, Choniates painted a succession of scenes of terrible destruction: "Not a single structure was spared by these barbarians who were borne by the Fates and hated the beautiful."
Bronze statues were particularly at risk, not necessarily because they were pagan idols, but because of the preciousness of their material. Among the pieces consigned to the smelting furnace and minted into coins were a bronze Hera, so large that it took four yokes of oxen to cart away her head; a mechanical device in the shape of a bronze pyramid decorated with laughing Erotes, warbling birds, and bleating sheep and lambs; and a statue of Hercules, "so large that it took a cord the size of a man's belt to go round the thumb, and the shin was the size of a man." Choniates described eighteen bronzes in all that were melted down, but there must have been many more. By 1411 when Manuel Chrysoloras gave his account of Constantinople in the Comparison of Old and New Rome, he could remember a number of empty columns that once held statues, but only a handful of surviving sculptures (Plate 16).
Nor were Christian objects exempt. Choniates lamented:
These forerunners of the Antichrist, chief agents and harbingers of his anticipated ungodly deeds, seized as plunder the precious chalices and patens; some they smashed, taking possession of the ornaments embellishing them.... [In Hagia Sophia] the table of sacrifice, fashioned from every kind of precious material and fused by fire into one whole blended together into a perfection of one multicolored thing of beauty, truly extraordinary and admired by all nations was broken into pieces and divided among the despoilers as was the lot of all the sacred church treasures, countless in number and unsurpassed in beauty.
One sees here the foundation of the Treasury of San Marco.
It is hard to know if Franks and Venetians were equally responsible for the depredations. But Choniates repeated a popular notion that the Venetians as descendants of the Trojans destroyed a bronze statue of Helen, "who had enslaved every onlooker with her beauty," in revenge for the burning of Troy: "It was said that these Aeneadae condemned you to the flames as retribution for Troy's having been laid waste by the firebrand because of your scandalous amours." Choniates himself, however, saw greed, not high-minded morality or ancestral piety as the motivation: "But the gold-madness of these men does not allow me to conceive and utter such a thing, for that madness was the reason why rare and excellent works of art everywhere were given over to total destruction."
That the four horses of San Marco, once in the Hippodrome of Constantinople (and possibly the bronze Lion of St. Mark on the column of the Piazzetta), are the only large bronzes to be transported to Venice is thus not surprising. That they survived at all testifies to their powerful effect on the Venetians, where wonder and perhaps awareness of their symbolic potential in a Venetian setting overrode greed. But aside from exceptional works such as the horses or the four porphyry Tetrarchs, what else was taken as booty? Apart from relief sculpture and church treasures, the bulk of the spolia was simply building material: marble columns and capitals, glass mosaic tesserae, bits of decorative friezes. If spolia were to be assessed according to their potential as bearers of meaning, political and otherwise, these items might fall into a neutral category capable of open readings and multiple interpretations. Indeed, many years of profitable trading experience had given the Venetians an eye for quality; they knew that beautiful material in itself had meaning. They thus lost no time in stripping the west facade of Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Wisdom of God, of its exquisite grey and white Proconessian marble revetment. Made up of thin slabs sliced from a single block, its veined patterns formed a series of watery mirror images. At least the church was left standing. Other buildings did not fare so well, for the Venetians found in St. Polyeuctus a convenient alternative source for equally fine marble. The church had been built in the sixth century by the sister of Justinian, the Princess Anicia Juliana (462-528). Probably intended to emulate the Temple of Solomon, it was once the largest and most sumptuous church in Constantinople next to Hagia Sophia, but was already abandoned by the end of the twelfth century. The Venetians contributed to its demolition, carrying away columns, piers, capitals, and the so-called pilastri acritani or Pillars of Acri.
If Choniates is a reliable witness, Byzantines thought of themselves as Romans and to them Constantinople was still the new Rome. There is no evidence to indicate that Venetians thought any differently or that they had a strong sense of the separateness of pagan artifacts from those of the succeeding Christian period. As will be suggested further on, their own claims to historical identity were yet more ambitious. It may well be true that Roman (pagan) stones from the mainland went into foundations, while Byzantine stones were chosen for decorative ensembles, but the reasons for this may be more arbitrary than programmatic. Since Byzantine sculptors specialized in low-relief carving and made few sculptures in high-relief or in the round, most of the architectural elements available for removal such as transennae and structural elements, and useful for recycling in Venice, would have come from Byzantine buildings. And at least to the crusaders, monumental freestanding bronzes may well have been less useful as statues, however antique, than as coins. Thus, the early Christian, rather than antique Roman, look of the Venetian renovatio may well have been in large part a matter of availability.
There is precious little talk about aesthetic values in dugento texts, but a sense of priorities emerges with careful attention to later commentators, such as the fifteenth-century chronicler who praised the unnamed galley captains who had transported the monumental columns of the Piazzetta to Venice during the earlier period. To his mind they were typical of all good Venetians: "who when they went on any voyage and saw some beautiful thing or beautiful edifice, or if they could obtain some relic or holy body, they willingly brought it back to their homeland." In such a view, utility, beauty, and holiness, and not antiquity in and of itself, were the primary criteria for such appropriations.
Most of the booty that can still be discerned as such ended up in, on, and around the Basilica of San Marco. Broadened horizons and heightened aspirations gave new impetus to the urban development of the historic center, of which the piazza was the nucleus. According to Juergen Schulz, the scheme began to take on definitive shape under Doge Pietro Ziani (1205-29), who saw through to completion the campaign begun by his father fifty years earlier; and now it was animated by a pronounced taste for things Constantinopolitan. Notices in several sixteenth-century chronicles, certainly apocryphal but possibly based upon some truth, report that this Ziani even proposed moving the city of Venice to Constantinople. Samuele Romanin, the great Venetian historian of the nineteenth century, cautiously discounts the story: "the better [historians] do not make note of it ... Nonetheless it could be that the idea would have risen in the minds of some, and that it had also been discussed in the Council, but was justly rejected." But if Venice was not to be translated to Byzantium, perhaps the reverse could happen. For Schulz makes a compelling argument for the conscious emulation of the monumental imperial fora of antiquity, twelve of which still survived in Constantinople, in the fully elaborated scheme at San Marco. With its arcades, colonnades, rows of shops, palaces, hospices, monumental columns, and connecting street to Rialto, it was completed under Doge Ranieri Zeno in the 1260s with the paving of the great open-air ceremonial space of the piazza (Plate 17). The project was, in Schulz's view, a tangible expression of Venice's own rise to empire, appropriate to a rising republic whose doge was for a time "Lord of a Quarter and Half a Quarter of the Byzantine Empire." Pietro Ziani, the first doge to assume that title, could thus be lauded on his tomb as the equal of Roman emperors:
Rich, honest, patient and in all things straightforward, None could be his equal amongst the high-born and wise, Not even Caesar and Vespasian were they still alive.
It is probably during this period that the city without walls was given a symbolic gateway, when two monumental columns of red and grey oriental granite were erected at the end of the Piazzetta facing the lagoon (Plates 18-19). Embellished with Veneto-Byzantine capitals and provided with sculpted bases celebrating "those men whom we arc unable to name" tradesmen, artisans, fishermen, butchers, winesellers the columns would have served as suitable monuments to the communal ideals of participation and association implicit in the Origo. By 1293 a bronze lion "of shining gold" was in place atop one of the columns. The lion, of oriental origin and probably part of the booty of 1204, had been fitted up with wings and a book in Venice. Erected on the column, it was further transformed, becoming a highly visible and powerful symbol of the republic itself. According to tradition, the statue of St. Theodore was placed on the second column in 1329. The figure was a pastiche, assembled from fragments: a Greek head, a Roman imperial cuirass, and halo, limbs, weapons, and crocodile fashioned by a Venetian craftsman. One of the early patrons of the city, the saint had been eclipsed by the arrival of St. Mark's relics. With his Byzantine associations no longer of much consequence, he was now restored to partnership with St. Mark as a powerful guardian of the city. While Venice's two-column entrance is almost unique in Italy (the only parallel is found in Brindisi, where the columns do not support statues), there had once been numerous columns topped with figures in Constantinople. These must have inspired the Venetian ensemble, but, typically, the Venetians reinterpreted the materials and came up with something unique. Providing itself with a monumental gateway to mark its confines and a "monumentum conspicuum" that could be seen from afar. Venice was now protected from dangers both internal and external. But significantly, both St. Theodore and the militant lion turned their backs on potential invaders from the sea and watched serenely over the city.
The piazza as forum was, moreover, a political analogue to San Marco's claim to an apostolic foundation by virtue of its emulation of the Apostoleion. With the basilica itself already an architectural conceit of an early Christian church, Constantinopolitan booty thus simply reanimated a latent impulse that had never been exhausted. In fact, it may be more correct to consider renovatio in Venice not so much a revival as a resumption of an ongoing process, albeit one that features an episodic, rather than continuous, engagement with the past. It was also a process that extended beyond the piazza to include private palaces whose arcaded facades flanked by tower blocks betray a debt to Roman villa types, probably by way of the eastern Mediterranean.
San Marco underwent two major structural changes in this period: the extension of a simple narthex across the west front to make a wrap-around atrium, and the transformation of the cupolas from hemispheres to high-profile domes. To this larger and more visible armature, would be applied the stolen wealth of Byzantium. With the interior furnished with new mosaics, marble screens, and revetments, the three visible facades on the exterior were transformed from mural walls of niches and smooth surfaces to plastic ones through an "indiscriminate use of columns." It is estimated that half of the church's six-hundred columns are re-used spolia, of which only fifteen were taken from nearby sites on the Italian mainland. Their integration into the ensemble is so convincing, however, that it is hard to perceive of them as anything other than integral parts of a structure conceived from the beginning as a coherent whole.
There is, however, a small group of objects that were not integrated into the fabric of the church. Trophies true and proper, these exceptional pieces were placed in prominent locations that called attention to their privileged status. The gilded bronze quadriga installed high above the main entrance is the most obvious example. As spoils of war, the four horses undeniably made a forceful political statement, but they may also have carried an additional spiritual resonance. Michael Jacoff's recent proposal for their identification with the triumph of Christ is compelling. Essentially, he argues that their unusual emplacement on the church was inspired by a conflation of two literary references, one ancient and the other medieval: the four-horse chariot of the Roman triumph and the Quadriga domini used as a metaphor for the Four Evangelists by a popular twelfth-century theologian, Honorius of Autun. While the case is not absolutely conclusive, it reinforces Demus's notion of a Christian renovatio and would go a long way toward explaining the ingenious solution represented by the Venetian program.
Other objects testifying to Venetian conquest were arranged around the south facade of the church, the first view of San Marco presented to state visitors as they arrived by sea and entered between the great columns on the molo (Plates 20-21). Additional mementos from the Fourth Crusade that fall into the category of "conspicuous trophies" included Byzantine marble reliefs embedded in the outside wall of the church treasury and the two exquisitely carved marble piers, called the Pillars of Acri but actually coming from the church of St. Polyeuktos in Constantinople. Flanking them were two porphyry trophies: two pairs of swordsmen, part of the spoils taken from Constantinople and generally identified as the first Tetrarchy, that were attached to the corner of the Treasury; and the freestanding pietra del bando, a truncated column originally used for the reading of Genoese colonial decrees and brought back from the war with Genoa in 1258. Another porphyry trophy the portrait bust of a Byzantine emperor, probably Justinian (534-8) but popularly called "Carmagnola" was secured to the railing of the second-story loggia of the southwest corner. Unabashedly booty, these pieces were all the more visible, and symbolically resonant, for being left intact and assembled at the conjunction between state church and palace of state.
* * *
A SIMULATED PAST
Such trophies were one of kind, but there is yet another category of spolia that played a central role in the Venetian renovatio. Carrying with them aesthetic and formal authority, these objects came to serve as normative models for the counterfeiting of antiquity. Included in this group are the six icons sculpted in low relief that were set into the spandrels of the west facade of the basilica. They functioned as pairs, working from the center out: two military saints, Demetrius (eleventh century) and George (thirteenth century), who flanked the main portal; the Angel Gabriel (twelfth century) and the grant Virgin (thirteenth century); and two figures of Hercules engaged in his heroic struggles, one with the Erymanthean boar (?fifth century) and the other with the Cerynean hind and the Lernean hydra (thirteenth century) (Plates 22-4). Three of the reliefs the earlier one of each pair were Byzantine spoils. As the dating indicates, each had a thirteenth-century partner that would have been carved to order in Venice.
In yet another another example of the Venetian ability to seize the opportunity when unexpected treasures came to hand, it is probable that the acquisition of Demetrius would have led to the carving of George, a saint more particularly associated with Venice. This makes a logical pairing, in Demus's view, of guardian saints for the main entrance to the church. But the other two pairs are open to a more historically resonant reading. The linkage of Gabriel and the Virgin may allude to a twelfth-century tradition that Venice had been founded precisely on the feast day of the Annunciation. As will be shown in the next chapter, a firmer historical underpinning would be invented in the fourteenth century for this auspicious conjunction.
The appearance of the pagan hero Hercules in an ecclesiastical context is not as odd as it might seem. While antique reliefs with pagan subjects had long been re-used on the facades of churches in the Byzantine sphere, the Venetians may also have been inspired by twelve reliefs of the Labors of Hercules located at the Golden Gate in Constantinople, where they had served (ineffectively as it turned out) as defenders of the city. In a typical Christian reinterpretation of the antique gods, Hercules also appeared as an allegory of salvation on a number of church facades in northern Italy in this period. But his double appearance on the facade of San Marco had a specifically local relevance. A protective deity with deep roots in the Veneto area, he had been the patron of the city of Heraclea according to tradition, the seat of the first dogate in the lagoon. Demus is surely correct in his interpretation of the Venetian icons as apotropaic images, "holy protectors of the doge and the state."
The talismanic power of certain images was not confined to ecclesiastical settings. Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, the facades of Venetian palaces were customarily decorated with patere and formelle plaques carved in low relief with Christian, oriental, and classical imagery, as well as with purely ornamental designs. Here, too, images of Hercules and other figures, were, in all likelihood, protective barriers against evil entering the house.
The icons of San Marco, however, had a further resonance, for they also implied Venice's distinguished past in immemorial antiquity. By creating a palimpsest of chronologically separate, but formally responsive images, the paired icons gave temporal density to the building. The stylistic updating by means of the thirteenth-century replicas most pronounced in the Hercules reliefs established continuity between past and present.
In a sense, re-evocations such as these brought the past into the present, but there is another level of copying the deliberate faking of an antiquity in which the present virtually becomes the past. The full range of possibilities was explored in the monumental ducal tombs of the thirteenth century. The double sepulchre of Doges Jacopo (d. 1249) and Lorenzo (d. 1275) Tiepolo, now attached to the facade of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, is the earliest to survive (Plate 25). While the sarcophagus was a medieval type, the lid was an early Christian original, probably made in Ravenna in the fifth century. Some of the reliefs may have been carved in the thirteenth century, but others including the inscription, while archaic in style, were almost certainly added in a later period. And yet the total effect, aside from the coats of arms in the acroteria, is convincingly early Christian.
The tomb of Doge Marino Morosini (d. 1253) in the atrium of San Marco is more problematic, with scholarly opinion divided as to the dating of the two-tiered relief on the front panel (Plate 26). Whether it was a genuine antique made in the fifth century, as some would have it, or an artful thirteenth-century counterfeit as others insist, the relief served as an authoritative prototype for a second relief of the Traditio legis in the treasury of the church.
By contrast, the tomb of Doge Ranieri Zeno (d. 1268) in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, of which only the frontal survives, was a monument that featured paleo-Christian iconography but was of stylistically certain thirteenth-century production (Plate 27). Depicting an enthroned Christ in triumph, his nimbus held by two floating victory-angels, it was one of a group of similar images made in that period that included not only relief sculpture but also spurious antique-looking cameos. Defining Venice as a center for the production of cameos, one scholar spoke of "the special aptitude of the Venetians to copy antique models since the Middle Ages, without interpreting them (but not without error at times) ..." All such imitations represent what Richard Brilliant once characterized in another context as an eclectic and conceptual spoliation. Not spolia in actuality, the newly made objects were still spolia in concept.
Caution is necessary in interpreting these appropriations, for there are important nuances and distinctions. As others have observed, re-used and replicated artifacts have a particularly ambivalent status, being simultaneously past and present with a commingling (and sometimes confusion) of ancient and modern roles. By their very nature they are incomplete parts of a once larger whole. But like holy relics, those surviving parts can stand as surrogates for that lost whole. Signifying both a presence (in themselves) and an absence (of their original whole), the spolia of San Marco, both real and conceptual, testified not simply to Venice's early Christian past, but also to her triumphant present.
How, then, should the other "foreign" elements French Gothic, German, Saracen that are worked into the Venetian equation, not just at San Marco, but also in secular and ecclesiastical architecture throughout the city, be interpreted? While the many Islamic motifs arches, patterns, stone grillwork may simply have been expressions of the aesthetic taste of a trading nation, they might also have been perceived as confirmation of the Christian rather than the Islamic East. Demus thus suggests that the Saracen elements could well have been part of an "authenticating current." Indeed, without excluding references to Byzantium, Staale Sinding-Larsen looks at the same area around San Marco and sees in it an image of Jerusalem. Allowing that many churches in the Middle Ages were compared to the Holy Sepulchre, he cites a claim in the twelfth-century Origo as evidence of Venetian attitudes toward the basilica. Here the chronicler affirms that San Marco had been built "according to the example that he had seen at the temple of our Lord in Jerusalem." With other observers claiming that it was modeled after the Apostoleion, Sinding-Larsen sees the ambiguity as deliberate: "The method of adapting suggestions that avoid declarations that are too explicit appears characteristic for Venice in its ideological attitude: this an attitude of total diplomacy." Before addressing the issue, it is necessary first to turn back to the textual tradition.
A NOBLE PAST
The retrospective current in art and architecture had a counterpart in the chronicles, as historiographical aspirations were heightened to match Venice's new role as an imperial power. The fabrication of a dignified past found its most eloquent literary expression in the third quarter of the century in Martino da Canal's Estoires de Venise. The chronicler, writing between 1267 and 1275, made his intentions plain in the prologue to his work. He had translated the ancient histories from Latin to French, he wrote, "so that all would know the deeds of the Venetians, and who they were, and whence they had come, and who they are, and how they built the noble city that is called Venice, that is today the most beautiful in the world."
Canal's preference for the French language, that "had spread throughout the world, and is more pleasing to read and hear than any other," indicates that romanitas or latinitas were not at the top of his cultural agenda. Indeed, his was the first history to be written in Italy in the volgare, a significant break with tradition even if the language was that of the French court rather than the Venetian marketplace. In all likelihood, Canal wanted to dignify his text, while ensuring its accessibility to a literate upper class. By enriching the historical record, he could sanctify an ennobled civic past and justify an entrepreneurial present. Toward this end he introduced a number of new points concerning Venice's early history. Incorporating the Trojan and Attila traditions recounted in the Origo into the Estoires, he refined and embellished the scenarios with an elevated laudatory agenda. The lore of humble origins was glossed over with the claim that the "noble men and women" who escaped the destruction of Aquileia, had "brought with them gold and silver in great quantities, and so they had beautiful churches and beautiful campaniles and bells constructed, and they built in the major city seventy churches ... and dispersed through the salt waters, convents in great quantity."
Two politically significant episodes in the legend of St. Mark the praedestinatio and the apparitio made concurrent debuts in Canal's Estoires and in the decoration of San Marco. The praedestinatio was the title given a prophetic dream that Mark was said to have experienced during his earlier, supposed ministry in the area of the Venetian lagoon. In it he was visited by an angel who told him that he would find his final resting place on the very site where San Marco would later be built. In support of this claim, a sculpture of the slumbering St. Mark and the Angel was carved and given pride of place in the tympanum of the main entrance to the basilica. The apparitio (or inventio) involved the miraculous recovery of the saint's relics in 1094 after their secret hiding place had been forgotten during a reconstruction of the church. After three days of fasting, prayer, and processions by the patriarch, the bishop, and the entire population of the city, a large stone fell out of a column in the south transept and, as Canal put it, "the Venetians saw the precious remains of the Evangelist" (Plate 28).
Confirming to the Venetians that their city had enjoyed a divinely sanctioned destiny from the time of Christ, the two prodigious events were important enough to prompt a new campaign of narrative mosaics in the church to augment the cycle of St. Mark's life already in the presbytery. These images were then used as direct visual testimony of the events they depicted.
The thirteenth century was a time of heightened consciousness of civic origins in communes throughout Italy. Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, for example, completed the Fontana Maggiore for the citizens of Perugia in 1278. In a complex sculptural program that has been called an encyclopedia in stone, they gave visual form to Perugia's mythic beginnings, her distinguished past as a Roman city, and her pious Christian present. Among the high-relief sculptures of saints and personifications were the podesta and the capitano del popolo, as well as a certain Eulistes, the mythical pre-Roman founder of the city. Other cities were equally inventive. Genoa claimed a foundation by Janus, Ravenna by Tubal, Bologna by Felsino with an enlargement by a certain Buono (hence Bononia), Brescia by Hercules, and Turin by Phaeton. The people of nearby Padua were even provided with archaeological evidence for their own founding father in these years. When a huge skeleton was unearthed in 1283 during building excavations, it was immediately identified as that of the mythic Trojan hero Antenor and honored with a Gothic cenotaph in the center of town. Milan, on the other hand, while claiming a foundation 932 years before Rome, also looked to its glorious present. Bonvesin de la Riva, writing De magnalibus Mediolani around 1288 stated that Milan is without equal: "not only worthy to be called a second Rome, but, if it be permitted me to speak my mind without being accused of presumption, it would be right and proper in my judgment that the seat of the papacy and the other dignities should all be transferred here from there."
Canal's Estoires may seem modest by comparison, but it was a major contribution to the consolidation of a Venetian civic identity. A generation later the first certain signs of a mature historical sense within the ruling class becomes apparent. In 1291 the Great Council ordered: "that a book should be made in which there may be written all the official proceedings of the Commune of Venice, and especially the Ducate, and every pact, and every privilege that they might make for the governing of the Commune of Venice."
In 1292 another chronicler known only as "Marco" began writing his own history of the city. He edged back civic history further than Canal and claimed that the first Trojan colonists had arrived in the Venetian lagoon (and not just Aquileia) immediately after the fall of Troy, while Rome would be founded only 454 years later. "And on account of this," he wrote, "it is well known that the first construction of Rialto preceded the construction of the city of Rome." He also addressed the issue of Venice's priority over Padua, now a troublesome competitor. Perhaps inspired by that city's recent fortuitous discovery, he claimed that Antenor had arrived in Venice after the initial building of the city by an advance guard of his countrymen. Only later, Marco advised, did Antenor found Padua. Then turning to the present, the chronicler produced a prophecy, ex post facto, intended to justify Venice's much criticized collaboration in, and profit from, the Fourth Crusade. It concerned no less than the Emperor Constantine, who was said to have predicted at the time of the foundation of Constantinople back in the fourth century that the capital of Byzantium would suffer apocalyptic calamities and destruction "negli ultimi giorni dolorosi." In Marco's view, the crusaders were thus only carrying out the inscrutable will of God, as agents of a divinely sanctioned plan.
A ROMAN PAST
The century ended with yet another allusion to antique origins for San Marco. These were the years immediately after the Serrata, or closure of the Great Council in 1297, a time of heightened civic self-consciousness. The case is instructive, for like the chronicles of Marco and Martino da Canal, it suggests a desire to drive down the civic roots more deeply, beyond the early Byzantine stratum, in this case right into Roman soil. It involved the completion of a set of costly bronze doors for the exterior portals of the west facade. Two pairs had been installed already in the first half of the thirteenth century in the main entrances to the church, one set in the central portal and the other inside the atrium, closing it off from the south entrance in the ante-vestibule (now the Cappella Zen). These were legitimate antiques, datable to the sixth century. Probably booty from the Fourth Crusade, they feature the early Byzantine opus clatratum a latticework pattern and were apparently adapted for re-use on the basilica by Venetian masters (Plates 29 and 31). In the new sets of bronze doors that were then made at the end of the thirteenth century to fill the lateral portals of the facade (Plate 30), the sculptor followed the general form of opus clatratum, but he made it more robust, solid, and regular. Clearly working under the influence of earlier classical models, he reinterpreted the Byzantine motif all' antica in the Roman manner. He also used a new scheme of compartmentation, creating a cross-shaped pattern, that also derives from pagan prototypes. It could now be given a Christian, whilst Roman, interpretation as a Gate of Paradise.
The new doors featured two other important innovations. First, in keeping with the growing self-awareness of artists of this period, the sculptor was no longer anonymous, with the door to the left of the central portal bearing the inscription: "MCCC MAGISTER BERTVCIVS AVRIFEX VENETVS ME FECIT" (Plate 32). Second, on the corresponding door to the right of the main entrance, each crossbar now featured three large, very Roman looking, female heads flanked by small figures of pagan divinities each holding a cornucopia (Plate 33). These were in Demus's words "copies as close to forgeries as possible," cast from molds made from classical originals.
Originality was clearly not at issue, and the borrowing was not accidental. But why, then, would Bertuccio have signed his name so proudly to a counterfeit? Because that may be precisely the point. Bertuccio's pride in his craftsmanship would have been matched by Venetian pride in a costly new set of bronze doors. Deception was not the aim, for the newness of the doors was just as important as their antique look. With this deliberately ambiguous double-play antique replicas that bore a modern signature the Venetian sense of the past moves into a new phase, with Bertuccio's doors taking the thirteenth-century renovatio one step further. While they allude to an authentic pre-Byzantine Roman past within the Venetian present, they proclaim that present, as well, as something new and unique in itself and perhaps superior to Rome.
* * *
The Torcello relief of Opportunity has been cited here as an emblem of one aspect of the Venetian approach to time. While the ethos was writ large on the occasion of the Fourth Crusade, as well as in its artistic aftermath in Venice, it was engrained in life as it was lived each day in that mercantile society. In 1309 the Collegio would write a letter to the galley captain Gabriele Dandolo:
Since our Church of San Marco has need of marbles in fine condition, and since we have heard reports that on the island of Mykonos and also other Roman islands [of the eastern Mediterranean], that there ... are to be found the most beautiful marbles of every color and type, we ask ... that when you are in those parts ... you make inquiries everywhere about those marbles which are whole shafts or pieces thereof, and about medium-sized columns white, veined, green, porphyry, and every [other] type. And if they are beautiful, you should procure them and load them into our galleys as ballast, [but taking care] not to overload the galleys themselves on this account, nor to put off the affairs of our commune entrusted to you to the detriment of business; and we will provide that those who have labored on this account will be compensated through the Procurators of San Marco, as would be fitting and just.
This was the practical side of the myth of Venice. The pragmatic values and assumptions expressed in the letter were the mundane underpinnings of the thirteenth-century renovatio: a product of contingency and calculation. The center was not just supported by, but was constructed from, the material of the periphery. By the fifteenth century, this modus operandi of inverse cultural imperialism entered the chronicles as a guarantor of excellence. The Cronaca Bemba cites the ninth-century doge who led the Venetians in battle against the Saracens:
Giustinian [Partecipazio] returned from this victorious enterprise and brought with him many spoils of victory, beautiful columns and other very fine stones of marble ... and into the construction of [San Marco] he put all the stones and all the marble columns that he had already brought from Sicily.
Referring to the reconstruction of the church under Doge Domenico Selvo (1068), Zorzi Dolfin writes "that he labored to adorn it with the most magnificent columns that could be found and they sent out to search [for them] throughout the world..." An anonymous chronicler is more specific: "And many gentlemen and commoners sent out to obtain marbles in Aquileia and Ravenna, and many sent to Constantinople, and others served much with money; thus the church was built very honorably."
Such rhetoric had a distinguished pedigree, which dated back to ancient Rome. In the Byzantine sphere, Eusebius had written in the fourth century that the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was constructed with columns that had been sought out and "conveyed from every quarter; for it is fitting that the most wondrous place in the world should be adorned according to its worth." Two centuries later Procopius would remark on the construction of Hagia Sophia: "The Emperor, disregarding all expense, hastened to begin construction and raised craftsmen from the whole world."
In essence, the special quality of the renovatio of the thirteenth century was a venezianita grounded in what may be called an "aesthetic of diversity." It rested upon two major principles: accumulation, or aggregation, and incorporation (but not absorption). Tangible works that can be seen and touched buildings, spolia, icons, mosaics, sculpture, artifacts were more powerful than texts in creating a civic identity of a reassuring historical density, for they were unmediated testimony: unprovable, thus unchallengeable.
In the fourteenth century came the transition from a communal to a patrician state. With a new and deliberate interpenetration between text and artifact, the civic past would again be edited to conform to current needs.
Table of Contents
|PART I THE HISTORICAL IMPERATIVE: INVENTING A CIVIC PAST|
|1 Implied Origins||11|
|2 A Documented Past||31|
|PART II THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: DISTANCING THE PAST|
|3 Expanded Horizons, a Heightened Awareness||55|
|4 Antique Fragments, Renaissance Eyes||75|
|PART III THE HISTORICAL SYNTHESIS: ACCOMMODATING THE CLASSICAL|
|5 A More Perfect Present||99|
|6 Distant Times, Nearby Places||117|
|PART IV THE HISTORICAL RESTITUTION: ACQUIRING AN ANCIENT PAST|
|7 The Still Visible Past||149|
|8 A Perpetual Empire||163|
|PART V THE HISTORICAL IMAGINATION: CONSTRUCTING AN ALTERNATE REALITY|
|9 Antiquity in the Mind||189|
|10 A Special License||207|
|PART VI THE HISTORICAL ECHO: CREATING NEW IDENTITIES|
|11 A Noble Bloodline||231|
|12 A New Triumphal Vocabulary||263|
|Appendix 1 A note on the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the identity|
|of Francesco Colonna||287|
|Appendix 2 Pietro Aretino's De Tempore||291|