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Venice: A Second-Hand City?

Updated Thursday, 1st September 2005

Thomas Coryat described Venice as a city of opulence and wealth. But Patricia Allerston suggests that Venice was a second-hand city.

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Thomas Coryat Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Thomas Croyat's view of Venice is well-known. But in a series of short articles, we look at the evidence that shows he might have got the place very wrong indeed:

About Thomas Coryat(e) 1577-1617

Coryat was born in Odcombe, Somerset, educated at the University of Oxford, but left without graduating. Ben Jonson described him as a man of "learning, wit, and shall best know him by this: he is frequent at all sorts of free tables, where though he might sit as a Guest, he will rather be served in as a Dish, and is loth to have any thing of himselfe kept cold against the next day."

At the court of James I, Coryat bore the brunt of practical jokes, one of which involved taking him to a masked ball locked in a trunk. But he had a place in the court's affections; Prince Henry awarded him a pension.

Coryat is credited with introducing the table fork to England, claiming to be the first Englishman to use the cutlery. He hung his European travelling shoes in Odcombe Church, where they stayed until the 1700s, and departed for the East, dying of "a flux" in India, aggravated by overindulgence in alcohol.

Coryat's descriptions of the architecture, custom and dress in Renaissance Europe make his book, Coryat's Crudities a rich resource for modern day historians, film-makers and theatre directors.


Amongst the experts helping shape our view of Venice:

Professor John Guy Professor John Guy

John Guy is highly experienced at juggling priorities. He's combined a number of different jobs with his academic career: professional organist, author and most recently television presenter. He's appeared in BBC TWO's Timewatch series, presenting one programme on Thomas More, and on BBC2's Meet the Ancestors. With the help of his son Richard he maintains a web site on Tudor England aimed at A-level students. The thrill for him in Tudor History is that it's so well studied that reassessing reputations and retelling seemingly familiar stories from a new standpoint is a challenging and invigorating experience.

John is currently teaching part-time at the University of St Andrews while writing Mary Queen of Scots to be published by Fourth Estate and The Children of Henry VIII for OUP. He's been co-editor of Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History (CUP) since 1986 and co-editor of St Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Ashgate) since 1996.

Dr Patricia Allerston

Dr Patricia Allerston

Patricia Allerston has delved into some of the more unsavoury aspects of Renaissance and early modern Italy, such as petty theft, peddlers, debt and plague epidemics. As a social historian she has explored the economy and culture of the period through shopkeeping, auctions, clothes and household furnishings and Jewish economic life.

She's well travelled, having grown up in the Far East, studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, Pennsylvania and St Andrews, and the Istituto Universitario Europeo in Florence. While studying in Italy she occasionally worked as an art and history tour guide. Her thesis on the second-hand trade in Venice, c.1500-c.1650 is currently being turned into a book. She lectures in early modern European history at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Patricia Fortini Brown Professor Patricia Fortini Brown

Patricia Fortini Brown came to academia late. She'd been an artist for around 17 years and brought up her children so it wasn't until the mid 1970s that she began to study art history. Venice is an attraction because it's a beautiful city full of beautiful art. Seeing art work within a city and how people have interacted with it throughout history is what fascinates her. Study in Italy helps her to get back to her roots because her father is Italian.

Among her many honours was an invitation to give the Slade Lectures in Fine Arts at Cambridge University and in 1998 she won the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize for the best book in Renaissance Studies: Venice and Antiquity: The Venetian Sense of the Past. She's currently Chair of the Department of Art and Archaeology in Princeton and is writing a book on Venetian material culture with a working title of Refinement without Equal: Private Art and Public Life in Renaissance Venice.





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