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Art in Renaissance Venice
Art in Renaissance Venice

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  1. Spufford, 2002, pp. 306-15
  2. Quoted and translated in Englander, et al., 1990, p.150.

Art in fifteenth-century Venice: `an aesthetic of diversity'

  1. Dreams and Conflicts, 2003, p.594.
  2. Burckhardt, 1990, p.19.
  3. See, for example, Welch, 1997.
  4. See Kristeller, 1965.
  5. During the writing of this chapter, an advertisement for a television series on the Medici put the received wisdom in a nutshell: `The whole of Western culture pivots on the extraordinary period we have come to know as the Renaissance', The Independent, London, 18 December 2004.
  6. For the text which did most to stimulate contemporary debate on the formation of individual identity in the Renaissance, see Greenblatt, 1980. In the words of John Martin, in a discussion which was, tellingly, critical of Greenblatt's project, the effect of his work has been that `earlier histories - grounded in the liberal and conservative myths of the gradual but heroic emancipation of the individual - have given way to histories that explore the varied constructions of the self in different time periods and different cultures' (Martin, 1997, p.1315). In Martin's view it is important to retain a sense of the particularity of `the construction of new notions of individualism in the Renaissance world' (ibid., p.1312). For introductions to contemporary debate about Burckhardt, individualism and Renaissance humanism, see Elmer, 2000 and Brown, 2000. Both texts form part of the Open University course AA305, The Renaissance in Europe: A Cultural Enquiry.
  7. Patricia Fortini Brown uses all these terms. She also describes Venetian culture as an `aggregate'. See Fortini Brown, 1997, pp.23, 26, 37. In his six-part BBC television series Renaissance (1999), Andrew Graham-Dixon calls Venice a `city of juxtapositions' (Programme 5 - Venice). Deborah Howard comments that `the aspect of the city became a collage' (Howard, 2000, p.111). Using a more traditional figure, Peter Humfrey refers to the `melting pot of Venetian culture' (Humfrey, 1995, p.9). In similar vein, Terisio Pignatti writes of `the meeting place for different civilisations that Venice had become in the late quattrocento' (Pignatti, 1973, p.245). The phrase used as the subtitle of this chapter is Fortini Brown's (1997, p.26).
  8. De Commynes and Sansovino, as quoted in Martin and Romano, 2000, pp.20 -1.
  9. Venice's relation to the past is the subject of Fortini Brown, 1996.
  10. For a discussion of conceptual issues attendant on relating Byzantine to western art, see Nelson, R.S., 1996. Nelson delineates the mix of classificatory archaism and downright orientalising prejudice which separated historical accounts of Byzantine art from contemporary (western) medieval art.
  11. The key work here is Howard, 2000.
  12. It is perhaps worth underscoring the point that the present chapter does not offer a discussion of Byzantine art as such, nor of the Islamic art of the Ottomans and Mamluks, nor should it be taken to imply any form of equation between those cultures. It looks at the influence of some aspects of the art of each of those cultures, different as they were, on the art of fifteenth-century Venice - an influence that was transmitted in a variety of ways but that depended, ultimately, on Venetian trade with the geographic `East'.
  13. See Mack, 2002. The most renowned early account of the `wonders of the East' by a Venetian merchant-traveller is, of course, that of Marco Polo, dating from the late thirteenth century.
  14. Howard, 2000, p.142.
  15. Tafuri, 1995. Tafuri discusses effects manifested in the architecture of the early sixteenth century by the manifold tensions between Venice considered as the place `that has preserved as a valuable heritage the institutions and mentality of the late Middle Ages' on the one hand, and on the other, `the city that partakes of the new mental universes under construction', that is, the `Renaissance' (p. ix).
  16. As Howard has noted, this dimension has been recognised since the mid-nineteenth century, when Ruskin wrote that `The Venetians deserve especial note as the only European people who appear to have sympathised to the full with the great instinct of the Eastern races' (quoted in Howard, 1999, pp.37 -8).
  17. See Martin and Romano, 2000. Their introductory chapter offers a lucid statement of the new scholarship, pointing out that `the earlier model of Venetian society as neatly tripartite is eroding' (p.19), and being replaced by a new paradigm that emphasises both the importance of social mobility and the significance of cultural forms, including the visual arts, in producing the very `Myth of Venice' itself. That said, Fortini Brown picks out as one of the key factors framing the Venetian outlook, the `dominant patrician ethos of communal solidarity, with the concomitant suspicion of aspirations to individual fame' (Fortini Brown, 1996, p.54).
  18. Burke, 2000, p.398.
  19. Ibid., pp.403 -4. Burke notes that between the 1490s and the mid-sixteenth century, Venetian printers produced no fewer than four separate editions of Marco Polo's Travels.
  20. Fondachi were trading posts and residences for foreign-merchants found in cities throughout the Middle East. There were various fondachi for Venetian traders in places such as Alexandria, Constantinople and Damascus. The system worked the other way round in Venice, where the state provided the premises for merchants from Dalmatia, Greece, Germany and elsewhere. Despite the presence of several sculptures of turbaned figures and a wall-relief depicting a trader leading a camel, Howard (2000, p.151) argues that there was no fondaco for Arab merchants in early Renaissance Venice. A Fondaco dei Turchi was eventually allowed, with premises on the Grand Canal, in 1621.
  21. Moore, 1905, p.81.
  22. Ibid., p.87.
  23. Ibid., p.91.
  24. Ibid., p.82.
  25. On the importance of the family workshop in Venetian art, and the general question of the conservatism of Venetian practice relative to Florence in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, see Rosand, 1982, ch.1.
  26. The other main types of Byzantine art are mural painting and manuscript illumination.
  27. For a comprehensive discussion of the evolving relationship between Venice and Byzantium, see Nicol, 1988.
  28. Hodegetria means `the One who shows the Way', and refers to the monks who led blind pilgrims to a miraculous spring adjacent to the Hodegonmonastery in Constantinople. A much venerated icon of the Virgin, said to have been painted by Saint Luke, was in the monastery by the ninth century, and the name of the monastery became associated with it. The original icon was the most important in Constantinople, and because of its supposed power of repelling enemies many copies were made for use on military campaigns. Whether the painting in San Marco is or is not the original is a matter of dispute, but the point is that it was a part of this history and used by the Venetians in the same way as the Byzantine icon. In art-historical literature the term has been extended to apply to the pose in which the Virgin points to Christ as the (true) way, and seems to put the Child forward, away from-herself and towards the viewer, rather than holding him close in a tender, maternal embrace. She thus indicates the way, or path, that his life will take, ending in his sacrifice on the cross, an interpretation which serves to account for the image's melancholic aspect. The historical veracity of this claim is itself a matter of scholarly debate, but for present purposes, the point is that Bellini's Madonna Greca takes over aspects of both mood and pose from its Byzantine predecessors. See Goffen, 1975.
  29. Vasari, 1996. Quotations from, respectively `Preface to Part Two', p.250; `Giotto', p.97 and `Preface to Part Two', p.250 (twice).
  30. Goffen, 1975, pp.509, 514.
  31. Humfrey, 1995, p.42.
  32. The use of gold persisted in other centres during the fifteenth century, including Siena and the Sienese contado.
  33. Alberti, 1966, p.85.
  34. Baxandall, 1972, pp.15 -16.
  35. See Christiansen, 1987, pp.166 -77. See also C. King in the first volume of this series (Woods, 2007, pp.65 -87).
  36. Campbell, L., 1981: `Northern works of art reached Venice in various ways. Just as Netherlandish tapestries were frequently purchased by Venetians, paintings were also imported, though there could be difficulties with the Venetian authorities over the restrictive regulations of the Venetian painters' guild' (pp.467 -8).
  37. Pedrocco, 2002, p.56.
  38. See Babinger, 1978.
  39. The complex matter of the name of the city, postconquest, is discussed in Runciman, 1969. Most art historians nowadays call it `Istanbul', even in reference to the fifteenth century; an appellation hotly disputed by many Byzantinists and, indeed, Greeks in general. Dissimilar as they may appear to English-speakers, the two names `Constantinople' and `Istanbul' share a common etymology, the latter being derived from a colloquialism for the former. Runciman observes that `It is indeed ironical that the Turks should have now given up a name hallowed by the Prophet [viz. `Constantinople'] in order to use one derived from Greek popular speech [viz. `Istanbul'], and that the Greeks should angrily resent the name [viz. `Istanbul'] which is in truth that which their Byzantine forebears used.' As Runciman concludes: `But chauvinism is apt to disregard the facts of history' (p.208). For purposes of consistency, and not because of any intellectual or political commitment on the part of the author, the present chapter refers to the city throughout as `Constantinople'.
  40. Valensi, 1990.
  41. The Genoese merchant Jacopo de Promontorio in his book Governo ed entrate del Gran Turco (c.1475), cited in Babinger, 1978, p.431.
  42. See Raby, 1980, p.242. In this essay, Raby disproves the long-held belief that Mehmet's tutor was the well-known Renaissance humanist Cyriacus of Ancona. The eye-witness, Nicolo Sagundino, whose account was given wide circulation by the Venetian chronicler Zorzi Dolfin, merely mentions `two doctors', one Latin, one Greek, possibly companions of Cyriacus.
  43. Kritovoulos of Imbros, writing in 1467, cited in Brotton, 2002, p.196. See also Raby, 1982a.
  44. Vespasiano da Bisticci, 1963, p.99.
  45. Roper, 1962, p.202. The possible connection between representations of Henry VIII and Italian princes is made by Greenblatt, 1980, p.261, n.18.
  46. In this connection, it is interesting to note that among the gifts taken to Mehmet was Gentile's copy of the album of perspective drawings that he had inherited from his father Jacopo Bellini in c.1470/1.
  47. Venetian reports, cited in Valensi, 1990, pp.181, 182.
  48. The oft-cited Islamic prohibition on images does not in fact appear in the Koran, but in a subsidiary text. In the fifteenth century it was a partially enforced custom rather than a universally applied religious edict. See Bloom and Blair, 1997: `It is often said that figures were banned in Islam from the start, but this is untrue. The Koran itself has little to say on the subject. Muslims believe that God is unique and without associates and therefore that he cannot be represented…Since the Koran has little in the way of narrative, there was little reason to present stories in religious art, and in time this absence of opportunity hardened into law' (p.30).
  49. Baxandall, 1972, p.3.
  50. The authorship of the Ottoman figure studies is a matter of some dispute. Traditionally, they have been ascribed to Gentile. The British Museum continues to do so; likewise the National Gallery in its catalogue to the exhibition Bellini and the East (Campbell, C. and Chong, 2005). Raby, on the other hand, makes a case for their attribution to the otherwise little-known Costanzo (see Raby, 1991, p.211). Raby is followed by Jardine and Brotton, 2000, p.32. At the time of writing, however, it seems that academic consensus remains with the attribution to Gentile and his workshop. For good measure, even the name `Costanzo da Ferrera' is now the subject of dispute and in Campbell, C. and Chong (2005) the author of the portrait medal of Mehmet is given as `Costanzo di Moysis' (pp.126 -7).
  51. See Introduction, p.16 and Chapter 1, p.32.
  52. See Vickers, 1978.
  53. Mack, 2002, p.149. A similar note of caution is sounded by the eminent Islamicist Oleg Grabar in a review of several books on the general subject of Renaissance cultural exchange. He comments that, overall, `commercial contacts affected the arts only superficially', and notes that while such exchange has profound implications for the narratives recounted by art history, there remains a sense that `visual and cultural relations between East and West were actually quite limited' (Grabar, 2003, p.190).
  54. The crowns also appear in a banner depicted in the Saint Ursula cycle of paintings by Carpaccio. Mary L. Pixley writes: `The series of three crowns refers to the three kingdoms of Asia, Greece and Trebizond which were controlled by the Ottoman Turkish empire' (Pixley, 2003, p.9).
  55. Pedani Fabris, cited by Bagci, 2004, p.434.
  56. A contemporary fictional account of the moral dilemmas affecting traditional Islamic artists under the impact of the Venetian style, and by extension of the cultural tensions between East and West as such, can be found in Pamuk, 2001.
  57. See Necipoglu, 1989, pp.401 -27.
  58. Howard, 2000, p.36.
  59. Fortini Brown, 1988, p.146.
  60. `The Venetians themselves, until well into the sixteenth century, did not especially prize black children, but adult Africans were frequently employed as gondoliers' (Kaplan, 1986, p.130). See also Smith, R., 1979.
  61. Venice was not alone in this. Other Italian city-states using slaves included Florence, Genoa and Rome.
  62. Smith, R., 1979, p.50. For a discussion of the incorporation of African figures into Christian religious art, see Kaplan, 1985.
  63. See Fortini Brown, 1988, pp.87 -97.
  64. Raby, 1982b, p.17.
  65. Fortini Brown, 1988, p.191, Bellini document quoted p.293.
  66. Raby, 1982b.
  67. Mack, 2002, p.162.
  68. Campbell and Chong, C., 2005, p.23.
  69. See Howard, 2000, pp.67 -74.