Wednesday 14 October
10 AM PST
1 PM EST
6 PM BST
7 PM CEST
With Dr. Eireann Marshall
This lecture will concentrate on the city’s inhabitants, how they worked, how they played and how they coped. The ancient heart of the city is, of course, the Rialto area, which was always Venice’s commercial centre, with its market (still going, if much diminished), its financial institutions and its constant bustle of Venetians and ‘foresti’ (outsiders). On the opposite side of the Grand Canal from the market area stands the ‘Fontego dei Tedeschi’, the great German warehouse, a commercial and cultural centre for visitors from northern Europe, now a busy shopping-mall (with a wonderful viewing-point on its roof).
The city was dotted with such buildings, meeting-points for its numerous foreign communities, often able to afford works by some of the greatest Venetian artists. The exterior walls of the German fontego had frescoes by Titian and Giorgione, now almost entirely lost, while the small Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the meeting-house for Slavs in eastern Venice, still contains a marvellous cycle of paintings by Carpaccio, depicting legends of saints dear to the Slavs (who also gave their name to the water-front running east from San Marco). Nearby is the Orthodox church of San Giorgio dei Greci, with an adjoining museum of Greek icons.
Probably the most famous of these foreign communities was the one located in the Ghetto, in western Venice. This is a word Venice has sadly given to the world. Although Venetian Jews were probably treated less harshly than those in many other parts of Europe, the sense of isolation and claustrophobia is nonetheless potent; the synagogues have splendid interiors, but their exteriors had to be concealed from outside view. The museum offers a sobering lesson in the history of this oft-persecuted community, as does the modern memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo.
Eastern Venice is home to the city’s largest employer, the Arsenale, where the city’s fleet was created. This vast area once had 16,000 people working in it; its large docks are now sadly desolate, with the exception of some zones given over to occasional art exhibitions. The grand entrance to this zone, with its triumphal arch and proud statuary, is a proud statement of the city’s military and imperial ambitions, adorned as it is with sculptures looted from the Eastern Mediterranean, including a noble lion that once stood at the entrance to the Port of Piraeus.
The lecture will also look at the more frivolous side of Venetian life, which was to be important in attracting visitors in the later years of the Republic, when the city’s political, commercial and military standing was so greatly reduced. We will look at the Ridotto San Moisé, the city’s first gambling-house, and the exquisite Casinò Venier, a small private pleasure-room situated on the busy shopping-street of the Merceria. The city’s courtesans were no small part of this pleasure-industry, and the areas where they hung out were sometimes clearly marked by the street-names, such as the “Ponte delle Tette”. The museum of 18th-century Venice at Ca’ Rezzonico is devoted to these final carnivalesque years of the Republic, and contains paintings, sculptures and furnishings by some of the greatest artists of the period, works whose charm is often indissolubly linked to the melancholy sense of a world on the brink of extinction.