Artifice and Authenticity: The Ambiguity of Early Modern Venice (seminar)

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This was a spring weekend seminar held from March 7 to March 8, 2003.

Is it possible to speak of conservative, tradition-bound Venice with its rigid social hierarchy as an early modern State? Indeed, it may well be argued that the complexities of the nation state were foreshadowed by this most perfect Republic, with a political structure acclaimed (optimistically) as a perfect balance of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; an economic prosperity built upon trade rather than feudalism; a relatively stable amalgam of rich and poor; and a fertile environment for the production of art, architecture, music, and literature. The remarkable success of this city, whose improbable survival in the sea was itself grounded in paradox, engendered a legendary reputation that came to be known as the "myth of Venice." Modern scholars have labored both to substantiate and to debunk the myth. And yet, perhaps the relevant question is not whether the myth was true or false, but rather how this enigma-this pastiche of polarities-was held together by a consciously fashioned civic image; by accommodations to new notions of nobility; by a unique interplay between the public and the private; by the ceremonial and ritual; and by the geographical circumstances that fostered a sense of community. This interdisciplinary seminar sought up-to-sixteen participants from diverse fields and multiple perspectives for a comparative and intensive discussion of their research on Venice. Particularly welcome were projects that explore "aesthetic space," or the modes and means of bridging the gap between the mythic and the actual in the early modern city.

Director: Patricia Fortini Brown is Chair of the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton University. She is working on a book on Venetian material culture, tentatively entitled Refinement without Equal: Private Art and Public Life in Renaissance Venice. Her books include Art and Life in Renaissance Venice (1997); Venice and Antiquity: The Venetian Sense of the Past (1996); and Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio (1988).