The Venice Variations: Preview Part 2

  1. Venice in the Western imagination – the Myth of Venice

What role does Venice play in the Western imagination? As Tony Tunner explained, Dickens entered Venice in a dream; Ruskin came to it replete with English notions of the Romantic to produce not art history but fiction; Canaletto distorted Venice to his own ideal perspectival conception, and Turner came to Venice to paint not Venice, but an atmospheric city of light effects reflected on water.

But Venice has also invented its own mythology.

Often called ‘the Myth of Venice’, a republican political ideology was created in the Renaissance by the Venetians themselves regarding their social and political world.

Venetians saw their city as ‘the site of realised utopia’, powerfully expressed in works of art such as Gentile Bellini’s Procession (link to Bellini’s Procession), and Jacopo de’ Barbari’s bird’s eye view of Venice (link to Barbari’s Bird’s Eye View of Venice).

At the trading crossroads between the Middle East and Western Europe, Venice played a key role in the development of Western political values, until Napoleon put an end to the most serene Republic, or La Serenissima, as its political elite often described it (1797).

A second cycle of intense influences began as the railway brought the artists and writers of the grand tour to Italy. For the early nineteenth century Romantic travellers, Venice was not only a symbol of loss and labyrinthine decay, central to taste in the picturesque, but also an exemplar of political institutions.

Left Image: Venice. A Taxonomy of element-types. Drawing by Tania Oramas Dorta.

Right Image: Venice. Measure of normalised angular integration at radius 3000 metres. Drawing by Sophia Psarra.

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