2016 SCSC Annual Conference, Bruges, Belgium
IAS-Sponsored Session

The Holy Republic of Venice

NH Hotel, Sint Pieters
Thursday, August 18, 2016, 3:30-5:00pm

Organizers: Allison Sherman, Queen’s University, and Eveline Baseggio Omiccioli, State University of New York, FIT

Chair: Patricia Fortini Brown, Princeton University, emeritus

The image of Venice as the champion of Christian faith was an essential component of the city’s self-definition both in the fine arts and literature. Singular in its formation and blessed by God’s favor, Venice associated itself with a virgin creature, an untouched queen, a New Jerusalem, invested with the duty of protecting Christendom. This idea, articulated in written accounts as early as the twelfth century, assumed more defined connotations in the following centuries, developing into one of the most characteristic expressions of the multifaceted Venetian myth. From the perspective of the pilgrims coming to Venice on their way to Jerusalem, the city represented the last Christian outpost on their sacred voyage, but also an embodiment of the Holy Land with its myriad churches and countless relics, the concentration of which – according to popular belief – was second only to Rome.

This panel addresses the ways in which Venice promoted its portrayal as the “santa Repubblica”, to quote Marino Sanudo, during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The papers consider Venice’s astute capacity for identity formation, examining a variety of mechanisms – treatises, ritual, relics, hagiography, painted votive images, miraculous and antiquarian objects – involved in codifying and disseminating an image of itself as a New Jerusalem. This panel seeks to stimulate a timely discussion of historical instances of cultural appropriation, revival, rivalry, exchange and preservation during times of geopolitical and religious conflict, particularly between the East and West.


Giada Damen, The Morgan Library & Museum
“Relics of the Antique Gods in Sixteenth Century Venice”

Beginning in the Middle Ages, the city of Venice displayed on its buildings an extraordinary abundance of antique spolia and classical artifacts. A natural mercantile inclination and pragmatic mentality indeed made the Venetians particularly prone to eagerly bringing back to the homeland useful materials and beautiful objects found in their travels on the terraferma and in the Stato da Mar. During the Renaissance many of these imported antiquities were often considered no longer simply precious commodities, but important relics from the classical past worthy of being collected and studied.

By the end of the sixteenth century the city was filled, both in private palaces and in public places, with many classical relics such as the remains of Greek and Roman philosophers, Latin poets, ancient heroes and antique Gods. All of these treasures carried with them elaborate stories and notable pedigrees. This paper will shed light on some of these pagan relics and on their place in the cultural and social life of the ‘santa Republica’ of Venice.

Chiara Frison, Centro Studi Medievali e Rinascimentali “Emmanuele Antonio Cicogna”
“'La nobil [et sancta] cità de Venetia' in Giorgio Dolfin’s Chronicle”

The first definition of Venice in the “Cronicha dela nobil cità de Venetia et dela sua Provintia et Destretto (origini-1458),” the source for Sanudo’s “Le vite dei dogi,” is “citade edifichata da veri et boni Christiani.” In fact, the chronicle relates God’s revelation to Saint Mark of the place where Venice will have to be built, as He did with Israel, the Promised Land. And “boni Venetiani antiqui” spared no effort or expense to obtain sacred relics, to build churches or to advance the myth of Venice, travelling far and wide – especially to the East – to defend the Christian faith.

The “benedetta” Republica of Venice always responded to the papal call to arms in the fight against the Saracens. The chronicle’s author, Giorgio Dolfin, records that in 1107 Venetians helped Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, to deliver the Holy Sepulcher from the hands of the infidels. In 1416, the Venetian admiral, Piero Loredan, triumphed against the Turkish fleet at Gallipoli “per la gratia de Dio, et de l’evangelista missier san Marcho, et in honor dela Fede Christiana.” When Gabriele Condulmer became Pope Eugenio IV in 1431, a solemn procession of all the members of the religious hierarchy wended its way through the Piazza San Marco, accompanied by relics and a chorus of bells that rang throughout the other Venetian districts in thanks for God’s blessing. The last pages of the chronicle remember Lorenzo Giustinian, first Patriarch, “elemosinario, pieno di charità, adorato per santo,” a son of the Holy Republic of Venice.

Janna Israel, Virginia Commonwealth University
“Renewing the Santa Republica: The Translation of St. Athanasius to Venice”

My paper examines the ways in which Venice promoted itself as a Santa Republica in the mid-fifteenth century, when the Ottomans conquered the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Reports of impending danger and catastrophe to Christianity were repeated to rally support in the Veneto for military intervention abroad. This paper evaluates the translation narratives about holy objects and cultural artifacts to Venice for safekeeping during this time of geopolitical conflict. I focus on accounts of the translation of St. Athanasius to Venice from the former Constantinople to understand how the relic was used to reinforce the representation of the Venetian Republic as a safe haven for displaced objects. By analyzing the particular terms of Athanasius’ arrival in Venice against the more universal motifs that appeared in other translation narratives, I argue that Venice not only became a site of refuge for Christian objects in diaspora, but of prophecy as historical, scriptural, and mythical events were mined to offer guidance for the present conflict.

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