Venetians and Greeks - The 16th Century previous_inactive 1/5 next

The sixteenth-century Arsenal debate I

The most renowned figures in the political and cultural life of Venice took active part in the construction and renewal of the Arsenale. These future doges  and procurators of San Marco  included names such as Caterino and Nicolò Zen, Vettor Grimani, Marc'Antonio Barbaro, Giacomo Contarini, Sebastiano Venier, Pasquale Cicogna, Leonardo Donà, and Giacomo Foscarini. It is likely that the participation of men of such calibre encouraged the debate over the practical and symbolic function of the Arsenale , 'heart of the Venetian State' as it was defined by the Senate , in a law of 1520. Throughout the sixteenth century the Arsenale became the setting for an impassioned polemic on the issue of Venetian values during a time of great unrest. The intellectuals, who followed the debate with the greatest interest, argued that the primary function of the Arsenale - construction - should be marked by conservative austerity. This ideological approach was inspired by nostalgia for a lost Golden Age, for the grandeur of the origins of Venetian civilisation. One of the principal figures in the industrious Arsenale, Daniele Zen, wrote bitterly of his contemporaries in 1557: 'desire is turned either to dissolute living or the vainglory of dress, or the reckless desire to buy, or pride and grandeur of buildings'1, when instead their ancestors had established by law 'more for equality and similitude, in order not to dominate one over another... that all habitations were equal, similar, of the same size and decoration'2. This is the same ideology that recurs in the works of Baldissera Drachio, the most original of the expert technicians who served the patrician class in the maintenance of the Arsenale.

1 'la voluttà si volge o nel dissoluto vivere o nella vanagloria del vestire, o nello sfrenato desiderio dell'acquistare, o nella superbia e grandezza delle fabriche'
2 'più per aguaglianza et similitudine, per non soprafarsi l'un l'altro... che tutte le habitationi fossero pari, simili, d'una medesima grandezza et ornato'

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Viaggio virtuale tra le fonti storiche veneziane
Rotta: Venezia e il Levante (sec XV - sec XVIII)
© 1996 by the VENIVA consortium