First, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you guy have a lovely day with someone you love and if not, drink some wine and eat some food and it’ll feel the same! 🙂
Second, if you want to work with me, I’ve added a new contact page to my blog with links to my CV and resume. Check it out and let’s collaborate!
Anyway, last night I went to another lecture (read about the first one here) at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia. This one consisted of 4 speakers who talked about various topics including architecture, music, economy, and religion as it related to the Venetocracy or period of Venetian rule in what is today modern Greece and Eastern Europe. East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its eastern frontiers showcased scholarship from Patricia Fortini Brown, Larry Wolff, Molly Greene, and Daphne Lappa.
Patricia Fortini Brown spoke about policies and ideas that influenced Venetian defensive architecture in its colonies. This presentation was fascinating because while I have obviously seen copious amounts of Venetian architecture in my travels, one seldom things about the civic ideals which influenced it (at least I don’t). Brown points to the idea of Munire et Onare or the dual concept of protection and ornamentation. She also related her work to scholarship presented in Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference and The Kings Two Bodies. She mentioned that Venice governed in its eastern (SN: I ALWAYS WANT TO CAPITALIZE DIRECTIONS) colonies by using local elites as middlemen between the Venetian state and the local population. This was a common practice for all successful empires, including Venice. She also explained that the ornamentation of defensive structures was often tripartite: it featured the Doge, St. Mark, and God the Father and could either be directed inward or outward-conveying different ideas of civic identity in each case.
Gates and fortresses were the most commonly built structures in the colonies and they focused on points of egress and ingress. A few interesting things I learned from this presentation: the longest continuous siege in history occurred between Venice and the Ottomans (21 years), Corfu remained a Venetian colony until the Republic itself collapsed in 1797 (knew about this but forgot), and in 1567 Venice finished building an 11-point star fortress with each point being named after a noble family.
The second speaker was Larry Wolff. His presentation covered the presence of Ottoman subjects in Venetian and European opera, as subjects of both tragedy and comedy. He presented samples of the music which was a really nice touch, but the presentation seemed rushed. He did introduce a fascinating concept: the triplex confinium or the axis between Venice, Austria, and the Ottoman empire. This was especially interesting to me because a large part of my research focused on the cultural influence of Viennese nobility on Venetian economic patterns. I am ignorant of art and music history in all capacities so I definitely learned the most from this presentation. He explained that the first opera about a Turkish subject emerged in 1689 but references to Turks were completely erased in the 1800s. I think this is an especially interesting topic because it provides a way to connect contemporary issues to the past. The portrayal of Ottoman subjects in Venice could easily be extrapolated to contemporary portrayals of Muslims in Europe today. There is definitely room for some fascinating comparative scholarship (he just wrote a book so maybe he talks about it?)! Something else that was especially intriguing was the fact that Naples seems to have been a more popular cultural center than Venice. Once of the operas he spoke about debuted in Naples in 1820 and then in Venice in 1822 with a revised ending (counter-factual, as he said). When one considers the north-south divide in contemporary Italy and the idea of Italian culture as it relates to this divide, one wonders how this divide affected opera and music history on the peninsula. Something else for me to look into!
The third presentation was the most interesting to me and connected most directly to my own past research, although I was disappointed because Molly Greene didn’t include any information about the Jewish influence on the Venetian-Ottoman economic relationship. This was especially surprising because she directly addressed the fact that many Venetian subjects in the Ottoman empire were Cretans-and there has been a lasting community of Jews on Crete which I believe played an important economic role as intercessors between Venice and the Ottomans. She did introduce an idea that I hadn’t ever heard about: the economic network between Alexandria, Istanbul and Venice. I have studied Venetian trade with the Levant, but didn’t ever consider the centrality of Alexandria in its economic history. I am also interested to know how Jerusalem factored into this economic network, if at all. She also introduced something I had absolutely no clue about-the fact that the majority of Venetians in the Ottoman empire were Greek and the fact that Greek merchants ran the Fondaco de Turchi in Venice! Her first book, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean covers the transition from Venetian to Ottoman rule on Crete so I definitely want to check it out and see if there is any mention of Jewish economic networks on the island or in either of the metropoles. She also mentioned the Venetian retreat from maritime trade, which connected directly the last chapter of my thesis. This is also a great place to connect Larry Wolff’s triplex confinium to changes in Venetian economic patterns because Venetian nobles looked to Vienna for ways to move away from the stato da mar.
Finally, Daphne Lappa presented part of her work on borderland religious practices and the blending of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholicism in Corfu. This presentation was by far the best organized. She presented the time period, location, and subject clearly and she used primary sources (both textual and artistic) as evidence of her thesis. Again, I think this topic also opens up new areas to be explored relating to Judaism. She explicitly stated that Orthodox practices influenced Roman Catholics and vice versa. It would be interesting to see what the relationship was between Roman Catholics, Orthodox believers, and Jews in Venice’s eastern colonies. I think the most fascinating aspect of this presentation was the idea of double churches, or churches built for Orthodox and Roman Catholics to worship simultaneously. Her presentation was also extremely interesting for me because I know scholars who study borderlands in the context of Texas-Mexico and I would be interested to see how borderlands religion in Texas has been influenced, especially in relation to Protestantism. Another fascinating aspect of this presentation was the role of calendars in Orthodox and Roman Catholic division. Lappa explained that Roman Catholics celebrated Orthodox Easter and didn’t follow the calendar change that occurred in the Roman rite.
SN: One of the presenters also mentioned that on the Hapsburg-Ottoman border, Hungarian was spoken on both sides.
While Molly Greene’s scholarship connected more closely to my own than the others, each presenter taught me something I didn’t know and definitely helped me expand and complicate my knowledge of Venetian history as it relates to the orient and occident. I think Venice proper was an economic and religious borderland in many capacities. As Muslims, Christians, and Jews worked and lived together in the city and its colonies, they created a unique economy and citizenry which helped forge a thousand-year-old empire. In the end, I think this topic is extremely relevant to our current time. Of course, history is cyclical. Not only can we explore the localisms of past European borderlands and adapt those lessons to our own southwestern borders, but Ottoman religious and economic relations with Europe are especially pertinent in contemporary times.
I don’t know when the next lecture is, but I’ll definitely keep you guys posted. I’ll be here learning more Venetian history!