Benjamin Arbel

title.none: Kittell and Madden, eds., Medieval and Renaissance Venice (Arbel)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.018 00.03.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Benjamin Arbel, Tel Aviv University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Kittell, Ellen and Thomas Madden, eds. Medieval and Renaissance Venice. Chicago, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. x, 345. $45.00. ISBN: 0-252-02461-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.18

Kittell, Ellen and Thomas Madden, eds. Medieval and Renaissance Venice. Chicago, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. x, 345. $45.00. ISBN: 0-252-02461-3.

Reviewed by:

Benjamin Arbel
Tel Aviv University

This collection of thirteen studies, written by leading scholars of Venetian history, was intended to be a volume in honor of Donald E. Queller, one of the foremost experts on medieval Venice. Queller's death in 1995 changed the character of this collection into a monument in memory of a scholar who was greatly respected by many of his pupils and colleagues. Covering a wide range of issues related to medieval and early modern Venice, these studies also reflect many of Queller's fields of interest.

An Introduction presenting Queller's scholarly work and interests emphasizes his high standards as a scholar and his personality. The development of Queller's scholarly interests, from his earlier studies on Venetian diplomacy, through his works on the Fourth Crusade, up to his last works dealing with the political myths of Venice and with family history, are presented against the background of wider developments in the community of historians. These historiographical stations are also used in the introduction as a general framework for a succinct and useful presentation of the various contributions to this volume. The volume also includes a list of Queller's publications and an index--an indispensable tool in a collective enterprise of this kind.

The first article, Louise Buenger Robbert's "Domenico Gradenigo: A Thirteenth-Century Venetian Merchant", is based on a rare collection of almost sixty unpublished archival documents, enabling a reconstruction of the business career and personal biography of a thirteenth-century Venetian patrician. Domenico Gradenigo's life is presented against the background of certain political events of his long life (spanning over eighty years), particularly the Fourth Crusade (1202-4) and the Crusade of Damietta (1217-21). This documentation allows the author to make some observations on various social and economic patterns characterizing thirteenth-century Venice. For example, the dispersal of Domenico's brothers in different mansions scattered over several Venetian parishes enables her to support Juergen Schultz's claim that unlike the Florentine or the Genoese, Venetian Patricians of that period did not live together as clans in large compounds. Gradenigo's business career included thirteen documented business trips between Venice and different parts of the eastern Mediterranean in his twenties and thirties, followed by a more sedentary life style. However, though belonging to a family long established in Venice and related to the city's leading noblemen, Domenico did not embark on a political career after ceasing his commercial voyages, and he is not known to have occupied any significant magistracy during the many decades of his residence in Venice, apparently preferring to focus on his investments in urban real estate and on the management of his properties in the vicinity of Venice, such as fishing areas, salt pans and vineyards, which continued to be held in partnership with his brothers even after the dissolution of their brotherhood ( fraterna).

Another interesting feature reflected in Gradenigo's career as a merchant actively involved in maritime trade is the investment of considerable sums made by women, both married and widowed, in his commercial ventures, a phenomenon indicating their relative economic independence. Women (normally a wife or a mother) also enjoyed full power of attorney to direct business affairs during the merchants' absence from the city.

The documents also offer a view of Gradenigo's piety, at least during the later phases of his life. Remaining childless, he bequeathed the greater part of his estate to the Church and to charity. Yet his special relations with certain ecclesiastical institutions, such as the monastery of St Zaccaria, were also a way to try and circumvent forced loans, by passing part of his property to the monastery in return for a yearly payment--a subterfuge which moved the authorities to legislate against such practice. This rare opportunity to trace a business career of a Venetian patrician of the early thirteenth century is handled carefully and intelligently in the experienced hands of Louise Buenger Robbert.

The second study is David Jacoby's "Cretan Cheese: A Neglected Aspect of Venetian Medieval Trade". Focusing on a commodity that had not attracted much interest even among economic historians, Jacoby emphasizes the importance of cheese, consumed by different social strata and particularly by specific groups, whose diet depended on this commodity, such as ship crews and passengers, soldiers, and Byzantine monks. Crete seems to have been an important production center, exporting its cheeses to many markets in the Mediterranean basin. Cheese production and exportation did not start with the Venetian conquest of the island, but the Venetian take-over in the early thirteenth century constituted a turning point in this regard, causing an increase in consumption of Cretan cheese on the island and linking local production to the Venetian trading system. Consequently, local lords and peasants were able to keep large herds (particularly sheep herds), and to supply great quantities of cheese at pre- established times, synchronized with the sailing periods of Venetian ships. Another interesting aspect is the intensification, at least during the fifteenth century, of cheese export to places such as Alexandria, Cyprus, Rhodes, Syria and lesser Armenia, carried out on board small Cretan vessels, i.e. by Greek subjects of the Republic. This activity was conducted under the vigilant eye of Venetian councils, to ensure proper revenues to the public treasury. Using a great variety of printed sources, such as commercial guides, notarial documents, customs lists, account books, and Jewish responsa, Jacoby convincingly exposes the importance of cheese production and trade both for the local economy of Venetian Crete (alongside other commodities, such as wine, honey, fruit and hides) and for international trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

The following article, "Ca' da Mosto", by Juergen Schulz, can be described as a "biography" of a Venetian palace. Though not one of the most famous or most beautiful palaces built along the city's Grand Canal, Ca' da Mosto is nevertheless an interesting monument, owing to its long history, parts of which may be followed through archival material and other written sources. A meticulous examination of the structural and stylistic aspects is combined with a solid research carried out in public and private collections, enabling Schulz to present the history of this palace in a broad chronological framework. The earliest testimonies point to the Barozzi family, which owned the palace during the thirteenth century, but stylistic analysis leads the author to suggest that the building actually incorporates an older structure, dating from the second half of the twelfth century. The building was divided already at an early stage between several members of the Barozzi family. In 1266 Cecilia da Mosto, a married woman, bought two sections of the palace, and subsequently sold them to her husband, Marco da Mosto. During the next three centuries the palace remained in the possession of the Da Mosto family, whose most famous representative was Alvise da Ca' da Mosto, apparently the first European to sight the coasts of western equatorial Africa (1455-56).

To prevent the division of the family estate, the palace (as well as other properties) was declared an entailed patrimony of males in the senior line of Marco's descendants. The death of the last male member in this line in 1552 caused a dispute, ending in a compromise: the palace remained in possession of the last male's daughter, Clara, wife of Giulio Dona. The Dona family, however, did not inhabit the palace but used it as a rental space. Eventually it became an inn called "Locanda del Leon Bianco", and the palace was known under this name until the nineteenth century, when the Venetian antiquarian Tassini rediscovered its earlier history, identifying it as "Ca' da Mosto".

Schulz was also able to trace some of the external and internal modifications carried out during the nine centuries of the palace's existence. The thirteenth-century building had only one storey above the ground floor. One may wonder whether many other contemporary palaces on the Grand Canal and in other part of the city were similar, creating an urban landscape quite different from the one to which we are accustomed. The second floor was added in the fourteenth century, and the present attic floor first appears in an eighteenth-century drawing. A few architectonic details shed light on some mundane elements, such as lavatories and fireplaces (no less than eight in the thirteenth century!).

The interest of this study stems from the possibility to follow at least some historical stages of this building by combining systematic architectonic and artistic analysis with documentary research, partly based on the private collection of the Dona family. Unfortunately many chapters of this long "biography" remain untold. One wonders, for instance, what was going on in this palace during the long period of nearly three centuries when it functioned as an inn. But it is doubtful whether it would ever be possible to glimpse into this chapter of Ca' da Mosto's history.

Thomas F. Madden's "Venice's Hostage Crisis: Diplomatic Efforts to Secure Peace with Byzantium between 1171 and 1184", is a reassessment of some accepted beliefs concerning the relations between Venice and Byzantium during the two decades preceding the Fourth Crusade. As a starting point, Madden chooses the dramatic arrest of all Venetians in the Byzantine Empire and the confiscation of their goods in 1171, events that had traditionally been regarded as the main cause of the Fourth Crusade. That point had already been refuted by Queller and Madden in a previous study. This article focuses on the developments between 1171 and 1184, a date figuring in modern historiography as marking a formal (temporary) reconciliation between the two powers. A meticulous re-examination of published sources, including a few commercial documents, leads Madden to conclude that, contrary to statements repeated by several historians, the agreement signed in 1175 between Venice and the Normans of Sicily was not an anti-Byzantine military treaty, but rather a renewal of former agreements, which, as far as Byzantium was concerned, could merely have intimidated the eastern emperor for a short while. Moreover, according to Madden, there is no proof of the existence of an agreement signed between Venice and Byzantium in 1179. Instead, peace seems to have been concluded some time in 1182, and when a senior Venetian delegation visited Constantinople in 1184, it did not come to negotiate with the emperor, but rather to smooth the process of re-establishment of the Venetians in their quarter.

The following study is actually an exposition of a scholarly dialogue between Alfred J. Andrea and John C. Moore, entitled: "The Date of Reg. 6:102: Pope Innocent III's Letter of Advice to the Crusaders". Pope Innocent III's so-called "Letter of Advice", is an undated letter sent by the Pontiff to the non- Venetian participants in the Fourth Crusade. It is described by the authors as an important piece of evidence regarding the Pope's attitude to, and his role in, the famous, or infamous, Crusade. The debate unfolded in this study leads Andrea to retract his former dating, conceding that "given the current state of our knowledge, the document should, for the time being, be dated to June 1203."

Alan M. Stahl has contributed an essay on "The Coinage of Venice in the Age of Enrico Dandolo". Few scholars share Stahl's ability to present highly technical questions in the field of numismatics in such a clear and interesting manner that captivates even a non-expert reader. Here he presents one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of medieval coinage--the reforms carried out in Venice under Doge Enrico Dandolo (1192-1205). The reforms are presented in a wide historical framework, showing how they were actually a response to economic transformations to which many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean world were subject during the second half of the twelfth century. The devaluation of Verona's penny to which the Venetian one had been pegged, the development of new silver mines in the Alpine region, monetary changes in Byzantium and the crisis in Venetian-Byzantine relations in 1171, and even the coinage of the English sterling ("Short cross" coins) are some of the factors presented as parts of a wide monetary system whose various components were increasingly influencing each other in the age of the commercial revolution. The Venetian monetary reforms comprised several epoch-making innovations: the coinage of the grosso, a coin of about 2.2 grams of nearly pure (98.5%) silver, which, according to Stahl, was the first high denomination coin of Latin Europe in five centuries; coinage of the quartarolo, the first token or fiduciary coin since Roman times; and finally, by adding another coin, the bianco, or half penny, Venice was the first European power to posses a coinage system of multiple denominations. These reforms seem to reflect Venice's position at the forefront of the important economic transformations that characterized the more advanced urban societies of those centuries.

The following study, "From Trousseau to Groom gift in Late Medieval Venice", by Stanley Chojnacki, is a response to an earlier article published by Donald Queller and Thomas Madden, in which the two scholars questioned a few of Chojnacki's interpretations concerning the role of dowries in late medieval and early Renaissance Venice. In their article (Renaissance Quarterly 1993), Queller and Madden questioned Chojnacki's explanation that dowries mainly served patrician fathers to enhance their political and social standing in Venice, and that the inflation characterizing the dowry market of fifteenth and early sixteenth-century Venice reflected growing competition among fathers to secure appropriate son-in-laws. Queller and Madden presented a model according to which the father's share in the daughter's dowry was only one part, not necessarily the greatest, of the sum that finally constituted the dowry. The rest came from non-paternal kin, particularly women. According to the two scholars, fathers simply accumulated various contributions, adding their own part in due time, when dowries were actually disbursed. The fathers' interest, according to Queller and Madden, was not to use in-laws to build political alliances, but rather to preserve the family's status. The inflation in the sums paid out as dowries was caused, therefore, by the growing importance of non-paternal members as contributors to the girls' dowries, and the legislation that limited the size of dowries only reflected an attempt by male patricians to restrain the growing economic weight of women in Venetian society.

Chojnacki defends his well-known interpretation by exposing a few weaknesses in the above-mentioned article. For example, fathers often died before marrying off their daughters, leaving the marriage arrangements in the hands of other family members, who often were their wives. They could therefore not serve as a "family deposit" for future dowries. Using a much larger statistical base, Chojnacki demonstrates that dowries were not as standardized as claimed by Queller and Madden. But the main interest of this study lies in its focus on a rather neglected aspect of patrician dowries: the corredo, or trousseau. Queller and Madden observed that there was a marked discrepancy between the sums assigned to dowries in wills of various family members and the sums actually conveyed to bridegrooms as dowries. According to Chojnacki, the difference did not stem from the function of fathers as a family deposit bank of non- paternal allocations (as suggested by Queller and Madden), but rather from the fact that part of the capital invested in marriage arrangements was defined as corredo, or trousseau, and was legally and practically distinct from the dowry. Interestingly, the nature of the trousseau was changing between the late fourteenth and the early fifteenth century. Whereas originally conceived as comprising various personal items given to the bride for her own use, it increasingly became a present given to the bridegroom and, contrary to the dowry, not subject to any legal limitations. The inflation characterizing fifteenth-century dowries was to a considerable extent an attempt by fathers to increase this part of the marriage arrangement, leading the state to limit by legislation the relative part of the corredo in the comprehensive sums given to bridegrooms. Chojnacki explains that the growing dependence of many patricians on income derived from public office created a strong incentive for fathers, eager to secure votes in the Great Council, to build family alliances. The in- laws and their male relatives were an important instrument of this strategy, which led less prominent families to "sell" their daughters to the more prominent patricians. Nonetheless, family status and honor, as stressed by Queller and Madden, were also factors that had to be taken into account, leading patrician fathers to prefer sending their daughters to monasteries rather than marrying them to "an inadequately dowered and corredowed-marriage".

Guido Ruggiero's paper, "The Abbot's Concubine: Lies, Literature, and Power at the End of the Renaissance", is a micro-history analysis, based on a file in the archives of the Venetian Holy Office, concerning an Abbot in the province of Friuli and a woman who was his concubine for many years. The reality behind the various allegations presented before the judges of the Inquisition is less important, according to Ruggiero, than the common beliefs and verisimilitudes which the Abbot and other persons involved in this affair were using when presenting their contrasting claims. According to Ruggiero, what finally decided the matter was the efficiency of lies produced by either side, and the relative efficiency of the respective lies largely depended on accepted beliefs and attitudes toward women, abbots etc., which can also be encountered in the literature of that period. But not less interesting are the petty pieces of social reality which both sides took for granted, such as the normality of the situation of an abbot or a priest living for many years with concubines, and raising children together, particularly in the post- Tridentine period. Ruggiero discusses what he calls "micro- strategies of power", which he convincingly presents as having great influence on the life of individuals. Women, or worse, concubines, who are normally considered as powerless with respect to men on whom they depended, are revealed to possess power of their own, which, if used with courage and intelligence, as in the case of the concubine Cecilia and her mother Lucia (a concubine herself), may lead them to success. These micro-strategies of power may even have contributed to reinforce fears of female sexual power over men, fears that may also be encountered in contemporary literature.

Robert C. Davis's "The Spectacle Almost Fit for a King: Venice's Guerra de' canne of 26 July 1574" focuses on a popular tradition related to old rivalries between two groupings of Venetian popular strata. Like the Sienese Palio, the periodic "wars" between Castellani and Nicolotti, reflected a genuine and deep-rooted tradition of local patriotism, tolerated by the Government despite its violent character, probably because it served, in a way, as a safety valve for accumulated frustrations and energies that could have been otherwise directed against the upper classes. A popular poem presenting such a "war", which is said to have taken place on a specific day in 1521, is used to emphasize the strong feelings behind this event as well as its violent character, normally leading to numerous and severe casualties. Davis's central argument revolves around the specific character of this Venetian tradition, and its historical transformation during the early modern period. An observation made by Norbert Elias (referring to English medieval "folk football") on forms of popular and violent amusement that cannot be considered as sport, because lacking what Elias called "tension-equilibrium", serves Davis as a tool for analyzing these developments. The specificity of the Venetian "war of the sticks" is linked to the peculiarity of Venice's urban layout: these violent encounters took place on a particular bridge, with the two factions stationed at the opposite sides of the canal. Thus it did not slowly wind itself down, like other popular melees, but was periodically reinvigorating as new clutters of fighters reached the top of the bridge, while those who preceded them tumbled into the water. The event also had a time limit, taking place in a specific Sunday afternoon, following Mass and the holiday dinner, and going on until dark.

During the Renaissance, the war of the sticks often became a show, organized in honor of important visitors. This aspect is of particular interest since it reflects a tendency to transform the popular tradition into an organized sporting spectacle, performed by "professionals". The visit of the future Henry III in 1574, on his way from his former kingdom of Poland to his new French throne, constituted a significant moment in this (unaccomplished) process. Not willing to take too many chances, and anxious to keep the event under control, the authorities were trying to devise rules which would prevent its transformation into a bloody spectacle. Yet the all- powerful Venetian government was not always able to control the lower strata of society, because the imposed rules, including penalties to transgressors, did not prevent the continuing of these events according to their traditional and spontaneous pattern. Thus, the "civilizing process" in this case never reached completion, and the Guerra de' canni always maintained its amateurish and spontaneous character, though losing some of its violence when the "war of the fists" took the place of the "war of the sticks" by the turn of the seventeenth century.

Brian Pullan's "Town Poor, Country Poor: The Province of Bergamo from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century" demonstrates once again his great expertise in social history, and particularly in the study of poverty. This time he applies it not to Venice itself but to one of its subject territories in the terraferma. This is a long-term examination, based on the relazioni, or reports, presented in writing to the Venetian Senate by the outgoing governors of each territory subject to Venetian rule. The special character of these reports, which reflect roughly the same preoccupations of Venetian magistrates, enable the historian to carry out a kind of serial study, in which similar phenomena are observed by a succession of magistrates who compiled their reports according to the same criteria for several centuries. Though clearly reflecting the interests of the rulers, these reports often present the social conditions in the territories under their administration in a relatively balanced and realistic manner. Pullan observes that in most cases, these governors, who rarely served for more than two years in any single province, were better at pointing out problems than at solving them, and their reports often reflect their frustration due to this chronic impotence.

Pullan describes the weaknesses of the province of Bergamo, one of the poorest in the Venetian terraferma, where emigration constituted the main way to ease economic stress. The difficult conditions characterizing life in the Bergamasco and the omnipresence of Bergamo immigrants in many parts of Italy helped create a stereotyped literary figure, immortalized in the novels of early modern writers, such as Bandello or Straparola.

Iron mining, woolen industries and later paper and silk industries periodically helped to ease local difficulties, but often also served as tools of exploitation, for example through female or child employment on scanty wages. The inability to modernize industrial production, a fiscal system disadvantageous to workers, and particularly the power of local potentates and criminals, were the main factors that perpetuated and often worsened the situation of the poor. These had to rely to a great extent on many charity institutions, which owned a great part of landed property in the province and offered assistance both in the main urban center and in the countryside. In the late sixteenth century, over 30% of Bergamo's inhabitants depended to some extent on charity. No less impressive is the great number of charity institutions functioning throughout the province of Bergamo, whose population numbered some 160,000 souls: of 249 localities in the Bergamasco, 143 had charity institutions, and this picture becomes even more impressive when taking into account the size of localities and their distance from Bergamo, from which Pullan deduces that about 80% of the inhabitants were able to enjoy charity of some sort. Yet, this picture has to be circumscribed by the fact that a great part of the resources at the disposal of charity institutions were devoted to the support of clergymen rather than of the lay poor. However, what emerges from the relazioni is mainly the inability of the ruling Republic to change substantially the basic forces behind these social and economic tensions. Charity institutions seem to have occupied a central role in keeping poverty "under control", whereas most ideas suggested by governors in their reports and the few initiatives intended to alleviate poverty were of little avail.

Benjamin Ravid dedicates his paper to "Curfew Time in the Ghetto of Venice". For two hundred and eighty one years, Jewish presence in Venice was subject to several restrictions, the most conspicuous being the obligations to wear special headgear and to live in the ghetti and remain enclosed within its walls at nighttime. Ravid emphasizes that beyond the usual religious concepts that underlay anti-Jewish legislation, a constant fear from sexual intercourse between Jews and Christian women characterizes many Venetian actions related to this subject. Ravid surveys Venetian legislation concerning Jews in the city from the establishment of the first ghetto in 1516 to the demise of the Republic in 1797, with special attention to the tension between constant and continuous efforts to segregate Jews from Christians, and the practical needs which were occasionally met by more pragmatic attitudes. Thus, if repeated enactments tried to enforce laws intended to keep the ghetti closed at night, or even to prevent any possibility for Jews to see the surrounding world from their windows or balconies, other measures reveal that such a policy could not always be implemented. For example, during plague, healthy Jews were permitted to stay outside the ghetto; Jewish doctors enjoyed relative liberty of movement, and were even exempted from the obligation to wear a red hat; merchants of the ghetto vecchio were allowed to leave or enter the ghetto at night, when their ships arrived or were about to sail; pawn banks were allowed to keep quays or steps leading to the canals; sick individuals were granted permission to stay outside the ghetti for limited periods etc. During the seventeenth century special permits were even issued on printed forms, which may indicate that they were not so rare. Moreover, it seems that during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, not a few Jews kept storehouses outside the ghetti, and probably also used them for purposes not necessarily related to commerce.

But on the whole, official policy did not change, being guided by traditional restrictions imposed on Jews by the Catholic Church long before the establishment of the ghetti, and in particular by the obsession regarding sexual promiscuity between Jews and Christians. These repeated enactments indicate that the official curfew imposed on Jews could hardly be fully implemented, and that the Venetian government, though always keeping to its traditional policies, was sometimes even reluctant to enforce them. Thanks to studies of this kind, we get a more complex and realistic idea of the long-term relationship between Jews and Christians in the city of the lagoons.

Alexander Cowan's paper, "Patricians and Partners in Early Modern Venice", deals with lay concubinage among seventeenth- century patricians. Cowan's source material mainly consists of two kinds of documents, both of which concern couples who were about to marry after having lived together as partners: the investigation of the Venetian state attorneys (avvogadori di comun) into the status of non-patrician women who intended to marry their noble partners, and the records of the so-called "secret marriages" sanctioned by the Church. The latter were legal procedures, depending on a special dispensation issued by Venice's Patriarch, the only differences between them and normal marriages being that they were not publicized or celebrated in the bride's parish, nor were they registered in the parish records. As Cowan admits, this documentary basis is partial, since only those liaisons which finally ended in legal marriage were recorded in these collections, and no quantitative conclusions can therefore be reached concerning the scope of this phenomenon.

For patricians, consensual marriage, based on the pre- Tridentine concept which legitimized marriage based on reciprocal engagement, was insufficient, since the offspring of such a liaison, particularly the male, were not considered as patricians (natural daughters of similar liaisons could marry patricians). Yet, according to Cowan, such consensual marriages were "a widely recognized, if irregular phenomenon". The women involved came from a wide geographical and social spectrum: from servants or "Turkish" girls captured during a sea voyage, to natural daughters of patrician or daughters of notaries. The testimonies by third parties on candidates for marriage offer Cowan a glimpse into the characteristics of these unofficial relationships. No unified pattern could be detected. There were, for example, discrete liaisons, with the male partner returning alone to his palace every night. More often, the patrician and his female partner kept households with children and servants, leading a "normal" family life, with friends and neighbors accepting the situation without much ado. The transition to legal marriage was also relatively simple, and did not change much in reality. Cowan therefore asks what pushed patricians to this kind of arrangement and what finally induced them to legalize it. For the former question there is probably no single and clear answer, but Cowan tends to view the particular social and economic circumstances which excluded many male patricians from legal marriage in order to prevent dissolution of family wealth as a main factor, although this cannot be clearly substantiated by other sources. At any rate, it seems that from the 1680s on, pressure exerted by churchmen, most probably through confessions, may have induced many patrician to go through the procedure of secret marriage. Nevertheless, Even if the great majority of married patricians were "properly" married, Venetian society as a whole seems to have remained relatively indifferent to distinctions between couples married with the blessing of priests and others living under the same roof for years without being formally married.

The last essay in this collection is Robert Finlay's "The Myth of Venice in Guicciardini's History of Italy: Senate Orations on Princes and the Republic". During the Renaissance, the myth of Venice was a forceful political tool, both inside and outside the city. Finlay examines the use of the myth by the Florentine historian Francesco Guicciardini, whose History of Italy is considered to be one of the greatest monuments of Renaissance historiography. Faithful to classical tradition, Guicciardini introduces into his narrative orations, which enable him to present motivations and analyze particular situations. These orations are literary constructions, but with Guicciardini they are based on a careful historical research of the events of his own period, in which the historian himself played an active and relatively important role. Therefore, according to Finlay, these speeches should not be considered as entirely fictitious, but rather as a presentation of real dilemmas and discussions that took place in different situations.

Finlay analyzes six debates of this type, which, according to Guicciardini, were supposed to have taken place in the Venetian Senate. Each one of them represents a critical moments in one of the most dramatic phases in Venetian history Ð between 1494 and 1523 - during the difficult years of the Italian wars. In a very subtle and ironical way Guicciardini, who, like other Florentine intellectuals, was not a great admirer of Venice, uses Senate orations, which he puts in the mouth of leading Venetian politicians, to show how Venetians were entrapped by the myth of an eternal Republic, which was destined to exist for ever. Monarchies, they believed, were ruled by individuals who were motivated by emotions, personal ambitions and revenge. The Republic, on the other hand, was led by a large, responsible and experienced body (the Venetian Senate), and was based on a political and social system, which guaranteed its stability and longevity. The Senate orations and the decisions consequently taken by the Republic on each of the six cases are used by Guicciardini to show how, blinded by such beliefs, Venetians were unable to grasp the changing realties that began to transform the Italian political scene with the French invasion of 1494. Their anachronistic clinging to the myth made them, in Guicciardini's eyes, chief culprits in Italy's disaster. As demonstrated by Finlay, Guicciardini's acute critical capacities enabled him to deal with the myth as a historical factor which repeatedly led the Venetian senators to take the wrong decisions, at least as long as they were still able to have some influence on events. Finally, during the last debate in 1523, the myth disappeared from the debate, with two opposing views presented by two leading statesmen who recognized that any choice by the Senate would entail great danger for the Republic. However, it was already too late to take any action. By then the "Tragedy of Italy" was irreversible, with Charles V ruling over a great part of the peninsula, and with Venice unable to influence Italy's and her own fate in face of Fortuna's greater forces.

To conclude, this is a very rich volume, containing a great variety of interesting essays, mostly by leading scholars of Venetian history. Each one of these studies is an original contribution to its field, and several of them lead us through on-going debates that will undoubtedly continue in other premises.