A formidable reading of Venetian history—how Venetians imagined their artistic, architectural, commercial, and political uniqueness—from Crouzet-Pavan (the Sorbonne).
Although the author divides her study of Venice into distinct spheres—the lagoon and then the greater sea world; the relations with terra firma Italy; the evolution of the state; everyday life—in each chapter these elements operate on planes of convergence, in a synchronicity of economic factors, social realities, cultural phenomena, political contingencies, symbols, and specific cartographies. To say that Crouzet-Pavan has a grasp of the literature, from the oldest parchments to contemporary writings, is an understatement, and she is always happy to poke a hole in a thesis—that Venice turned its back on the mainland, for example. She explores the city’s relationship to its site both as trope and as vehicle to commercial and political relationships, its location influencing how it grew through an arduous process of construction and helping shape the networks and customary relations of Venetian life. The historian traces the early crystallization of political forms and institutions, the interventionist character and harmonious activities of powerful families, paradigmatic shifts in government, and the surprising diversity of players within the city’s exclusiveness. Elegantly, she animates her story with the acts, words, and movements of actual Venetians, all within “a space in which men and women, acting in accordance with set rhythms, well-established codes, and accepted signs, fabricated history day by day, lived, produced, came together, and expressed their identities in specific practices and customs.” Crouzet-Pavan constantly shuffles the big picture with the human scale: international relations are crucially important, but so are the role of money-lending and salt production, not to mention confraternities, the parish bell tower, the candlestick maker, the fencing teacher, and the rag seller.
Crouzet-Pavan is an impressive conductor, making sprightly and complex music out of the myriad strains that shape Venice.