The story of the spirit of the Most Serene Republic of Venice.
Novelist and nonfiction author Strathern (The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped, 2011, etc.) points out that Venice was, for hundreds of years, a commercial republic, a trade center happy to flaunt her wealth, and highly pragmatic in her politics, diplomacy and religion. Her navy was world famous, and with good reason; the most famous condottiere, Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400–1475), actually dragged ships over a mountain to Lake Garda to relieve Brescia from Milanese forces. Strathern deftly weaves the history of the near-continuous wars with Genoa and Milan into short biographical sketches of the Venetian giants of the arts and sciences. She fostered so many innovations, they’re difficult to list. Her bureaucracy was second to none, and it served as the birthplace of statistics, double-entry accounting and the concept of the assembly line (which could outfit a galley in the time it took to eat dinner). It was the home of the first journalist, satirist Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), and, thanks to the printing press, the first regular newspaper. The presses were also able to spread the music of opera, and the first tourist guide was published in 1581, 16 years after “Il Catalogo…(The Catalogue of All the Main and Less Honoured Courtesans of Venice).” Venice also served as the bulwark against the Eastern empires, but when her powers weakened, the Ottomans and, finally, Napoleon put an end to her greatness. After the French army left, writes the author, “[t]he 1,000-year-old Republic of Venice was no more.”
The great artists, explorers and scientists of the period are well-noted, but La Serenissima is the true subject of this book, and a better inducement to visit would be hard to find.