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Category: Venice

Kate MacCary, Fall 2021

City of Spectacle: Studying the Events of Venice in Duke University’s Visualizing Cities Lab

Under the guidance of Dr. Kristin Huffman, Team Venice began the semester by reading “Jacopo Sansovino, Giacomo Torelli, and the Theatricality of the Piazzetta in Venice” (Johnson 2000).[1] With this baseline understanding of the infrastructure and ideologies that support numerous displays of spectacular devotion or celebration, we then discussed specific events that take place in the city. Venice hosts many spectacles annually, and our project team members decided to each study our own spectacles to better cover the theatrical events. I chose to study Festa della Madonna della Salute and the Santa Maria della Salute basilica. Given the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the fall of 2021, I wanted to study how Venetians responded to the 1630 plague epidemic in their city.

Santa Maria della Salute was conceived of as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in her role as a protector of health. During the Venetian plague epidemic of 1630-1632, approximately one-third of the population perished. After a few months battling the plague, the Venetian Senate grasped for relief in fall of 1630; they opted to hold a competition to select the architect who would receive the commission to build the new church. Baldassare Longhena was selected, and construction began in 1631. (The church would not be fully completed for another 50 years, in 1681.) The Senate also decreed that it would process from Piazza San Marco on a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal to the new church that was to be located at Punta della Dogana (between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal) on the date of the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin (November 21). The bridge was planned to be a temporary addition to the cityscape every year, constructed solely for the Festa della Madonna della Salute procession on November 21. Longhena’s Baroque basilica is an octagonal structure with a central plan, two domes (though one is significantly more prominent), and a façade richly decorated in composite and Corinthian orders. The façade faces the Grand Canal. Processionals cross the Grand Canal toward the basilica’s portal entrance.[2]

I searched for paintings and photographs that capture the Salute procession, pontoon bridge, basilica, and the view of Longhena’s domes from the Grand Canal entrance. I then added a few key images to Team Venice’s Omeka site; each image captures the monumental, imposing nature of Salute at Punta della Dogana.

Team Venice created a Neatline map to plot the locations of our spectacles, processions, and/or churches on the Venetian cityscape. With help from Hannah Jacobs, we integrated the georeferenced and stitched Lodovico Ughi map of Venice (1729) as our basemap. The Venice Neatline was a shared project for the team. Each team member added a point corresponding to their researched spectacle, and Dr. Huffman wrote an introduction that we placed as a feature at the entrance to the Grand Canal. I added a point at Salute that embeds an image of the Festa della Madonna della Salute procession and a description of the basilica and procession.

Looking ahead, Team Venice can continue adding images to our Omeka site, points on our Neatline map, and contextualizing descriptions that distill the threaticalities and spatialities of Venetian spectacle. For Festa della Madonna della Salute, my next steps will be to add a point with images at Piazza San Marco and points along the route of the ephemeral pontoon bridge to visualize the procession that takes place on November 21. These additional points would correspond to additional images and text descriptions in the team’s Omeka site. We also discussed exploring platforms that would support a virtual “tour” of Venice along the Grand Canal, with tour stops at our spectacle sites. This tour would be an introductory video on our Omeka site and a guide through our Neatline. In future semesters, we can explore Google Earth to create such a feature with imagery of the city.Team Venice is certainly well-positioned to take this project in new directions going forward, as our Omeka site houses helpful metadata about our images and spectacle descriptions written by team members.

[1] Eugene J. Johnson, “Jacopo Sansovino, Giacomo Torelli, and the Theatricality of the Piazzetta in Venice,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 59, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), 436-453.

[2] Andrew Hopkins, “Plans and Planning for S. Maria Della Salute, Venice,” The Art Bulletin 79, No. 3 (1997), 440-465.

Daniel Block, Fall 2021

The Visualizing Cities Lab provides students with an opportunity to explore a wide range of historical urban practices. This semester, the project groups were all centered around the concept of spectacle, and how such experiences shape how a city is represented, for its visitors and residents alike. My experience led me to the Venice team, which enabled me to explore the history of the legendary Italian city, and discover the underpinnings of the societal, political and cultural factors that play into Venice as the floating, illusory experience that led to its popularity.

My group was composed of two undergraduates and one graduate student, led by Kristin Huffman, a researcher in the Art History department who focuses on Venice. She introduced us to the history and locale of the city, and discussed what our future research may entail. As a group, I believe we were able to balance a collective focus with individual endeavors. Each student in the group had a slightly different approach, for example, some focused on a particular spectacle, while others focused on religious pilgrimages. Yet, after all of our research came together, we were able to construct both individual and unified narratives of Venice.

My particular research was centered on the active decisions made by Venetian residents and officials that led to the centering of water as a political and ceremonial tool, rather than a simple backdrop. The waterways, including the small canals, the Grand Canal, and the Giudecca Canal, were carefully constructed as social meeting places, facilitators of business, and necessary components of Venetian spectacle. Huffman recommended readings such as Venice from the Water by Daniel Savoy, that provided me with a historical framework and examples with which to base my research upon. From there, I found historical maps, prints, and paintings that centered the Venetian waterways as places of activity and analyzed how the water was represented in those images, and how it facilitated the event occurring.

To combine the research of each individual teammate, we created an Omeka site, with a Neatline plugin. Each member added images ranging from Canaletto oil paintings from the 18th century to mid-19th century photography of the city. Omeka allows a user to input information about the author, date and materials of each work. Once these details have been inputted, we are able to provide a description of the historical context and methods in which these images add to our argument. To do this, we organize the Omeka materials into a Neatline exhibit. Our Neatline used a historical map of Venice as its backdrop, from which we added colored points to represent the location associated with our images. My discussions were centered around the interplay of human activity and the aquatic nature of the images. Messages of wealth through gondola decoration, or the arrangement of chairs on the bucentaur, the Doge’s lavish boat, all tell stories
hidden in the water.

At the end of the semester, each city group presented their Omeka sites and discussed their research for the future. This experience let us see how other groups had approached their research, and provided us with more examples to build from.

Ian Acriche, Fall 2021

Studying Venice in the context of celebration provided an interesting lens to understand a city that is very well known for its festivals. While I found events like the Carnival of Venice interesting, what most fascinates me about these types of events is their transitory nature. The constant influx and outflow of visitors is a story that has been inherent to Venice’s identity for hundreds of years. Pilgrimages to Venice was a field I found worth exploring.

While Venice had been a destination for pilgrims as early as the 11th century, I focused on the period of pilgrimages beginning around the second half of the 15th century when the number of pilgrimages increased enormously. As early as the 1200s, Venice had been the main administrator of transportation in the Mediterranean for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Though by the mid-1400s, Venice was less a gateway for pilgrims to travel through and more a place for pilgrims to actually spend time in as the city featured numerous holy sites and important relics. Exploring the idea of Venice as an earlier “tourist” city is what caught my attention. The pilgrimage experience in Venice included guided itineraries, required tour guides known as tholomagi, and restricted pilgrims from visiting certain locations within the city. Wealthy Venetian families profited heavily from pilgrims who were required to pay large expenses.

Working with Omeka Items and Neatline allowed for increased experience with digital tools.  I believe Omeka’s strengths included its ability to create a story between different locations through geographic visualizations. The plug-in ability with Omeka allowed us to easily transfer our collection items which for me included paintings of St. Mark’s Square, not only the main square in the city, but one of the earliest spots pilgrims would pass through after arriving.  Despite their useful applications, each software has a steep learning curve and I found the breakdown of Omeka difficult to understand — exhibits v.s. items v.s. collections.

I am not able to continue my project into the spring, but if I had the opportunity to do so, I would want to further explore the Venice-pilgrim relationship. Several of the readings I had used — The business of pilgrimage in fifteenth-century Venice and How to be a Time Traveller: Exploring Venice with a Fifteenth-Century Pilgrimage Guide — explored this relationship in great depth highlighting the transactional nature. Furthermore, I would hope to map places within the city that pilgrims were told to visit would, thus recreating the pilgrim experience on the interactive Ughi Map. Further incorporation of sources like the translated full-text Canon Pietro Casola’s Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 1494, which features his time in Venice on his way to the Holy Land, could help further conceptualize the pilgrimage experience.

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