Venic and the Slavs. the Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment

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Larry Wolff. Venice and the Slavs. The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. 408 pp. Bibliography. Index. $49.50, cloth.

This study provides a multi-faceted approach to what the Venetian Empire saw as its civilizing mission towards its Slavic neighbours and subjects in the maritime province of Dalmatia. The Discovery of Dalmatia is largely a literary journey. Images of Dalmatia as presented in eighteenth-century literature are first examined in the introduction and initial chapters. Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had introduced one of the themes of this history-the barbaric East versus the civilized West. Public conceptions of Dalmatia as formed by Goldoni's play La Dalmatina and by Carlo Gozzi's memoirs, are cogently analyzed in Chapter One. More detailed attention is given to Travels in Dalmatia by the Abbe Alberto Fortis of Padua, which also appeared in English, French and German (Chapter Two). Fortis's principal vocation was natural history, but his wide-ranging interests allow Wolff to acquaint his reader with the history, architecture and geology of the region. Dalmatia had been a province of the Serene Republic since the early fifteenth century, but Venetian interest in Dalmatia increased in the eighteenth century after the interior areas were added to its territory; in fact Wolff describes Dalmatia as Venice's America (p. 5). He devotes later chapters (three and four) to the Morlacchi, pastoral Orthodox Slavs, living in the interior, the more italianized cities of the coast being the areas where a greater number of Catholics resided. Wolff examines Fortis's defence of the social customs of the Morlacchi as "the innocent and natural liberty of the pastoral centuries" (p. 170). He first demonstrates how Fortis' portrayal of the Morlacchi character as different from the lazy, but ferocious savages of other accounts, caused them to be eulogized by Goethe, Madame de Stael, Merimee and other European authors. However, the greatest impression from Viaggia in Dalmazia was made on the Venetian reading public. Wolff shows how this led to increased knowledge about Dalmatia in Venice, causing an awakening of interest in the reform of its administration of the Morlacchi and also a general recognition of Slavic culture and ethnographic relations. The literary works examined by Wolff highlight the relations between the Venetian Empire and its Dalmatian subjects. Replete with meticulously annotated factual information, the book also contains colourful illustrations of Catholic-Orthodox, empire-colony and Slavic-Italian relations and a wealth of spirited anecdotes. …