Fabius Maximus in Venice: Doge Andrea Gritti, the War of Cambrai, and the Rise of Habsburg Hegemony, 1509-1530 [*]
Finlay, Robert, Renaissance Quarterly
As a consequence of its dismal experience in the War of Cambrai (1509-1517), the Venetian Republic adopted a military policy of avoiding battlefield encounters. As a commander in the war and as doge of Venice after 1523, Andrea Gritti was the foremost proponent of this strategy, earning for himself the appellation of "Fabius Maximus," the Roman general who opposed Hannibal by delay and defense in the Second Punic War. In the 1520s, the Republic aspired to play the role of a great power -- or at least that of an independent, balancing force between France and the Spanish-Habsburg Empire; but its refusal to commit its troops to battle fatally weakened the political coalitions opposing Charles V and thereby significantly contributed to the rise of Habsburg hegemony in Italy. A major step toward Charles V's triumph was the infamous Sack of Rome in 1527, a calamity for which the Fabian policy of Venice bears some responsibility.
The character of Doge Andrea Gritti (r.1523-1538) of the Venetian Republic is vividly captured in Titian's famous portrait: brow furrowed, mouth grimly set, massive chest swelling beneath a cape, the head of state violently clutches his crimson robe and glares at the viewer.  The painting conveys the terribilita which was highlighted by Gritti's sixteenth-century biographer: "In giving or receiving compliments, it was impossible to be livelier or wittier in manner; but if provoked by some malevolence or rancor, there was no aspect more terrifying than his."  Making a report before Gritti and his ducal council was never a perfunctory exercise. When a fleet commander, in a typically accommodating gesture, gave blanket commendations to all his patrician subordinates, "The Most Serene Prince thanked him coldly, saying, 'You've praised everyone, but we wish to know who has done well and who badly.'" 
A dynamic, authoritarian individual, Gritti exercised the prestige and power of his office to the full. He refused to tolerate interference with his authority over the chancellery, and he ordered investigation of patricians who abused their office. He kept important matters in the hands of the governing councils and away from the Senate and Great Council, provoking one patrician to complain that "we are under a republic and not under a lord."  The oath taken by the doge upon election spelled out numerous restrictions on his authority, and, in principle, he could do nothing without the consent of his councillors. Gritti, however, bridled at restraints on his power. More than once, the Council of Ten had to readminister the ducal oath to him after he conferred privately (and illicitly) with foreign envoys. 
The force of Doge Gritri's personality and convictions was also manifest in his promotion of a wide-ranging agenda of cultural and intellectual renovatio designed to elevate the prestige of the Republic, including introducing new musical, literary, and architectural styles.  As part of this program, he patronized a number of learned patricians with whom he shared a love of classical antiquity. In 1530, the humanist Pierro Bembo was appointed official historian of Venice with the support of Gritti.  Marco Foscari, a leading patrician and a cousin of Gritti, liberally laced his report to the Senate and Signoria on his term as ambassador in Florence in 1527 with quotations from Aristotle and Livy.  The doge was also dose to Gasparo Contarini, who wrote his De magistratibus et republica Venetorum in the mid-1520s, when he was serving as the Venetian ambassador to the court of Charles V (1500-1558) of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. De magistratibus was the primary work through which the so-called "myth of Venice" reached a European audience. Drawing upon Aristotle and Polybius to analyze the Venetian constitution, Contarini portrayed his city as an ideal commonwealth, enjoying freedom from conquest, monarchical rule, and arbitrary justice. He argued that Venice was superior to ancient Rome, for the latter had plunged into further war and civil strife after the defeat of Hannibal and the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War (218-201 B. …