The Early Modern City, 1450-1750

By Christopher R. Friedrichs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Power and Pride

The ducal procession in Venice was one of the great spectacles of early modern Europe. Travellers to Venice always hoped to witness a procession, and those who stayed a few weeks were bound to be rewarded: some sixteen processions were held every year to observe the great Christian holidays or commemorate the city's deliverance from various outbreaks of pestilence or episodes of political danger. Though guilds and confraternities sometimes participated, the heart of every such event was always the ducal procession, staged-managed by a small knot of officials who made sure that everything was done according to established tradition. Preceded by standard-bearers, musicians, clerics, and officials of the cittadini class, at last the doge himself would appear, to be followed by all the great noble dignitaries of state from the ducal counsellors and procurators of San Marco down to members of the Senate. Through piazzas, down passageways, over canals, sometimes even crossing a great pontoon bridge constructed for the occasion, the procession would advance at its measured pace, permitting visitors and Venetians alike to observe the dignity and splendour of the most famous urban elite in Europe: the nobility of Venice.1

Nowhere else in Europe were power, prestige and wealth so completely and so visibly united in the hands of a single group of urban families. For two and a half centuries, from 1381 to 1646, not a single new family was admitted to the exclusive ranks of the Venetian nobility. Members of the nobility dominated the city's economic life and completely monopolized political authority in Venice and its empire. It is hardly surprising that travellers from all over Europe

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1
Muir, Civic Ritual, 185-230.

-182-

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