Treasures of Venice

Treasures of Venice

Treasures of Venice

Treasures of Venice

Excerpt

Venice arose in the shadow of imperial Byzantium. In the formative period of her history, and for centuries thereafter, Venice looked to the East and was receptive to the influence of Byzantine art. More products, and finer ones, of the workshops of Constantinople can be seen in Venice today than anywhere else in the world, and in visiting her palaces, churches and museums one comes to realize that Venetian art itself in its earlier phases was an offshoot of Byzantine art. Throughout the Middle Ages Venice lay within the sphere of influence of that art, at a time when its productive energies were at their height, and the outstanding creation of Venetian art, the church of St Mark's, is the very symbol and embodiment of the Venetian debt to Byzantium.

This is not the place for an extended account of the political and economic relations between Byzantium and Venice; suffice it to say that those relations were instrumental in bringing about the penetration of Byzantine art into the great merchant city of the Adriatic. It is essential, however, to give a chronological outline of the historical circumstances affecting the influx of Byzantine works of art and Byzantine tastes into Venice. This period begins in the ninth century and extends to the last third of the thirteenth century; from the time, that is, of the great rivalry between the Empire of the East and the Empire of the West, under Charlemagne and his successors, down to the short-lived Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1261), largely founded and supported by the Venetians themselves. In the ninth century, opposed as they were to the encroachments of the Carolingian Empire, which had extended its hegemony to the northern shores of the Adriatic, the Venetians turned for support to the Emperor of the East and proclaimed their fidelity to him.

Venice remained outside the Carolingian Empire by submitting to the overlordship of Byzantium, which on the whole treated its vassal leniently and--most important of all--enabled it gradually to enrich itself by trading with the Mediterranean lands . . .

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