Magazine article The New Yorker

More of Venice

Magazine article The New Yorker

More of Venice

Article excerpt

In his forthcoming history, VENICE: LION CITY (Simon & Schuster), Garry Wills passes over the picturesque decay of the Baroque city in search of "an older, tougher town." The might of early Venice was founded on the sea. The city's lagoon made Venice rich in salt, a valuable commodity; placed it in the middle of crucial trade routes; and also provided a testing ground for the increasingly long-range warships produced in its arsenal.

Yet surprisingly few details are known about the boats of medieval Venice. According to Lillian Ray Martin's THE ART AND ARCHAEOLOGY OF VENETIAN SHIPS AND BOATS (Texas A&M/Chatham), only three shipwrecks have been fully excavated in the region. To supplement the sparse data from these vessels, Martin has studied almost all the surviving depictions of boats in Venetian art. This makes for some appealingly practical art criticism. Where Ruskin in THE STONES OF VENICE (Da Capo) looked at San Marco and discerned a "treasure heap . …

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