Between the mid-fifteenth and the late sixteenth century Venice was, with Florence and Rome, one of the capitals of Italian Renaissance, but also a European cultural centre, a hub and meeting point of several cultural, linguistic, artistic and philosophical currents. These had a wide circulation area – from Venice and Italy to Europe and back, up to “de là da mar” (“beyond the sea”) and the East, the route was deeply receptive to the cultural and artistic phenomena of Europe.
Renaissance Venice developed both national consciousness and cultural politics. The image and the myth of Venice emerges from works like Sanudo’s Diaries or Bembo’s “Historia Veneta”. A literature in Italian vulgar was established within the conflict between the tuscan language – of which venetian scholars first offered theoretical definitions and grammar studies – and local linguistic varieties, plurilingualism and multilingualism.
In some ways, thanks to the growing importance of the publishing industry, Veneto and Venice embodied the most inspirational and active cultural novelties both in Italy and in Europe.
Back in the early sixteenth century Europe was characterized by the supremacy of the Latin language, until the balance between the Latin of the educated and the single national languages was altered by the religious revolution. The linguistic revolution of fifteenth-century Europe was rooted more on literature, arts and costumes, rather than politics, religion and morality. It originated in Italy and from there, in particular from Venice, it influenced the whole Europe, especially as concerns language and literature: Italian stood out as a literary language in a humanist sense together with the classical languages, Latin and Greek. The Italian dispute on the language had a vital importance also for Renaissance Europe because it offered a model which, mutatis mutandis, other languages could use to debate on and resolve the issues essential for their development.
In this picture the role of Venice and Veneto was central for several reasons: because Venice was basically the capital of the Italian book, because the city and its area contributed to the dispute on the language much more than the rest of the regions of Italy together, and because it brought together many different languages and cultures.
One of the primary subjects of this research unit is the investigation of the Venetian role in the dispute on the language (considering Fortunio, Trissino, Liburnio, Valeriano, Giulio Camillo and Speroni) and in the origins of historical lexicography, which in Florence would lead to the Dictionary of the Accademia della Crusca (touching on Liburnio, Camillo, Citolini, Sansovino as well as Alunno, a Venetian by adoption, and Minerbi who, like the early Accademia della Crusca, found an opportunity for publication in Venice). Another area associated with this one concerns the publishing entrepreneurs, consultants and correctors who, though quite behind the scenes, made printing possible. These are Venetians or more often polygraphs who fulfilled themselves in the publishing industry. While the situation in the first three decades of the century is yet to investigate, after 1540 the picture is clearer, although general studies on Dolce, Domenichi, Doni, Ruscelli, Atanagi, Porcacchi and Sansovino are still missing.
A peculiarity of Veneto is that it had a rich written production in many languages, and not only in drama. Though a few background works on the topic have been lately published, there is still much work to do in the specifically linguistic analysis of literary uses of the single dialects: Venetian (with its internal lagoonal variations, such as that of Calmo), Paduan, texts written in Veneto in the bergamask style, the multiplicity of constructed or recreated languages, macaronics, criminal jargon, Greghesco, Croat, Friulian, Spanish, Turkish.
During the fifteenth and sixteenth century Veneto played a major role – though not much visible and rarely studied – in the history of the Opera and “poesiaper musica”. The new formal traits of early melodrama were already there starting from the fifteenth century, especially in the minor texts of North Italy and Veneto: the apocopated rhymes ending in consonant sound (one of the key features of new metres) was a dialectal trait which circulated during the fifteenth century thanks to the success of Leonardo Giustinian’s “poesia per musica”. It is then essential to provide an accurate listing of the manuscripts of lauds and texts for music – even the least valuable.
As concerns drama, Venice became a large european capital along with other cities (like Ferrara) whose superiority did not last. The contribution of dramatic writing in dialect – together with theatre spectacle – was fundamental in a long process which pivoted on the reciprocal dialogue between language and dialect. Hence the need of an analysis of the dramatic production in dialect showing its dialogic and contrastive function with the codification of the Italian language as well as with the creation of the publishing industry; particular emphasis will be laid on the origins of dramatic publishing which deeply influenced the stabilisation of the dramatic conventions. Veneto also offered a decisive contribute to the invention of the modern theatrical space, the Italian-style theatre, with Daniele Barbaro’s re-elaboration of Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio’s art.
The same research area includes the study of the development of the language of art criticism. Other than some brilliant suggestions by Folena on particular lemmas (Titian’s letters, painting, chiaroscuro etc.) what is still missing is a complete analysis of the language of historiography and of art criticism, both in terms of single artists (e.g. the latest edition of Titian’s letters might guide similar investigations, but also diaries, books of accounts, etc.) and of more specifically historical-critical observations, from Pino to Boschini’s.
Another research area focuses on the relations between Venice, France and England in the sixteenth century. One way to measure the cultural, political, social and religious impact of the French presence in the territory of the Serenissima in the fifteenth century is to scan the Nunciatures of Venice and collect the reports of the nuncios that followed one another throughout the century; all of them agree that it was necessary to keep at bay intellectuals, diplomats, travellers or people associated with the printing industry, humanists or printing house agents: these were all politically considered friends but for the Papacy their activities were not clear enough or suspect. The culture that developed from this context could not but naturally find its way towards an easy diffusion into Europe: Venice appeared as “«la cité sans pareille, le miracle du monde», but above all «le vray theatre de la science Politique, et de la Morale». Reformed texts were produced in Venice, printed in Geneva and then exported to Lyon and France. They made Europe aware of the “freedom of Venice” and celebrated this myth, though its practical limits led them away from the Doge’s (and the Nuncios’) lands to reach the men “of doctrine and piety”, as reformed Europeans were called, or “citizens of the world” out of necessity.
Also, there are some interesting clues of the activity of English and Scottish students in Padua and Venice. William Fowler, for instance, had already spent a few years at Sorbonne University and had strong relations with Italian culture – he was friends with John Florio, Alberico Gentili, and perhaps also with Giordano Bruno; he translated Petrarch’s “Triumphs” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”; he took advantage of his stay in Veneto to buy books and come into contact with some English intellectuals. The account of English and Scottish intellectuals who went to Veneto to study at its University and get in contact with the nobility of Venice is clear; yet a few issues need to be investigated further: the role of the Padua-Venice axis as a cultural and political meeting point in the process of internationalisation of the political and literary culture of the British Isles, the relations between British writers and Venice booksellers and printers, the circulation of manuscript and printed volumes as well as the transmission of ideas through channels that were privileged for being quite external to the great religious controversies of the century – like in Venice.
Another branch studies the reception of Petrarchism in Veneto, where the pattern of Bembo’s rhymes is considered particularly decorative, sometimes absolutely ingenious. As concerns a much more extensive lyrical experimentation, Domenico Venier can be considered an authority both in terms of anthologies and of poetry collections of major authors. The completion of a corpus of authors and texts and an analysis at a macro and micro-structural level of the material – an operation now possible, but which has largely to be done yet – will permit both a better comprehension of the balances within the Venetian area and a more accurate survey of the Italian lyrical experimentation between mid- and late sixteenth century.
In this context, another very interesting issue is the reception of Petrarchism in a geo-political and cultural centre very important for Venice, Cattaro, which produced Giorgio Bizanti’s love poems and Ludovico Pascale’s poems in vulgar, published in 1532 and 1549 in Venice. In the case of anthologies of poetry, the analysis concentrates on the collections celebrating events and personages (for instance the silloge on the death of Irene of Spilimbergo, which in the 1560s attracted many authors around Gradenigo), but above all on the idea of the printer Giolito who, in 1540s-1550s, put together six complete volumes of poems: these testify a lively relationship between authors and cultural centres, open to diverse suggestions and interests (spiritual poems, women’s poems); printing houses and publishers promoted cultural projects intended for a vast public, they specialised book catalogues and represented a vital reference for authors.
As concerns collections of epistles, there are both collections from the same author and collective collections. Books of epistles, chiefly anthologies, have similar types of editorial structure; epistles and poems often coexist in the same book, and the internal arrangement of the collections tells us something about the organization of the subgenres of the epistle (family, business, jest, love, fictional letters and even treatises in epistolary form). Major authors and collections give us information of literary but also specifically historical quality (e.g. the history of collectionism) so that it is possible to reconstruct from the inside the sixteenth-century cultural history. Nowadays computers and web instruments make it possible to build a coherent corpus complete with a series of convenient tools.
Other than poetry the period produced also deep theoretical reflections on poetics and rhetoric. Some major examples are: Robortello (but also Sigonio), who taught Aristotelian poetics at the University of Padua, Speroni and his assumptions, which had a great influence on the definition of a theory of genres – e.g. his “Dialogo della Rettorica”, his thoughts on the epic-narrative poem, published only in the eighteenth century, his daring approach to Virgil’s “Aeneid”, his later attacks on Tasso’s Jerusalem, grounded on principles of poetics. All of these are issues that need to be analysed on historical grounds and to be investigated in a philological and documentary way, in order to explain precisely the circulation texts in manuscript and print, the complex allusions to texts and authors – which are not always easy to work out – and the access to private libraries. It is a work in progress that might best be carried out at the University of Padua which, as well as being geographically and historically close to the research field, has also all the necessary skills and instruments.
In this scene the Academies played a fundamental role in the reinterpretation and adaptation of the classical conventions: the Accademia degli Infiammati in Padua, whose greatest representative was Speroni, and the Accademia della Fama in Venice.
The primary objective, then, is to build a searchable database arranged in separate but interfacing areas; this will be a basis for later analyses and new critical editions of texts:

  • A survey of Venetian texts: a) on the dispute on the language: Fortunio, Trissino, Liburnio, Valeriano, Giulio Camillo and Speroni; b) on lexicography: Liburnio, Camillo, Citolini, Sansovino, Alunno, Minerbi; c) by publishing entrepreneurs, consultants, correctors: Dolce, Domenichi, Doni, Ruscelli, Atanagi, Porcacchi, Sansovino;
  • A survey of Paduan dramatic and poetic texts, and texts in the Bergamask style, in macaronics, criminal jargon, Greghesco, Croat, Friulian, Spanish andTurkish;
  • A survey of manuscripts of lauds and texts for music;
  • A catalogue of the publishers and of the modern Italian theatres;
  • A catalogue of the Nunciatures in Venice;
  • A register of the English and Scottish students in Padova;
  • A catalogue of the specialistic texts of art criticism from Pino to Boschini with a glossary of the language of art criticism;
  • A survey of the anthology of poems and of books of letters by single authors or anthological;
  • A catalogue of the libraries of the Academies.