Social Life in Renaissance Venice HTAV Student Lecture 2008 Dr K. Peterson

Social Life in Renaissance
HTAV Student Lecture 2008
Dr K. Peterson
Key knowledge
1. Social structures of Venice during the Renaissance i.e. The three
classes, the outsiders and the institutions that had a social function
such as scuole, guilds, parishes, sestieri, ghetto, fondaco
2. The social map of Venice; the relationship between geography and
the patterns made by where people lived, worked, worshipped,
socialised and celebrated and the extent to which these reflected
social identity, wealth, gender and class relationships.
3. The importance of various aspects of social life , family, marriage,
dowries, institutionalised charity, social legislation and festivals and
the laws and social conventions that influenced them
This involves both looking at the separate elements and then
rearranging them in order to explore the nature of the relationships,
the ways people were included and excluded, the social networks
•Study design key knowledge
•Social divisions
•Some networks within the patrician class. - family and marriage
•Dowries (a convention
•Connection to the social map and historians’ views on sestieri and
•Some sources.
Hereditary ruling
In the C 16th
all patricians have
to be inscribed in
the ‘Golden Book’
right by
birth: C16th
Silver Book
Doge: Elected for
Cittadini; de intus et
de extra (granted
Reward + must
have paid their
term term)
Patricians: about 4.5% of population by mid C 16th
Long/short/new families
Male /female:
Young and old
Large families/small families.
Dennis Hay argues “nobility embraced such a wide spectrum of wealth,
political prominence and family size that it could almost be described more
as a microcosm of society as a whole than an elite.”
about +5%
originari (hereditary and provided the bureaucracy, diplomatic posts & ‘to
be nourished under the shadow of our signoria’ i.e. sinecures. Trade
within Venice and the Empire.
De intus et de extra (Granted) –Could legally trade as Venetians in Venice
and/or the Empire in their own right. Descendents could acquire hereditary
Popolani - Over 90% of Venetians.
Everyone not in the other Classes. Manual worker and servants
C 16th patricians Contarini and Sabellico believed that there were only
two classes in Venice; the elite (privileged) and the rest
Contarini described Venice as ‘nobiles and plebs’ but he did
acknowledged that were some offices and honours for some plebs.
Marin Sanudo in 1493 wrote that Venice counted three sorts of
inhabitants:’ nobles, cittadini and lesser people [popolo menuto or
AND the Florentine Donato Giannotti described Venetian society as
composed of cittadini, who exercised ‘more honoured trades …acquired
some splendour’ and “gentlemen who ruled the state” and “popolari, the
most miserable trades”
Luigi da Porto, Vicenzian noble in a letter in 1509 described Venetian
“.. In Venice, as you know, there is no popolo as such [guild members
with a traditional political role]; apart from a few with long established
citizenship, who indeed hate the nobles, but dare very little. All the rest
are such new people that there are very few of them whose fathers
were born in Venice; and they are Slavs, Greeks, Albanians, come from
other times to be sailors, or to earn money from the various trades
pursued there.”
Some currently available and very useful sources that outline the careers of
many individuals and provide useful statistics..;
Ersie Burke, “Two Venetian Merchants “
- HTAV Cats in Senior History
Ros Otzen, “ Noble and Cittadini Families in Renaissance Italy” –HTAV
Readings, 1985
Chamberlain, The world of the Italian Renaissance (brief summary of
Andrea B arbarigo’s life, if you cannot get Lane’s biography. .
Chambers, Imperial Venice.
G. Wills, Lion City. (note particularly Tomasso Rangone)
M Laven, Virgins of Venice: Enclosed lives and Broken Vows . Lond.2002
Martin, J & D. Romano eds: Venice Reconsidered, Johns Hopkins 2000
Some statistics and quotes relevant to marriage:: (Mainly from Martin and
Romano, Venice Reconsidered)
Chojnacki – a sample of 890 patrician marriages in C 15& 1C6th shows
only 9% married out of their class.and the incidence decreased over time
J. Grubb’s wider sample suggests 15% in the C 15th married outside their
By mid C 16th about
50% of patrician women never marry
1506 instigation of Book of Gold – births had to be registered within 8 days
.Reinforced existing legislation denying status to the illegitimate or those
born to ‘low class’ women. Dennis Romano’s research suggests that by the
C 16th social hierarchy was more rigid, as shown by the new emphasis on
the status of the MOTHER, not just the rank of the father.
Benedetto Bordone, 1528, woodcut. Notice the exaggerated protective
ALDUA MANUTIUS: An example of networks based on trade,
humanism, and the cramped geography of this ‘face to face society’
Born about 1450 near Rome. Humanist educated. Became a Roman
citizen and was a umanista until he was about 40. A friend of Poliziano,
Pico della Mirandola, Ficino and others. Learned Greek
He was fascinated by langauage, pronunciation and the way languages
Decided to become a printer in Venice, not Florence, because he could
get investment capital.
His partners were Doge Barbarigo’s wealthy nephew and the popolani
printer, Torresani, a self made man, well connected through the trade.
His house accommodated up to 30 people (family, servants, humanist
visitors and his workers.) A mix of sweat shop, boarding house and
research institute. It was opposite the Pisani family palace. Marin
Sanudo lived nearby.
Chambers: ‘The patrician families, so small a proportion of the total
population, did not dominate neighbourhoods, as they dominated
Patricia Fortini Brown: 1582 about 50% of patricians rented their Ca’
and the proportion was higher in previous centuries.
House leases usually ran for 5 years, so there was considerable
movement as family fortunes rose and fell.
Typical large, wealthy Patrician families, the Pandolfo and Morosini
rented the ground floors of their homes to 49 non patrician families in 7
parishes as accommodation or shops.
Chojnacki used the tax census records of 1379 to show
•98% of patricians with more than one male, had members in
different sestieri.
Sestieri : Is there an historical debate? Administrative importance
San Marco is the richest but they are heterogenous in social composition.
Est. C 12th to administer government loans
Represented in the Collegio
The Nightwatch [Signor di Notte] based on the sestieri
Scuole Grandi in each by the C 16th.
Parishes: Historians seem to agree with Brian Pullen that “the Parish was
the basic social unit, apart from the family”. The priest was chosen by the
householders and the area was governed on behalf of the Signoria by a
patrician from a great family living in the parish. The patrician, called the Cape
di Contrada, had to recruit men for the state galleys, make assessments for
forced loans, and check the activities of taverns and foreigners.
For the popolo “the ties extend across many parishes
Where born
Where worked
Where his guild met
Where married
Where his scuole met
Where received first communion
Where he wanted to be buried
Where the great preaching churches were
Lane: ‘The integration within these parishes was a foundation
stone of Venice’s social stability.’
Venice: Maritime Republic p.
BUT Romano ‘ By the second quarter of the C 15th a new
political and social order had begun to emerge in Venice. Gone
were the days of loosely formed associations that cut across social
strata, drawing Venetians together in a myriad of contrasting and
complementary ways.. The old sense of community was replaced
by a new and equally compelling sense of place’.
Patricians and
Popolani. P,158
Evidence: Decline in patrician support for local festivals, like the
‘the three Maries’.
Patrician bequests to the poor of the parish decline from early
1300s, probably 1 in 4 to the 1400s, 1 in 20.
Early 15th patrician youths encouraged to join stocking clubs rather
than associated with local popolani youths
1416 Francesco Barbaro, in his treatise on women
“what is the use of bringing home great wealth unless the wife will work at
preserving, maintaining and utilizing it,’’ To do this she should ‘Imitate the
leaders of bees, who supervise, receive and preserve whatever comes into their
hives, to the end that, unless necessity dictates otherwise, they remain in their
honeycombs, where they develop and mature beautifully.’
In order that a wife does her duty and brings peace and harmony to her
household, she must agree to the first principle that she does not disagree with
her husband on any point.
Moderata Fonte (Modesta da Pozzo), cittadini class, wrote The Worth of
Women, 1592 [She died in childbirth the day she finished it]
… Look what a good deal marriage is for women! They lose their property, lose
themselves and get nothing in return, except children to trouble them and the
rule of a man, who orders them about at his will.
Ethnic map of Venice early C 16th. (Note influence of arsenale, Molo,
Rialto on ethnic concentrations. Remember the Grand Canal was a
focus of wealth but not restricted to Patricians. .
Other institutions that reflect social relationships
e.g. The Fondaco (merchant accommodation and warehouse)
Early C 14th first Fondaco dei Tedeschi - to ensure German merchants pay
Late C 15th its doors and windows shut from outside at night because of
BUT the German merchant, von Harff was most impressed with the
convenience of the fondaco and the attitude of Venetians to foreigners.
1530s tighten the rules so wealthy merchants could not buy the right to live
outside. This is a response to the Protestant ideas that were rife among the
merchants. Yet, within the fondaco, Lutheran worship was permitted.
Venetian motivation can be linked to the political and economic bases of the
the state: economic self interest while protecting the republic from moral
pollution in a form that also gives some benefit to the other side.
Laws and activities: These also structure social relationships You need to
consider whether they are inclusive or exclusive?)
•Sumptuary laws: (dress and food) They have a moral, economic
and social dimension (but Venetian women remained notorious for
their fashions and display)
•Institutionalised charity: Procurators of St Mark (patricians
appointed for life who administer bequests); subsidised housing
and grain; scuole
•Regulation of prostitution and foreigners
•Mouths of Truth throughout the city:denunciations to Co of 10
•Clothing laws: Patricians, prostitutes and Jews
•Festivals and processions
•Clubs for young men e.g. Stocking Clubs
•Games and licensed violence e.g. Nicolotti and Castellani and
bridge fighting.
Over view of the social map of Venice:
1. Heterogeneous social map, but with some areas of concentration
2. Networks - based on family, work, religion, location, gender
3. Laws and organised activities
4. Over time the movement is towards tighter stratification, but the reality
was always more varied than the official picture.
Friendships develop within these functional networks rather than being the
basis of membership of the network.
The conventions regarding things like marriage contracts, dowries, property
arrangements, location of families, the formal institutional structures for
administering charity are part of what makes the networks functional, and
results in the social relationships of Venice being largely co-operative or
pragmatic ..
The Rialto Brothel, 1460 [Chambers and Pullen]
By command of the most illustrious Signoria the Lord Heads of the
Sestierei have been entrusted with the task of finding a suitable and proper
place where the whores must abide….
and have agreed that the best solution and the lest harmful to that island
[Rialto] would be for these sinful women to abide in the houses of the
noble Priamo Malipiero… Don Priamo has granted them to the Heads of
the Sestieri on the same terms and conditions, and at the same rent, as
when the first fortified brothel, which is now to be demolished, was built.
A 1512 sumptuary law in Venice:
Waiters and cooks who serve at any feast are compelled under fine... to
come to the office of the three Sumptuary Officers of the Senate and
declare the time and place of any banquet for which they have been
engaged, in order that our office can find out if the law will be violated.