More than any other political entity of the early modern period, the Republic of Venice shaped the visual imagination of political thought; just as she instructed Europe – and, ultimately, the independent colonies of America – in the idea of statehood, so she taught how to give that idea eloquent pictorial form, especially through the figuration of the state. [...]
Historians have long recognized the gap between the myth and the reality of Venice. They have been anxious to reveal the contradictions and hypocrisies and to use such exposures to undermine the myth, to deconstruct it and indict it as deliberately misleading fabrication. But it is precisely as a set of “fictions or half-truths” that myth presents itself as reality, “forming part of the ideology of a society.” What for the skeptical political or sociel historian may seem collective self-deception can be viewed more positively and creatively as deliberately conceived self-representation. [...]
Unique in its site, built upon the mud flats of a lagoon, rising above the waters, Venice rhetorically exploited every aspect of its singularity. [...] Unlike so many cities on the Italian peninsula, Venice was not of ancient Roman foundation, and it made much of that distinction. Emerging after the collapse of the Roman Empire, Venice claimed to be the first republic of the new era, born in Christian liberty, hence a true successor to pagan Rome. Originally subject to the authority of Byzantium, Venice gradually asserted its independence of and, eventually, superiority to Constantinople. On the western front, central to the historico-political elements constituting the myth of Venice, were events of 1177, when Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-78) mediated peace between Pope Alexander III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa: from that moment on, according to the local historical vision, Venice stood on the political stage of Europe as a third sword, an equal to the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Beginning in the fourteenth century, those events were depicted in a series of pictorial cycles in the Ducal Palace, recorded in manuscript illuminations repainted in the fifteenth century, and preserved for us now in the canvases painted after the disastrous fire of 1577. However dubious the historical facts and their interpretation, the paintings themselves became in turn the verifying documents, pictorial scripture: as it is painted, so it was.
David Rosand. Myths of Venice. The Figuration of a State. Chapel Hill and London: The U of N Carolina P, 2001. 1, 4, 6.
CANTO III [Ezra in Venice - personal memories]
MALATESTA: CANTOS VIII-XI [Venice, the military patron of the Malatesta family]
CANTO XVII [Venice in dreams and magic]
CANTO XXV [civil patronage of the republic: the building of the Palazzo Ducale]
CANTO XXXV [Venice and commerce: monopolies and taxes]
CANTO XLV [art patronage: Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian]