Becoming Venetian Immigrants and the Arts in Early Modern Venice Blake de Maria

Publication date:
15 May 2010
Yale University Press
256 pages: 279 x 216mm
140 b-w + 60 color illus.
Sales territories:

Few, if any, early modern European cities boasted a population as racially, ethnically and religiously diverse as Renaissance Venice, from German merchants living in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi to the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto. This innovative and fascinating book focuses on the wealthy elite of that immigrant population. From monumental palaces to pictorial cycles, Blake de Maria examines the artistic patronage commissioned by and associated with rich immigrant merchants who relocated to Venice with the aim of becoming Venetian cittadini, or citizens. Situated between the patriciate and popular orders, cittadini occupied the middle-tier of Venice's tripartite social hierarchy. Unlike the nobility, the citizenry was not a closed caste, and foreign individuals not fortunate enough to be born in Venice could become naturalized citizens provided they met certain requirements. As newcomers to the city, immigrant merchant families had to acquire the material commodities necessary for everyday life. Housing had to be procured, botteghe opened and income earned. The need to establish an appropriate spiritual identity proved equally pressing.

De Maria investigates important aspects of the artistic, commercial and familial activities of naturalized citizen families. Much of the documentation concerning their commercial interests, real estate development, household management, chapel decoration and confraternity affiliations has not previously been published, allowing this study to expand both the context and the interpretation of Venetian painting and architecture of the highest calibre, including the commissions to Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. De Maria addresses, moreover, issues beyond the boundaries of art-historical analysis and considers the communal functions of this merchant clan, their social identity as naturalized citizens, their contributions to the fabric of early modern Venice and their complex relationship with Venice's native population. The result is an extremely important study, rich in pioneering new material and full of human interest, that sheds light on a significant, hitherto little-known sector in Venetian artistic patronage.

Blake de Maria is assistant professor of art history and director of the  Medieval/Renaissance Studies Program at Santa Clara University.

"The book is beautifully illustrated." -Jonathon Wright, Catholic Herald

"Blake de Maria’s remarkable book explores the topic of foreign mercantile families in Venice and their assimilation into the ranks of the cittandi."—Xavier F. Salomon, Burlington Magazine

"Superbly researched."—Paul Hills, Times Literary Supplement