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SOCIAL LIFE: VENICE. Two Courtesans: Vittore Carpaccio. What you are working towards.

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Social life venice


Two Courtesans: Vittore Carpaccio

What you are working towards

What you are working towards

  • This outcome leads to Section C of the Exam, which is an essay on Social Life. Therefore you are going to be called on to display your knowledge of the nature of the Venetian community and what the elements of this community were. You will have to evaluate the relative importance of these elements and how they affected the society; whether Venice was really a place of concord and harmony.

Study design

Study Design

  • The study design speaks of the distinct social structures of each city state that are shaped by their economic and political bases

  • The social hierarchies being reflected in aspects of the everyday life

  • Social relationships are variously described as competitive, pragmatic or cooperative, typified by economic and political networks and rarely by ties of love and friendship

Economic and political bases

Economic and Political Bases

  • What are these in Venice ?

  • Economic Bases: The Maritime Empire

  • Ship Building

  • Glass and Lace Industries

  • Venice as an ‘entrepot’

  • Political Bases: The Patriciate

The arsenale

The Arsenale

  • The basis of much of Venice’s wealth was her Maritime Empire

  • The ship building enterprise at the Arsenal was vital to this

  • The workers at the Arsenal were called the Asenalotti

Glass making at murano

Glass Making at Murano

  • Glassmaking was one of Venice’s most important industries

  • Venice’s reputation as a glass centre relied on successful cooperation between nobles and master craftsmen

  • Places of work and residence closely linked

Nature of social relationships

Nature of Social Relationships

  • You have to be able to identify the nature of the social relationships that existed in Venice.

  • Why and how did people meet and relate to one another?

Nature of social relationships1

Nature of Social Relationships

  • Were these social relationships competitive,

  • pragmatic

  • or cooperative,

  • Were they typified by only by economic and political networks or by ties of love and friendship



  • It is important to know what the terms mean when you are writing an essay analysing the respective importance of the elements of social life.

Social hierarchies the patricians

Social HierarchiesThe Patricians

  • Venice had three main castes or classes.

  • The Patriciate

  • Bartolus, a lawyer and political thinker said:

  • Although they are few compared to the whole population of the city, they are many compared to those ruling in other cities, and because they are many, the people are not resentful of being governed by them. Also because they are many, they are not easily divided among themselves; moreover, many of them are men of moderate wealth, who are always a stabilising force in a city.

The cittadini

The Cittadini

  • Originari (hereditary) or de intus (granted)

  • The position of the cittadini was summed up in 1509 by the Doge Loredan : “We bear the name, and you the prizes; we the leaves and you the fruit.”

The plebians popolani

The Plebians/Popolani

  • The third caste made up 90% of the population

  • Gary Wills says it was not simply an economic distinction.

  • These were the mass of people who had no special privileges or status

Detail of bellini s procession showing the popolani spectators

Detail of Bellini’s ‘Procession’showing the popolani spectators

Clergy and foreigners

Clergy and Foreigners

  • Clergy were another legally defined group in Venice and were religious men, the priests and monks who lived within the city.

  • Romano estimates there would have been approximately 450 in the city at this time

  • religious women, the nuns who lived in the many convents

  • There were a number of foreign groups resident in Venice

Social map

Social Map

  • It is helpful to think of the cramped nature of the Republic and the way the Venetians organised their city to allow for the activities that they regarded as important.

  • F C Lane speaks of the urban structure of Venice as “the parish communities …supplemented by zones with specialised functions which gave a unified life to the city as a whole”



Parishes and Campi

The contrata, or the parish, was ‘the basic unit of urban administration’, according to Denis Romano.

FC Lane calls the integration within the parishes as the foundation stone of Venice’s social stability.

De barbari map

De Barbari Map

The campo

The Campo

  • Along with the parish, the campo was the most important location of social life.

  • The limited space in Venice meant that Venetians were limited for choice of public arena and places of congregation


A typical venetian campo with the palazzo surrounding the square and the well in the centre

A typical Venetian campowith the Palazzo surrounding the square and the well in the centre

Social life venice

Campo Sant’ Angelo

The scuole

The Scuole

  • Scuole were lay devotional associations linked to a parish whose works included poor relief, the provision of dowries

  • 6 Scuole Grande

  • Many Scuole piccole

Venetian guilds

Venetian Guilds

  • Venice had 51 Guilds

  • Most guilds controlled their membership by means of strict requirements for matriculation

Key knowledge

Key Knowledge

  • gender, and class relationships

  • The importance of family, marriage, dowries,

  • charity, social legislation and festivals

Women marriage and dowries

Women, Marriage and Dowries

  • Fortini Brown claims ‘marriage stood at the intersection between public and private life’

  • Chojnacki sees the provision of dowries as ‘the currency of matchmaking’

  • Marriage served to not only bind the patriciate together but also to ally patricians with those immediately below them

Mansueti the miracle of the relic

Mansueti The Miracle of the Relic



  • Giovanni Caldiera parallels the home and family with the structure of the Republic

  • For the patrician, the family acted as a gateway to a life of civic devotion.

  • For the popolani the family institution provided a measure of security

Social legislation poor laws

Social Legislation: Poor Laws

  • The Venetian State passed laws which sought to impose order and also to encourage charity.

  • While the Scuole had a charitable role, the Venetian Govt also intervened in times of crisis to support the poor.

  • 1528, the Venetian Govt build a number of hospitals for the poor

  • The Venetian Senate passed the Poor Law in 1529

Social legislation sumptuary laws

Social Legislation: Sumptuary Laws

  • Sumptuary laws were attempts by the Government to curb the conspicuous consumption of the rich.

  • They tried to control spending on houses, clothing, dowries



  • Festivals were public occasions where the Venetian community could come together in a way that blurred the social divisions.

  • Festival of the Twelve Marys lasted for 8 continuous days beginning Jan 25

  • Feast of St Mark April 25

  • Marriage of the Sea

  • Feast of Corpus Christi



Foreign populations

Foreign Populations

  • Venice was a cosmopolitan city

  • 1468 Cardinal Bessarion ‘as all the people of the world seem to gather in your city…’

  • The control of foreign populations was very clear

Essay questions for section c

Essay Questions for Section C

  • ‘“For the 95% of the population who were not allowed to participate in the exercise of political power, there were important arenas of participation that helped to ensure a domestic tranquillity for which Venice was acclaimed.” P.F. Brown, The Renaissance in Venice,

  • Discuss the areas of participation for those who did not exercise political power, and the relationship between this and Venice’s acclaimed tranquillity.

  • Virtually all the scuole accepted both nobles and commoners and thus formed areas of cohesion where Venetians of every condition could come together in a context of social solidarity and mutual assistance.”

  • To what extent do you agree with the interpretation of the significance of the scuole in Venetian social life?

  • The Patrician class was bound together by a cherished fiction of equality”

  • To what extent do you agree with this explanation of the social cohesion of the Venetian republic?

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