Iain Fenlon

Music, Ceremony and Self-Identity in Renaissance Venice

Many historians have emphasised the corporate structure of early modern Venice. The contours are familiar enough. Members of the aristocracy congregated in their own clans, the cittadini joined one of the six major charitable institutions (the scuole grandi), while the rest of the population participated in the scuole piccole of which there were about two hundred in the fifteenth century. There were also the trade guilds and, for foreign communities, the fondachi. These strata, essentially defined by class or occupation, were in turn bisected by an elaborate topographical system of six sestieri and seventy parishes. In the realm of civic and religious life, for each individual these interlocking structures provided a kaleidoscopic sequence of experiences from the ceremonial to the informal. In this context it is interesting to consider the various ways that music and ritual of various kinds, operating in different environments, contributed to the changing and sometimes differentiated conceptions of Venetian consciousness and self-identity that can be detected in the life of the city during the Renaissance. What did it mean to be Venetian, and how was a sense of belonging defined and underscored by common ceremonial forms both official and unofficial, liturgical and civic? As part of this enquiry some consideration of the crucial role of St. Mark's, the principal church of the state though not the cathedral of Venice, the private chapel of the Doge as well as the main theatre of official civic and religious ceremonies, becomes inevitable. These related issues will form the central focus of this paper.

  1. Unity and diversity
  2. Local liturgy
  3. Saint Mark and the Virgin Mary
  4. The musical repertory
  5. The Doge
  6. The eye-witness
  7. The State in procession
  8. The invention of tradition
  9. Endnotes
  10. Your comments

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(updated 20 Nov 1996)