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Venice 2014

Introduction to Eighteenth Century Venice

Venetian Masks

"Venetian Masks", Pietro Longhi, ca.1730-1785

Venice found its hard won peace following the Treaty of Passorowitz in 1718. However, many have questioned whether this treaty was the right move for Venice in the long run. Count Paul Daru, a French historian and comrade-in-arms of Napoleon, responds to this peaceful action in ‘Ici finit l’histoire de Venise’.

“She [Venice] is reduced to a passive existence. She has no more wars to sustain, peaces to conclude, or desires to express. A mere spectator of events, in her determination to take no part in events, she pretends to take no interest in them…Isolated amid her fellow-nations, imperturbable in her indifference, blind to her own interests, insensible to insults, she sacrifices all to the single object of giving no offence to other states, and to preserve a lasting peace.”[1]

Daru makes it clear that Venice is no longer a place of greatness. John Julius Norwich, author of A History of Venice written in 1982, would disagree when he writes,

“Eighty years of peace is, in itself, no small tribute to wise government and successful diplomacy. It was a period, moreover, when the average citizen seems to have been no less happy or contented than in former times; when, if the economy was not invariably booming, there were at least no wars to pay for; when the arts flourished – painting in particular having risen up from its seicento nadir to celebrate once again the age-old Venetian love of colour and light - and a city of some 160,000 inhabitants could boast no fewer than seven full-time opera houses…”[2]

            Through these accounts, it is clear that while Venice’s political status steadily declined, citizens were enjoying a period of unusual decadence in which music, literature, and the fine arts flourished. Venetians “called themselves decadent in that they were not doing what their forefathers had done.”[3] In other words, no one was making any effort to preserve or contribute to the future of the Republic. Instead, the government, largely made up of high-ranking members of noble patrician families, was losing the caring attention of its members to the increasing number of pleasures being offered throughout the city. The government was becoming a mockery of what it once was thanks to its lazy, indifferent, and self-indulgent members.

[1] John Julius Norwich, The History of Venice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1982), 582-583.

[2] John Julius Norwich, The History of Venice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1982), 584.

[3] Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 423.

Introduction to Eighteenth Century Venice