Cità Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diary of Marin Sanudo
Edited by Patricia H. Labalme and Laura Sanguineti White; Translated by Linda L. Carroll
The John Hopkins University Press, 2008
When Venice was both a center of Renaissance culture and a gathering place for news from around the world, Marin Sanudo tried to write everything down. He was the finest diarist of his time, with a keen eye for the everyday and the monumental alike. Venice, Cità Excelentissima offers a broad and engaging introduction to Sanudo’s detailed observations of life in his beloved city and the world it knew.
This expertly translated volume glimpses into Renaissance life at a spectacular time when Venice was at the top of its game. Organized thematically, the selections offer a Venetian’s viewpoint of the glories of high culture, the gritty reality and sparkling drama of daily life, the perils of diplomacy and war, and the high-risk ventures of voyages and commerce.
Marin Sanudo’s diary, kept from 1496 to 1533, consists of 58 volumes, now kept in the State Archives. It’s 40,000 pages contain an unparalleled record of life in renaissance Venice. Official documents, private letters, news from abroad, first-hand records of events…all were copied, and sometimes pasted, into the diaries. Initially he planned that the diaries would form the source material for a history of Venice. This was never written, but his awareness of the future publication of the material kept him from being too critical of the Republic. As a source of details of everyday life in Venice during this period, though, the diaries are unsurpassed. They’ve long been milked by authors and scholars as a primary source, but here we get the first user-friendly volume giving us access to the cow itself, if you’ll pardon my metaphor. The expertly-selected excerpts are collected into chapters on a variety of subjects covering the arts, religion, society and politics. This last topic dominates, as Sanudo was involved, through his holding of various posts, with the governance of Venice throughout the whole period, a time of much turmoil and event.