“VENICE AND ITS BOATS” – LINA URBAN
Lina Urban is an art historian from Venice. Over recent decades, she has conducted in-depth research into Venice’s cultural history. Naturally, this has brought her into contact with the ornate boats that, for centuries, have criss-crossed its most important element, water. In other words, the boats that have typified the lagoon in various periods, from the gondola to the ceremonial Bucentaur barge.
In the early days of the city, when bridges connecting its many islands were few and far between, the most convenient way to get around was the gondola. There wasn’t a noble, trader or average citizen who didn’t own at least two. Even the ambassadors of the time (for centuries, Venice was a capital city) would make their solemn entrance into the Doge’s Palace to present their credentials to the ruler, having stepped onto the jetty from extravagantly decorated gondolas.
Another key topic linked to Venetian boats were the regattas, which led the Venetians to construct jaw-dropping machine (the platforms where the contests would end). These regattas would begin with a procession of boats decorated with statues, carvings and precious fabrics, paid for by the city’s patricians. They had names such as peota, malgarota, ballottina, fisolera, pescaressa and bissona. Such was the Venetians’ fame for designing and building these ornate vessels that even the princes and kings of other lands would commission them. See, for example, the peota-bucentaur of the King of Sardinia, which can still be seen at Turin’s Venaria Reale. From time to time, a foreign sovereign might request the services of Venetian squeraroli (gondola builders) and gondoliers. Louis XIV, I remember, had a little Venice built at Versailles, and the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great wanted to take Venetian squeraroli and gondoliers to Saint Petersburg.
Presented by Lina Urban, art historian and historian of Venetian culture.