The Idea of Venice: Myth, History, Simulacra

Instructor: Helena Szepe

Venice is famous as a unique, beautiful, exotic, and romantic city. The fascination that the city holds is intensified for many by its fragility.  Once the heart of an empire, the city is sinking as the Adriatic waters are rising, and the resident population is increasingly replaced by tourists. The city is in the midst of a crisis; how can the city be made viable economically and physically for its inhabitants without turning it further into a Disney-like recreation of itself?

This course will trace the development of Venice’s formulation of itself as “the most serene Republic,” and as imperial colonizer, or “the other Rome” in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, to its decline and development into a city that has been turned into a work of art colonized by tourists. Key concepts that will be investigated include the transformation of medieval appropriation, or use of spolia, to simulation; and of medieval pilgrimage and colonization to modern tourism. Venice will serve as the subject for a broader inquiry into the nature and history of art historical analysis in general. Is it possible to unearth ‘authenticity’ in the claims a city makes for itself through its art and literature, when we ourselves are in an age of simulacra, when developers in Las Vegas claim to “create a Venice more real than Venice itself?”

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