Illuminating the Serenissima

Books of the Republic of Venice
May 3-June 19, 2011
at the Elizabeth Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA

La Serenissima, or the Most Serene Republic of Venice, existed for over a millennium from the late seventh century to 1797. At the height of its power in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was the center of an empire extending from mainland Italy to the eastern Mediterranean. The head of state was a Doge who was elected for life by the nobility.

Books, called commissioni, are presentation copies of contracts of Venetian noblemen elected to oversee the Serenissima’s provinces for usually sixteen months, or to be lifelong administrators of the city of Venice. From the mid-1400s until the fall of the Republic, office-holders had their commissioni elaborately written, illuminated and bound by hand. Commemorating service to the state, personal achievement, and taste, these manuscripts were objects of privilege, power, and beauty.

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