Venice

Lion City: The Religion of Empire

By Garry Wills
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9780684871905, 416pp.)

Publication Date: September 18, 2001

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Description
Garry Wills's "Venice: Lion City" is a tour de force -- a rich, colorful, and provocative history of the world's most fascinating city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when it was at the peak of its glory. This was not the city of decadence, carnival, and nostalgia familiar to us from later centuries. It was a ruthless imperial city, with a shrewd commercial base, like ancient Athens, which it resembles in its combination of art and sea empire. The structure of Venetian society was based on its distinctive practice of religion: Venice elected its priests, defied the authority of papal Rome, and organized its liturgy around a lay leader (the doge).

"Venice: Lion City" presents a new way of relating the history of the city through its art and, in turn, illuminates the art through the city's history. In their culture, their governing structures, and their social life, the Venetians themselves speak to us with extraordinary immediacy, whether at work, warfare, prayer, or acting out their victories, celebrations, and petitions in the colorful festivals that punctuated the year.

"Venice: Lion City" is illustrated with more than 130 works of art, 30 in full color. Garry Wills gives us a unique view of Venice's rulers, merchants, clerics, and laborers, its Jews, and its women as they created a city that is the greatest art museum in the world, a city that continues to lure an endless stream of visitors.

Like Simon Schama's "The Embarrassment of Riches," on the Dutch culture in the Golden Age, "Venice: Lion City" will take its place as a classic work of history and criticism.

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