Demonstrations, riots, and rebellions—but also graffiti, shouts, songs, and libellous placards—were part of a repertoire that the “disenfranchised masses” used to influence elite politics in the Renaissance and early modern city. Social historians have shown that premodern European political developments can no longer exclusively be attributed to a parade of kings, lords, and princes: ordinary people were integral to political dynamics. Yet remarkably enough Venice, one of Europe’s most densely populated, dynamic, and diverse cities, is missing from this narrative. In overviews of premodern urban revolts and political unrest, Venice is either left out or presented as the benchmark of stability. This lecture will ask why this reputation for stability continues to be so resilient.
This talk will focus on the most quintessential of Venetian spaces, Piazza San Marco: as Venice’s political and religious heart, the Piazza was the central space for governmental ritual. Protests during ceremonies have been deemed “largely incidental”, reinforcing Venice’s reputation for being immune to civic discord. Yet the Piazza was the ideal space for popular protests, ritual contestations, and riots. Although formally excluded from politics, this talk argues that ordinary Venetians used the Piazza’s public space to contest and influence elite politics.
Maartje van Gelder is lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Amsterdam. She is the co-founder and director of the Amsterdam Centre for Urban History. Her research focuses on the social history of early modern politics and diplomacy. Recent publications include a co-edited volume on Cross-Cultural Diplomacy and Diplomatic Intermediaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean (2015) and “The People’s Prince. Popular Politics in Early Modern Venice”, forthcoming in The Journal of Modern History.