What was Venice like in the 1500’s?

venite MD

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It’s easy to get to know Venice today, even for those who have never been (but obviously it isn’t quite the same thing.) Books, stills, satellite photos: Venice has no secrets not even for those that live it through a computer screen or navigate through their smartphone.  That’s why the map of Venice of Jacopo de’ Barbari, Venetie MD, (see photo) is still very relevant and important today. 

Set aside the obviously important artistic aspect to this work of art and let’s point out a couple factors. This incision is a unique opportunity to really see Venice in the 1500’s, in its entirety. Obviously it’s not comparable to the precision google maps provides, but a topographic paper with this prospective and this precision during that time was certainly considered avant-garde.


Venetie MD by Jacopo de’ Barbari gives us the opportunity to answer many questions and help understand the transformation the city went through in history. In fact, at first look, Venice doesn’t seem so different to the one we know today: its always shaped as a fish! But on second look we can uncover that the Rialto Bridge was in wood and it could open to permit larger ships to pass through the Grand Canal. Continuing “a volo d’uccello” flight of the bird, we can see southside the vegetable gardens of the Giudecca island, the industrial site of the Arsenale (that produced ships for the Serenissima at incredible rates even today). We can obviously notice the absence of all connections to the mainland, but also the absence of the Madonna della Salute Church (constructed almost two hundred years later.)


It’s like traveling back in time. The Barbari masterpiece presents Venice as a lively city, industrious, and a leading Queen of trade and commerce by sea. A city that has not yet become famous on post cards, but rather an authentic city that would accumulate beauty up until today.

As much as you can admire the city digitally in all its detail, we suggest you see the masterpiece in person (in different versions and carved panels) in the glorious setting of the Correr Museum located in Piazza San Marco.

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