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Venice & the East: The Impact of the Islamic World on Venetian Architecture 1100–1500 Hardcover – September 10, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A] brilliant study . . . reopens modern eyes to Venice much as John Ruskin did for the Victorians. With superb illustrations." -- The New York Times Book Review

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Precious spices and textiles, imported from distant trading posts in the eastern Mediterranean, stocked Venetian markets in the Middle Ages; but Venice's merchants imported more than material goods from the East-they acquired also a wealth of visual ideas and information from Muslim culture. This lively and richly illustrated book investigates the influence of oriental trade and travel on medieval Venice and its architecture. Architectural historian Deborah Howard examines the experiences of Venetian merchants overseas, focusing on links with Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, as well as with Persia and the Silk Route. She argues that many Venetians gained insight into Islamic culture through personal contacts with their Muslim trading partners. Based on wide-ranging multidisciplinary research, this book examines the mechanisms that governed the exchange of visual culture across ideological boundaries before the age of printing. Howard explores a range of building types that reflect the impact of Islamic imagery, paying special attention to two icon buildings, San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale. She considers the complexities of importing Muslim ideas to an unambiguously Christian city, itself the point of embarkation for pilgrims to the Holy Land.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300085044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300085044
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 9.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Clearly one of the best art books of the year, Venice and the East traces the impact of Islamic art on the Venetian imagination -- as evident in its architecture. Though stunning illustrations that compare Venetian and Islamic architecture and a well-written text based on primary sources, author Deborah Howard shows that, in the heyday of Levantine trade, Venetian merchants brought back more than spices and cotton from the Islamic world. They also brought back visions of paradise: Islamic styles in gardens, courtyards and palaces that evoked not just Eastern sensuality but also biblical grandeur and spirituality. Although Howard gives ample attention to the borrowing of specific architectural motifs -- balconies, crenellated walls and ogee windows -- she goes well beyond a cataloging of borrowed style. This is, most of all, a study in cultural assimilation -- of ideas as much as architectural form -- and is well worth treasuring whether your passion runs to architecture, history, sociology, or more simply: to gorgeously illustrated coffee table books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Dawson on June 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Deborah Howard is steeped in the enigma of Venetian architecture and gives a fabulous interpretation of its development through trading relationships with the Islamic world from 1100-1500 AD.

By emphasising the mental `Transmission and Propagation' of Islamic imagery as much as any materialistic one through trade, Howard shows just how elastic the `process of cultural diffusion' was and restores the importance of the oral tradition in the `reformulation' of that imagery into another space and time.

Her focus on the Middle East draws our attention away from Constantinople, bringing out the importance of Alexandria as one of the main sources of cultural inspiration.

In a vivid example of a rescued and transformed architectural motif, Howard mentions at length the lighthouse Pharos of Alexandria. This wonder of the ancient world was still standing when Islam spread across the North African coast and its secular function as a light in dark places became a potent spiritual symbol with the slimmed down rise of many a minaret.

The offspring of Pharos continued to multiply with Venice contributing several of its own; the last example, Codussi's campanile for the cathedral church of San Pietro di Castello with, `its snow-white ashlar masonry . . . stands at the eastern end of the city, as a beacon for the sea borne traveller from the east.'

The Great Umayyed Mosque in Damascus also gets singled out for special attention as does the Abbasid and Fatimid periods in general, with their legacy of impressive building projects that impacted upon the mind of many a Venetian merchant.

Howard reminds us how the papal ban on trade with Moslems became more than just a tiresome irritant for the Venetians.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. Kennedy on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Venice is nothing like the rest of Italy ... everyone can see this ... instead of looking below the surface most people just describe it as "magical" . Having been there numerous times, it has clear influences from the Islamic world. I also have not seen much that is truely Gothic in the rest of Italy for that matter ... Milano Cathedral being the only real example I've seen.

This is a very good book, and anyone who believes that Gothic (with its pointed arches, etc) is not derived from Islamic architecture needs to do some travelling (outside of Europe), and stop believing in magic.

Tourists heading to Venice should read this book - and "A History of Venice" by J.J.Norwich and look at the photos (not text - which was translating by Babelfish methinks) in "Palaces of Venice" by A.Fasolo.

You will then know that it was a maritime empire populated by entrepreneurial merchants, that made loads of money from having a virtual monopoly of the spice trade from the east (Islamic countries) to Europe, to fund the building of all these great buildings.

This all came to an end when Portugal found another way to the east and bypassed Venice. Not unlike Hong Kong being bypassed by Shanghai today.
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By Richard J. King on December 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Awesome!
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful By veneto on August 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The importance with books of this sort, is dont get carried away. Islam is a big question today, and intercultural history is a top priority, but accuracy should always trump political fads. Venice is by far a city of Byzantine and Gothic, much less Islamic influence. The book fails to make this sufficiently clear, and can leave the reader with the impression that Venice, and the Renaissance had Oriental roots. This is plain wrong.
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