Catarina Schmidt Arcangeli Abstract

Collecting in Venice and Creating a Myth

Catarina Schmidt Arcangeli
Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence

The Tesoro di San Marco, a rich collection of precious objects, is part of the basilica of San Marco. Ever since the Fourth Crusade of 1202-04 the Tesoro di San Marco can be considered the most important collection in Venice. This paper asks how the artefacts in the new context of the Tesoro di San Marco may be interpreted beyond their aesthetic values and their representation of foreign cultures, such as Byzantine or Islamic art. They also played an important role in the civic ritual of Venice and they helped to create the identity of the Serenissima. Within the network of the Mediterranean the objects in the Tesoro were carriers of historical information. However, in Venice they lost their original function and meaning and became part of a new context and they could contrast strongly with their previous significance. Collecting in Venice was not only linked to the ambitions of a single figure such as the doge. It also belonged to the whole citizenry, providing material support for civic ritual, and contributing decisively to the myth of the city. This paper draws on many contemporary examples of the special attitude towards the “state collection” in the Tesoro.