Writer and cultural critic Alain
Writer and cultural critic Alain Elkann in conversation with Donatella Calabi, curator of the 500th Anniversary exhibition on the Venice ghetto.
Presented by Marsilio Editori and Rizzoli in collaboration with Centro Primo Levi. Cocktail reception to follow.
Venice, the Jews and Europe 1516-2016 is a companion book to the exhibition by the same title mounted at Palazzo Ducale in Venice for the 500th Anniversary of the establishment of the ghetto.
Through a rich array of beautifully reproduced images and a collection of essays by some of the most prominent scholars in the field, the book offers tools to explore the process that led to the creation the first urban “fence” around the Jews. As the fence was observed, transpassed and re-negotiated through the centuries of the Serenissima and beyond, it shaped cultural, economic, and linguistic exchanges with the ruling powers and the different minorities living on the lagoon.
Cosmopolitan within – the Ghetto was home to German and Italian Jews, Levantine, Western and Portuguese Jews – it was therefore also a highly permeable space, in constant interaction with the outside world.
The exhibition’s initial premise is that the history of the institution of the Ghetto in Venice should be studied as part of the more general picture of the Venetian Republic’s administration of national, ethnic and religious minorities living in the city, capital of a “world economy”.
But it also sets out to explain how these relationships gradually broadened to a much vaster geographical area and have persisted over time, adapting to political, social and cultural changes. In the early decades of the sixteenth century the Venetian Republic implemented a deliberate strategy of welcome, simultaneously offering guarantees and surveillance, which was more or less rigid with respect to the various national and religious communities; this welcome was extended to those communities that were important for the republic’s economic activities, such as North Europeans (with the Fondaco dei Tedeschi), the Orthodox Greeks (with a concession to build a church and a college at their expense) and, over the years, Albanians, Persians and Turks. The Jews, like the other minorities, were valuable to the Serenissima (as we read in some documents): its judiciary, some nobles, Doge Leonardo Loredan himself, who was a “Prince” at the time of the founding decree (29 March, 1516), were well aware of this.
Nevertheless, Venice, which had permitted the Jews in their territory to enter the city as war refugees, at at time when Europe was expelling them from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1496), in the wake of the dramatic consequences of the league of Cambrai and the defeat of Agnadello, soon posed itself the question of how to treat the Jewish minority.
At stake was the defense of fundamental cultural values for their perception of themselves. Namely, according to Robert Bonfil, “all those values that the myth of Venice deemed to be most essential of all: justice, freedom and prosperity, all rooted in good governance and not least in the defence of Christian ethics, without which neither justice nor prosperity were conceivable”.
Catalogue’s contributor are Simon Schama, Roberto Bonfil, Renata Segre, Reinhold Mueller, Scialom Bahbout, Giulio Busi, David Ruderman, Giuseppe Veltri, Giovanni Levi, Dana Katz, Riccardo Calimani, Joel Cahen, Benjamin Ravid, Nadia Lippini, Umberto Fortis, Shaul Bassi, Howard Tzvi Adelman, David Cassuto, Francesco Spagnolo, Gabriele Mancuso, Paola Lanaro, Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, Simon Levis Sullam, Amos Luzzatto, Michele Gottardi
Donatella Calabi is professor of history of the city at IUAV University in Venice. She has written about the history of the city in the modern and contemporary age, and about the origin of urban studies in Europe, focusing particularly on marketplaces and the spaces occupied by minorities. She is co-founder of “Visualizing Venice”. Her publications include Storia dell’urbanistica europea (2008); Les Etrangers dans la ville (1999) and La città del primo Rinascimento (2001).
Alain Elkann is an author, intellectual and journalist who published novels, short stories and interviews with prominent 20th century figures. His interview work in English includes a dialogue with Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, To Be A Muslim, and The Voice of Pistoletto with the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Mr. Elkann’s interviews appear weekly in La Stampa. Mr. Elkann teaches 20th century Jewish writers including Franz Kafka to Primo Levi, Philip Roth, and Aharon Appelfeld â€“ at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Venice, the Jews and Europe, 1516 -2016” is promoted by the City of Venice and by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, with the support of “I 500 anni del Ghetto di Venezia” Committee, the Jewish Community of Venice and the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, with the contribution of the Veneto Region, Save Venice Inc, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Venetian Heritage, the David Berg Foundation New York, and the Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi.