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Technology and Culture 47.4 (2006) 842-844

Reviewed by
Evelyn Lincoln
The World in Venice: Print, the City, and Early Modern Identity. By Bronwen Wilson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Pp. xvvii+406. $70.

Operating in different ways, early modern Venetian prints reinforced the inhabitants' identification with their miraculous city, its social types, and rank in the societal order. In this discussion of the activity of the Venetian press, Bronwen Wilson shows how the heterogeneous population of Venetians found and articulated a collective identity in the printed production of maps of Venice, costume books, ephemeral celebrations, and portraits.

The monumental icon of Venetian map printing, Jacopo de' Barbari's woodcut of 1500, instantiated in a modern format the well-developed legend of the city's physical circumstances as a topographical wonder. It has been a major source of information about the layout of Renaissance Venice and technologies of surveying and diagramming. Wilson interrogates it as a progenitor of smaller engraved maps in which increasing amounts of text render the image of Venice subservient to the decorative images in their frames and the proliferation of written legends surrounding them. The author distinguishes between attitudes toward disembodied viewing of the city's topography—associated with sight—and relating its history and magnificence in time, experienced in moving through the city. Discussing this change in terms of the city's decline as a market force, Wilson shows how later images of Venice, such as Giacomo Franco's engraved frontispiece for a 1610 costume book, "reassert the city's status as a metropole" with "space and time—the abstract gaze of the geographer and the embodied experience of moving through the city—hav[ing] been taken apart" (p. 69).

Costume books and a type of traveler's scrapbook (the album amicorum) classified foreignness and sameness in relation to places of origin, with subjects separated by gender. Making analogies with contemporary methods of natural-history classification, Wilson argues that "the costume [End Page 842] book was a vehicle of classification, a means to diagram the world's diversity . . . these artists combine the art of the tailor with that of the scientific illustrator in a display of feathers, pleats, slashes, and ruffs . . . enab[ling] costume to define the species, as it were, of the human genus" (p. 93). Pursuing the formal connections in printed illustrations among geography, costume, and natural history illustration, Wilson points to habits of learning that might explain why information about dress was included in printed maps and atlases that began to appear at that time.

Printed processions and civic celebrations also became occasions both for forming an image of Venetians for foreign consumption, and for Venetians to see themselves as players on a global printed stage in time and space. They also provided a means of circulating images of the most infamous of all Others, the Turk. Describing the effect of decorated floats and ephemeral architectural apparati known through paintings and written descriptions, Wilson then discusses the presence of elaborately dressed women in these prints (if not necessarily at the events) that made these celebrations seem so magnificent and memorable. Returning to the book's theme of identity, the author shows that for the types of women pictured in costume books and festival prints, "self" was defined in "the gap between the role and how it was performed" (p. 184).

The last chapter treats portraits as expressions of individuality, newly located in images of faces. In her discussion of the fascination Turks and Japanese ambassadors held for the Venetian, Wilson emphasizes physiognomy as a differentiating factor in stereotyping how these groups acted (violent, lazy, and so on). Since Wilson claims that these were not "racialized" attitudes, it would have been instructive to define what racialized might have meant in this context as opposed to that of the eighteenth century, and how racialized discourse did different work than the visual and textual stereotyping we see here. For Wilson, representations of Muslim rulers rounded out cycles of classification of the world, which was...


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