A stroll, or perhaps more precisely, a bird’s eye view of the Venice of the 1500s: the Venezia, che impresa! (Venice, what a feat!) docufilm and display itinerary is full of surprises. The La grande veduta prospettica di Jacopo de’ Barbari show runs until April 18, 2022 at Gallerie d’Italia – Palazzo Leoni Montanari, in Vicenza.

The docufilm and itinerary bids visitors enter the thousand and one stories presented in a map drafted five centuries ago presented for the first time now in dual form: the first version owned by the Querini Stampalia Foundation and the third version that is part of the Intesa Sanpaolo Collection. The large woodcut Venetie MD was the result of an extraordinary group effort that changed the way the cities are mapped forever, and as noted by the show’s curator, geographer Massimo Rossi, clearly illustrates the difference between today’s detailed plan views void of life and the views of long ago that depict the territory and its inhabitants, their occupations and concerns, their means of defence, work, and amusement along with it.

Co-curator and social historian Angela Munari points out various aspects of the city’s daily life, from traffic circulation to manufacturing, fishing to regattas, as revealed in the story: on a late winter’s day—and this is clear from the fleet decommissioned in St. Mark’s basin, which will be ready to sail in May to flank and defend its merchant ships—no one in Venice stands around with their hands in their pockets. People are unloading gondolas, rigging nets on fishing boats, preparing salt barges, running down the city’s alleys and through its squares on countless errands demanded by the more than two-hundred professions practiced in Venice over the centuries: food processing, textiles, tailory, ship-building, logistics, and trade.

The marvel of de’ Barbari’s giant view goes even beyond the stories described so meticulously with typical Northern European attention to detail. Exactly how such a complex work could be produced—the coordination of the work of the best draftsmen, surveyors, engravers, and artisans of the day—is a story in itself, and can certainly be ascribed to a foreigner, the German businessman Anton Kolb, the funding client of a project that would require three years of work, and Jacopo de’ Barbari, the Venetian artists and engaver who supervised the team’s effort in his workshop. When it was finished, cartographic representation would never be the same again. The often stereotyped full-front view adaptable to any city—examples are displayed for comparison—became a thing of the past. The de’ Barbari veduta changed perspective by gazing from above, giving the city its definitive iconography of a huge fish floating on the lagoon with the Grand Canal winding through it.

No one can say for sure how such a combination of ‘scientia et arte’ —as it was described by contemporaries—came to be made. Scientific discoveries surely played a part in taking the measurements—probably from Venetian bell towers—with a precision that only drones can offer today.

Wherever precision appears to be lacking and perspective, especially proportion, appears altered, this is a deliberate effect, and here again, a sign of Venice modernity: in the foreground, in larger size, the great fleet—together with Neptune and Mercury who “live” in Venice safeguarding its waters and trade—demonstrates the force and power of Venetian dominion over the Mediterranean and the known world at the time.

At the top stands Arsenale, the city-in-a-city described by Dante in his XXI Canto dell’Inferno, when he visits the shipyard and sees thousands of men at work there, the first known example of an assembly line, protoindustry.

Kolb pays homage to the city in which he works and prospers, the Republic lets him print and sell his map at no charge, a privilege maintained even in the 1800s to the further glory of Venice in Europe and around the world. In this way, both assume positions in a flourishing art and publishing market.

Starting out as a temporary settlement in the lagoon for refugees fleeing invaders on the mainland, Venice became one of the most affluent, prosperous, and as we might say today, “sustainable” Renaissance cities, always keeping a careful eye on the management of its human and environmental resources.

These and many other stories enrich the show and its various collateral activities: meetings with scholars and curators for deeper detail, art stories, thematic itineraries and activities for families on weekends together with educational tours, all free of charge, for students from kindergarten to high school.

Download the brochure and follow the events on the Gallerie d’Italia’s website.

from 22.10.2021 to 18.04.2022
Opening hours
from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Closed on Mondays

We suggest you to buy tickets online.

– Full-price ticket: 5,00€
– Reduced ticket: 3,00€
– Free admission for schools, under 18s, Intesa Sanpaolo Group employees and customers