Italian Renaissance (1330-1550)
Venice and Milan (1300-1499)
Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice traded with the Byzantine Empire and the Moslem world
extensively. During the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of
Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships,
dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice's leading families vied with each
other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists.
The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the most
influential families in Venice. The Great Council appointed all public officials and elected a
Senate of 200 to 300 individuals. The Senate hen chose the Council of Ten, a secretive group
which held the utmost power in the administration of the city. One member of the great council
was elected 'doge,' or duke, the ceremonial head of the city.
The Venetian doge ruled for life under a system of constitutional monarchy. The Doge of Venice
ruled in great splendor, and laws were passed in his name, but his power was severely limited by
the Great Council, and most notably, the Council of Ten. In 1423, Francesco Fosari became
doge. He ruled with excessive grandeur and exercised far greater power than had past doges,
aggressively pursuing a policy of western expansion. Many in the Great Council thought he had
usurped too great a degree of power. To torment and control the doge, the Council of Ten falsely
accused his son, Jacopo, of treason, and began a long process during which Jacopo was exiled,
readmitted, tortured, and exiled again, all the while refusing to allow the doge to resign. Finally,
when the Council of Ten was satisfied that its message had gotten across, they forced Fosari to
resign, affirming its power over the monarch.
Throughout the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Venice was assailed at sea by the