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Venice: Lion City: The Religion of Empire

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  146 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Garry Wills's Venice: Lion City is a tour de force -- a rich, colorful, and provocative history of the world's most fascinating city in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when it was at the peak of its glory. This was not the city of decadence, carnival, and nostalgia familiar to us from later centuries. It was a ruthless imperial city, with a shrewd commercial base, l ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 3rd 2002 by Washington Square Press (first published 2001)
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Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Not a quick and easy book to read but a very interesting one. I'm not entirely sure that Wills' plan to relay & interpret the history of Venice through its art worked -- book needed more illustraions, particularly larger, color ones.
Points that I'll remember . . . Venice didn't lose its empire because of decadence -- the decline in morality came after its empire was already gone and it lose focus and pride. Religon played a large role in Venice but Venice tried to stay apart from the Pope and
Mike Violano
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Venice: Lion City focuses on the history and people of Venice in the 15th-16th centuries as depicted and reflected in mostly religious art and architecture. It's an interesting treatment of the imperial age of Venice through the works and lives of its Renaissance artists including Titian, the Bellinis, Veronese, Tintoretto, Carpaccio and Lotto. Palaces and churches of master architects Palladio, Sansovino and Codussi are also vividly described and assessed. Far less attention is paid to sculptur ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a learned book, which is not surprising given the author, but it is a difficult read at times. For the most part the book is a guide to the iconography of the Venetian empire in its heyday which is then used to tell the story of the various power-wielding groups and individuals of Venice. There is a major emphasis on painting and other types of predominately interior adornments, less on architecture and sculpture. There is of course much history interwoven throughout, and very little abo ...more
May 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Uneven work that would have been better as a straightforward history of Venice. Instead he mixes art criticism, theology, and personal philosophy in with Venetian history.
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
i'd say this probably rates around a 3.5—nothing really groundbreaking but a fun art-historical analysis of venice at its imperial peak
Al Maki
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Typical Gary Wills: thorough, intelligent, ruminative. He looks at how art was used to promulgate (not a word I use everyday but accurate here) the mythology that supported Venice’s empire. Much Venetian art is about the special relationship between its rulers and the Holy Family and its patron saints; an early, but not the last occurence of this pattern in the West. The first half looks at aspects of the society, for example the guilds, through how they are depicted in works of art; the second ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Finally--I've finished this ambitious history of Venice, a mighty city-state with its vast empire scattered across the waters! I struggled to get through Venice: Lion City but acknowledge I am glad I kept coming back to Wills' study of The Religion of Empire, because I learned a lot of history.

I initially chose to read this history as a result of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series--I decided I should know something more of Venice, given that it is such a canvas for her. Really, Venice is o
Linda Steiger
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Learned, well written, documented, and utterly fascinating is Gary Wills' the history of Venice through its art and architecture. I read it almost to the end before making a serious visit to this wonderful city, then upon coming home, kept picking it up for another look at various topical chapters that rouse curiosity as I edit my photos. Reading after the trip deepens and "sets" the experience, and Wills is a good one for this, particularly when it comes to explaining the importance of some of ...more
Alex Telander
Jan 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Little is known of Venice, the city of islands; few know of the tenacious, powerful grasp it once held over all of Italy, including the Papacy. Venice: Lion City makes light of this, focusing on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when Venice was at its cultural highpoint.

Gary Wills reveals a unique viewpoint here, taken the reader through Venice’s history through the many works of art of the period. Art and painting very much became a way of life for Venetians of this period, and art has an
Dec 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
This history of renaissance Venice is beautifully written by Garry Wills. It is quick history of Venice's empire, but more a history of the 15th & 16th century art and politics. Wills compares Venice to Athens in the Golden Age--when Athens reigned supreme over the Mediterranean and thought itself superior to land-based Sparta (much as Venice thought itself superior to Rome).

Wills spends a good deal of time writing about the architecture, painting, and sculpture of the time and is quite fascinat
Jul 21, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a neat way to relay a city's history, totally through the art. I will say that the pictures themselves are mostly dark black-and-white; the few color photos are splendid. I did appreciate that Wills tried to take a more conversational approach, but his gimmick (relaying history through art) requires loads of reference that kill that idea completely. This would be excellent as a reference, but overall, this book lacks the skill of a storyteller. It often sounds like commentary about art b ...more
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Excellent book for the Venice-bound; describes the Byzantine and Renaissance history of this unique city through its extraordinary art and architecture and explains the contemporary references of the depictions of the saints e.g. portrayals San Rocco and San Sebastian in wounds in the thigh are actually appeals to ward off the plague.
Meredith Small
This book is brilliant. Venetians might to might not agree with his thesis that their art reflects the ever present need to make a cooperative State, but Wills support this thesis beautifully. I have seen most of the paintings and sculpture he wrote about, but now I will see them in a different light.
Nov 16, 2009 rated it liked it
One chapter stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

"Chapter Seven: The Doge."

I am sorry but you are going to have to accept this as fact. "The Doge" is perhaps the most thrilling thing I have ever read.
J.C. Paulk
Perhaps this isn't Wills's specialty, but it is more likely that I had different expectations. I was thinking it was more of a history book or perhaps a contemporary account. Instead, it is a jumble of art commentary that isn't coherent. The texts value lies in its reference potential.
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: italy, history
This is a beautifully conceived and written book about Venice, seen through her art. Because I
have read so many books about Italian history,
and been to Venice twice, this was a very good - and new - perspective for me to look at an
incredible city I love.
Oct 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you like Venetian Renaissance painting, this is a great way to learn about the city at that time. I read it in preparation for a trip there, and found it informed my visit considerably. You need to really like seeking out the paintings, though.
Dec 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
Skip this if you're looking for a history of Venice. Maybe read it if you're looking for descriptions of religious art in Venice. Maybe.
Arthur Sperry
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting information on Venice and its history. A lot of Art History thrown in as well, since it is hard to talk about Venice without going into some detail on its famous works of Art.
Jim Colombo
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A detailed look into the corners of the Venetian empire and what made it such a powerful force in its day.
Mar 04, 2010 rated it liked it
It was pretty interesting, Wills was all about comparing Venice to Athens, and he did it well. But perhaps not the best "introduction" to Venetian history.
Rob Corder
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Geoffrey Cobb
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Jan 31, 2011
Andrew Trask
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Jun 05, 2015
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Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

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