Martina Frank on the Venetian Culture and Economy of Leisure

The XVIIIe century is usually associated with the term of “decadence”. But it is retrospective a posteriori view.

Venice as a stage space

The street names of Venice are witnesses of no longer existing structures. E.g Calle del Teatro Vechio, Sotoportego del casino dei nobili.Theatres and Casinos were important factors for tourism. In 1980, one exhibition “Venice and the stage space” that insisted that the whole city of Venice was a stage, a performance in progress through the landscape of the city. Many festivities were occurring in the city as collective actions. Venice is a city without a court and therefore developped its activity in different places and sequences in the citiy.


Feast of San Rocco, Canaletto, 1735 (Wikimedias commons)



Before the mid of 18e century, theatre performances were held exclusively inside the Venetian homes. You had to be invited. Progressively, many theatres opened and were in competition in the city. Theatres shifted to a closed and regulated system (you have to pay a ticket). Theatres and Operas became important for tourism. In addition to instrumental music and singing, theatrical machineries played a progressively more important role. Private houses were not able to compete with the specific spaces equipped with technical devices.

Several theatres in activity in Venice are still a the place where they were operating in the 18e century.


Antonio Codognato, Vue des magnifiques décors et illuminations du Teatro San Samuele, 1753, Burin (Link)

The impresario (different from the owner of the theatre) was taking the risk to finance the production of stage plays. Important impresarios figures include some composers, for instance Vivaldi. Finding the name of impresarios in the archives can be difficult (his name does not appear in the tax declarations)


Casinos (or ridottos)

The casinos form a complement to the palaces and theatres. Casinos were in the city but also in the suburban zones. Some casinos were attached to major residential building and other conceived as independent autonomous structures. In 1744, the State inquisitor listed more than 120 casinos in Venice (100+ near San Marks Square / San Moise Parish). The document of the State inquisitor gives an account of people who frequented these spaces and the kind of activities that were occurring in these casinos. In the 18e century, gambling was a extremely important phenomena in all Europe. It was extremely important for Venice and touched all the the population (man, women, rich, poor, etc.). In some cases, loosing money could also be a mark of prestige.


Francesco Guardi, the Ridotto pubblico in Palazzo Dandolo at San Moise, 1755, (Wikimedia commons)

The Casino in Palazzo Morosini was an important places of exchanges for several century. It is a completely independant unit with a separate entrance and not connection with the rest of the palace. The Casino Venier (still existing today) is another example of such places.


Pietro Longhi, The ridotto in Venice (Wikimedia commons), ab 1750

The inquisitor made three lists : The housekeepers, the renters and the users (members/visitors) of the casinos. The owner does not appear. Many housekeepers, renters and members were women. In the following years, owners of coffee shops were asking the right to rent little spaces of the use of casinos. Mixed spaces were created.

















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