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Venice is an improbable place, a series of tiny islands that changed the course of the world. In the latest series from the University of Toronto’s Dr. Kenneth Bartlett, we’ll follow this enchanting city through periods of growth, decline and upheaval, examining its enduring importance to the history of art and politics. As we chart Venice’s evolution from medieval city to ambitious maritime republic to a site of pleasure and decadence for generations of visitors, we’ll explore a magical city that continues to hold a unique place in the cultural imagination.



Led by Dr. Kenneth Bartlett, Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto. A celebrated Canadian academic, Prof. Bartlett has published numerous influential books and articleson the Renaissance, and won world renown for his video series for “The Great Courses.” A recipient of the prestigious 3M National Teaching fellowship, he regularly leads tours to Italy for museums and cultural organizations.

Course registration: $49 (Hot Docs Members: $33, $27, Free)

Curious Minds Speaker Series sponsored by

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The six lectures in this series are now available to stream. You can access each lecture at your leisure by clicking the "Watch Now" button in your confirmation email, or by visiting your My Shows page.

Lecture 1: Venice: An Improbable City
We will begin with a discussion of the early years of Venice from the founding of the city on the lagoon as a republic until the closing of its Great Council in 1297. As we examine its connections with the Byzantine Empire and its distinctive style in art and architecture, the growth of long-distance trade, and the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, we’ll trace the rise of what became known as “La Serenissima”: the “Most Serene” Republic of Venice.

Lecture 2: A Maritime Republic
The closing of the Great Council in 1297 created a closed caste of the ruling elite of the Republic which met in the grand rooms of the Palazzo Ducale. By concentrating power, wealth, and influence in the hands of the patrician families then sitting on the Council, Venice privileged a class that was obliged to serve the state and protect its interests—by whatever means necessary.

Lecture 3: Wealth, Power, Palaces and Painting
The spectacular wealth created by the activities of Venetian merchants made them anxious to advertise their status, taste, and wealth by building great palaces on the Grand Canal and commissioning art that told their families’ histories and recorded their appearance for posterity. The stories of these palaces, churches and portraits serve as a revealing catalogue of Venetian art and history.

Lecture 4: Imperial Venice: The Terraferma and the Stato da Mar
From the 11th Century onward, Venice established a maritime empire that included outposts in Greece and the islands of the Mediterranean and Aegean as well as the Adriatic coast. When this expansion spread to the Italian peninsula after the late 14th century, Venice incorporated subject cities such as Verona, Vicenza and Padua, and the stunning architecture of Andrea Palladio. The city, and its empire, became truly Italian for the first time.

Lecture 5: The Silver Age of Venice: The Baroque
The 17th and 18th centuries saw a continued development of art and patronage, with the great palaces and churches of Baldassare Longhena and the painting of the Tiepolo, but the decline of Mediterranean trade and the power of the Ottoman Empire challenged Venice’s position as the greatest mercantile city on the continent. After the later years of the 17th century, the Queen of the Adriatic descended into the Las Vegas of its time, a fading pleasure centre whose gambling, courtesans and carnival increasingly characterized its culture.

Lecture 6: The City of Dreams
Although celebrated by Byron and Turner, the Venice of the 19th century was a city of decay and melancholy, conquered by Napoleon, neglected by the Habsburg Empire, and finally united with the newly created Italian kingdom in 1866. As the city’s population and stature declined, it took on its modern identity as a destination for wealthy foreigners and packaged vacations—a city whose demographic and environmental survival are very much in doubt. What comes next for this magical, improbable city? What should Venice be in the years and decades to come?

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