A big part of what makes a WONDERFEAST on-site art history seminar special is that the learning happens on multiple levels. In addition to steeping ourselves in the history, culture, and art of Venice for La Serenissima 2023, we’ll also engage with texts – general audience and scholarly – to enhance our exploration of this fascinating period.

Below is a collection of titles that I thought you might find interesting. Their subject matter is Italy or Venice and ranges from surveys of the idiosyncrasies of the national psyche, to the dark underside of political corruption and the mafia, to histories of the country, and the city of Venice. The titles can be found on Amazon or probably even through your local bookstore or library.

La Bella Figura, Beppe Severgnini. A great place to start for a deliciously tongue-in-cheek exploration of the Italian mind and Italian customs. Deconstructing the myth of la dolce vita, Severgnini instead insists on showing us Italia – warts and all. Fantastically fun, it helps to better understand the only nation ‘capable of producing both Botticelli and Berlusconi.’

A Concise History of Italy, Christopher Duggan. The title is spot-on: Duggan manages to pack a great deal of complicated history into this small volume in the best tradition of British scholarship. Interestingly, since the book’s main topic is Italy, and Italy as a united country didn’t exist between the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century and the Risorgimento in the 19th century, the chapters on the in-between centuries of fragmentation are rather brief. Nevertheless, Duggan does leave his reader with a solid understanding of the history of this complex and often embattled nation.

Venice: A New History, Thomas Madden. Madden manages to make 1,500 years of history of the Most Serene Republic an engaging and often entertaining read. He takes his readers from the earliest days of refugees settling on uninhabited mud flats through the wily leadership of 80 year-old Doge Dandolo during the Fourth Crusade to the challenges of being an open-air museum in the age of mass tourism. 

If Venice Dies, Salvatore Settis. An often heart-breaking but important clarion call by a renowned art historian about the problems Venice faces as an increasingly underpopulated and over-visited theme park of culture. Lays out the challenges the city deals with on a continuous basis.

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon. The first novel in Leon’s series about Commissario Guido Brunetti, Death at La Fenice takes the reader on a journey of corruption, mystery, and intrigue in which Venice is one of the key characters. There are a total of twenty-three novels in the series and I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least twenty of them. They’re so engrossing!

A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century, Andrea di Robilant. A fascinating true love story between a scion of a patrician Venetian family and a young English-Venetian woman told through their letters. Di Robilant gives a lively sense of the world inhabited by the two lovers in Venice and throughout Europe.

Also, let’s not forget the joy of films, documentaries, and television shows. The website Culture Trip lists the top 10 films featuring Venice here. To it, I would add Dangerous Beauty (1998), a fluffy but fun film about a 16th century courtesan, as well as the 3rd season of the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, set in Venice and featuring Monica Bellucci as an insecure opera diva opposite the playful (and extremely pleasant-looking) Gael Garcia Bernal. Buona visione! (Happy viewing!)