Category Archives: Italy

The Roman Legionary’s Arms and Other Items of Equipment



The Assassination of Julius Caesar



Why Didn’t the Romans Conquer Ireland?



WWII: Appeasement



The Small War



Life in Ancient Rome



Venice had its own ‘Airbnb problem’ during the Renaissance – here’s how it coped



File 20190312 86690 1azh0vh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A balancing act.
szeke/Flickr., CC BY-SA

Rosa Salzberg, University of Warwick

Cities around the world have had difficulties balancing the interests of visitors with the needs of residents, as holiday rental platforms such as Airbnb have grown in popularity and size. Evidence shows that the conversion of rented homes to short-term accommodation contributes to housing shortages, raises house prices, speeds up gentrification and erodes local communities.

Cities including Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and London have acted to curb these negative effects, imposing new taxes or limiting the number of nights that a property can be rented out. Today, Venice is one of the worst affected cities: the resident population has fallen to its lowest level in centuries and city leaders are looking for ways to mitigate the ill effects of mass tourism.

Yet the city also has a long history of managing the pros and cons of migration and tourism, and finding ways to profit from – but also integrate – foreigners. Indeed, in Renaissance Venice, a huge influx of foreigners fuelled the rise of a large informal lodging sector, which was difficult to tax and regulate and had a major impact on the urban community. Sound familiar?

Renaissance boom town

By the 16th century, Venice was the capital of its own huge empire and a major crossroads of trade and travel between mainland Europe and the Mediterranean. At the same time as painters including Titian and Giorgione were making the city a centre of Renaissance culture, the population surged from around 100,000 to nearly 170,000 in just 50 years.

Unlike today, the people drawn to Venice at the time were mostly international merchants and entrepreneurs, migrants looking for work in local industries, or refugees from war and hunger. But the first tourists also arrived in this period, such as the French writer and nobleman Montaigne, who came to explore the city’s cultural treasures. And all of these people needed somewhere to stay.

Buzzing: Vittore Carpaccio’s painting showing a miracle healing in Venice, circa 1496.
Wikimedia Commons.

My research has shown how hundreds of ordinary Venetians at this time saw a chance to make money on the side by renting rooms or beds. Many were women who struggled to earn a living in other ways: people like Paolina Briani, who in the 1580s rented rooms to Muslim merchants from the Ottoman empire, in her home a few minutes’ walk from Piazza San Marco.

By opening up their homes to migrants and travellers, these accommodation providers – unlike the mostly absentee Airbnb owners of today – shared intimate spaces with people who spoke different languages and practised different religions.

Regulating the informal economy

The rapid growth of this informal economy of lodging alarmed the Venetian government. Fearing the spread both of diseases and of threatening political and religious ideas, the government was anxious to regulate and monitor the presence of foreigners in their city. They also wished to minimise competition with the city’s licensed inns – a profitable source of tax revenues.

So, a bit like today, the government made efforts to register and tax lodging housekeepers, and force them to report on the movements of their tenants. Though this regulation was very difficult to enforce because of the informal nature of many lodging enterprises, Venice’s rulers did not try to eliminate this sector altogether.

While wanting to control the movement of people, they also saw that migrants and visitors were crucial to the city’s economy and its cultural power. They wanted to welcome anyone who brought valuable goods, innovative ideas or essential manpower.

At the same time, the government took into account that ordinary Venetians – especially vulnerable and poor groups such as widows – also profited from the influx. And the money that residents made by offering lodging might be essential to their survival.

A delicate balance

To be sure, Venice’s authorities did not welcome all comers. They took aggressive action to stop “undesirables” (such as beggars and prostitutes) from entering the city. They also put more and more pressure on religious minorities to live in segregated spaces – most famously the Jewish Ghetto.

But they also saw the benefits of promoting a diverse and flexible hospitality industry that could serve the interests of locals as well as visitors. Licensed lodging houses were allowed to flourish and, alongside the inns, became a central part of the city’s emerging tourist infrastructure.

Many newcomers who came to stay in residents’ homes – where they might learn something of the local language and customs – went on to settle and integrate into the community. In its regulation of the hospitality industry, Renaissance Venice struck a delicate balance between the interests of foreigners and locals, which was crucial to the city’s economic, cultural and political strength.

Today, such a compromise appears very difficult to achieve. There are differences between then and now: in the reasons people come to the city; in the nature of competing urban needs; and in the likely solutions and policies. But it seems that cities can take a lead from Renaissance Venice, and act to promote meaningful interactions between visitors and residents; for example, as Berlin has done, by banning people from renting out entire flats on Airbnb. The Venice of 500 years ago challenges people to think about “the Airbnb problem” in a more nuanced way.The Conversation

Rosa Salzberg, Associate Professor of Italian Renaissance History, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Florence and the Renaissance



How Leonardo da Vinci, ‘Master of Water’, explored the power and beauty of its flow



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Old man (possible self-portrait) and water studies, c 1508-9.
Wikimedia Commons

Susan Broomhall, University of Western Australia; Greg Ivey, and Nicole L. Jones, University of Western Australia

On the 500th anniversary of his death, our series Leonardo da Vinci Revisited brings together scholars from different disciplines to re-examine his work, legacy and myth.

The artist and polymath Leonardo da Vinci was once famously named a “Master of Water” in the records of the Florentine government.

In this role, he explored diverting the river Arno away from Pisa so as to cut access to the city, then Florence’s enemy, from the sea. It was one of a number of jobs he held that were dedicated to controlling water as a way of wielding power.

But his notebooks reveal Leonardo’s wider preoccupations with the power of water. He wanted to understand the ebb and flow of tides, the origins of rivers and oceans and the water cycle, as well as the fearsome effects of water in erosion, floods, rain and storms. Water was a force to be reckoned with — as an idea and as a reality.

Model of hydraulic saw, a reconstruction of Leonardo’s design, in Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology, 2011.
Jakub Hałun via Wikimedia Commons

If humans could not control water, Leonardo argued, they could nonetheless work with it. Over his lifetime, he was commissioned for a range of projects to manipulate water, most often in canals, as a form of warfare.

When Leonardo wrote down his thoughts about how to depict a biblical deluge, central to his thinking was the destructive force of water: “The swollen waters will sweep round the pool which contains them striking in eddying whirlpools against the different obstacles, and leaping into the air in muddy foam; then, falling back, the beaten water will again be dashed into the air.”

His mindset was biblical but he shared with modern scientists an interest in great destructive forces such as tsunamis.

A deluge, c.1517–18, Pen and black ink with wash on paper, RCIN 912380 via Google Art Project.
Wikimedia Commons

The beauty of water

For Leonardo, water could also be exquisitely beautiful in its flows, eddies and swirls. His illustrations of moving water were not really observations of a single moment in time though; they captured his thought process.

In the illustration below, of water passing obstacles, he depicted movement in time and space, as well as his conceptualisation of how fluids flow, in a single diagram.

Studies of water passing obstacles and falling, c. 1508-9.
Wikimedia Commons

Leonardo was depicting the inherently three-dimensional nature of flowing water, and the idea that turbulent flows consist of a range of co-existing eddies, varying in scale from large to small. This concept was mathematically formalised in 1941 by A.N. Kolmogorov, and is known as the “cascade model of turbulence”.

Visualisation of flowing water remains a powerful and essential tool in modern research today. For instance, recent laboratory studies of the three-dimensional flow around islands in coastal ocean regions, have used tiny plastic spheres to observe the fluid motion (known as particle tracking) of the evolving wake downstream of an island.

Describing the complex nature of these wakes, and the vertical up-welling of water in them, is key to understanding how the ecological productivity of these marine systems is maintained.

Paul M. Branson et al, Visualisation of the instantaneous flow field in the ‘unsteady bubble’ wake at 𝑡/𝑇=4.2; Streamlines seeded close to the bed and coloured by elevation.
Environmental Fluid Mechanics journal. DOI /10.1007/s10652-019-09661-5

For Leonardo, flowing water formed parallels with curling hair:

Observe the motion of the surface of the water which resembles that of hair, and has two motions, of which one goes on with the flow of the surface, the other forms the lines of the eddies; thus the water forms eddying whirlpools one part of which are due to the impetus of the principal current and the other to the incidental motion and return flow.

Study for the Head of Leda.
Wikimedia Commons

Recently, scientists who study fluid mechanics have employed innovative ways to communicate the results of their experiments through creating a musical representation of the frequency content of the flow. These modern methods share with Leonardo a fascination with the beauty of flowing water.

He may once have held the title “Master of Water” but Leonardo realised that this was one element of the natural world over which he (like others) could only ever exercise limited control, except perhaps, in his art.The Conversation

Susan Broomhall, Professor of History, University of Western Australia; Greg Ivey, Professor of geophysical fluid dynamics, and Nicole L. Jones, Associate Professor of Physical Oceanography , University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How Leonardo da Vinci made a living from killing machines



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Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Two Warriors Heads for the Battle of Anghiari, c. 1504-5. Black chalk or charcoal, some traces of red chalk on paper. Google Art Project.
Wikimedia Commons.

Susan Broomhall, University of Western Australia and Joy Damousi, University of Melbourne

On the 500th anniversary of his death, our series Leonardo da Vinci Revisited brings together scholars from different disciplines to re-examine his work, legacy and myth.

Leonardo worked for some of the top military and political leaders in the Italian Wars, a major conflict fought on the Italian peninsula that embroiled most of Western Europe. His patrons read like a roll-call of Europe’s leading familes: Sforza and Borgia dukes and French Valois kings.

Like many other artists and technicians, he negotiated the professional and financial opportunities (as well as dangers) that war presented.

As a brilliant designer, technician and artist, he knew how to appeal to the leaders of his day. A well-known 1482 letter to Ludovico Il Moro Sforza, Duke of Milan, one of Italy’s most powerful military leaders, was in essence a job application.

In it, Leonardo promised a raft of new technological possibilities in warfare, boasting he could create an infinite variety of machines for attack or defence:

I have methods for making very light and strong bridges, easily portable, and useful whether pursuing or evading the enemy; and others more solid, which cannot be destroyed by fire or assault …

If the place under siege cannot be reduced by bombardment, because of the height of its banks or the strength of its position, I have methods for destroying any fortress or redoubt even if it is founded upon solid rock …

I will make armoured cars, totally unassailable, which will penetrate the ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and there is no company of soldiers so great that it can withstand them…

Leonardo’s design for a giant crossbow, Codex Atlantico, fol 53v.
Wikimedia Commons

His claims spoke powerfully of a dream of invincibility for the Duke. At times, Leonardo followed the armies of his leaders as they waged war across Italy, but he did not fight on the frontline as a soldier himself. His value to his patrons was not his body, but his mind.

Alongside his weapons of war, Leonardo also created magnificent spectacles of his patrons’ military achievements in festivities with advanced dramatic technologies. For instance, the festival Leonardo curated in France in May 1518 for his patron François I celebrated the king’s military achievement. He staged an elaborate, multi-sensory, re-enactment of the Battle of Marignano complete with siege and capture of a castle. The watching crowd were overwhelmed with emotion, as falconets fired missiles of paper and mortars shot out balloons.

Through these displays and performances, — textual, ceremonial, multimedia — Leonardo helped to curate an elite masculine identity for a man at war, shaped and defined by new technological advancements.

Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Atlantico, fol. 9r.
Wikimedia Commons

Shock and awe

While Leonardo explored the power of the senses to channel emotional responses in ceremonial contexts, so too was much of his commentary on his weapons and design about shock and awe. His designs explicitly aimed to make men and horses afraid, causing maximum damage.

These interests in exploiting men’s emotional frailties in war are revealed in his 1482 letter to Ludovico:

I have certain types of cannons, extremely easy to carry, which fire out small stones, almost as if it were a hailstorm, and the smoke from these will cause great terror to the enemy, and they will bring great loss and confusion …

Leonardo, Figures fighting on horseback and on foot, c. 1504.
Wikiart.org

Of his design for a steam-powered cannon made of copper, he wrote that “the sight of its fury and the sound of its roar will seem like a miracle”.

Leonardo’s weapons were thus not just about physical damage to men, animals and buildings, but exploited the emotional experiences of those fighting at the frontline. They offer the prospect of destroying the fortitude and morale of the men facing them, emphasising warfare’s psychological element.

A turbulent mind

Study of a Warrior’s Head for the Battle of Anghiari, c 1504-5. Red chalk on very pale pink prepared paper, Google Art Project.
Wikimedia Commons

But Leonardo was also frustrated. In one manuscript, he discloses what seem to be ambitions as an author on war: “In order to preserve the main gift of nature, that is liberty, I will find a way to attack and defend, when being besieged by tyrannical ambition. And firstly I will speak of the positioning of walls and then how the people can maintain their good and just lords.”

This book project, if that is what it was, seems less about warfare and more a critique of the men he found himself working for. It seems to suggest his ambition to contribute to, or at least comment on, current events and ideas of good and bad government, which he witnessed at close range as the client of some of Europe’s most influential leaders.

Study for a Hoist and for a Cannon in an Ordnance Foundry, c 1487. Royal Library, Windsor.
Wikimedia Commons

While Leonardo’s textual record attests to his ambitions, it also documents grievances that surrounded his experiences as a participant in war. Above a picture of a scattershot cannon, an unfinished half-sentence reads: “If the men of Milan would for once do something out of the ordinary …” Perhaps this was a throwaway comment meant only for himself, but it suggests some of his frustrations.

In thinking about Leonardo now, we recognise that among his many talents, he was someone who not only made a living from, but was perhaps uniquely gifted at creating, new forms of killing machines.The Conversation

Susan Broomhall, Professor of History, University of Western Australia and Joy Damousi, Professor of History, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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