The Missing Picture: Early Modern Venetian Attitudes Towards Disability

by Michelle Zillioux

Faculty mentor: Professor Julia DeLancey

Of all the early modern Venetian visual art that has been studied over the centuries, few works of art depict diverse mental conditions. This blank spot in Venice’s visual history is telling of the government’s attempts to self-fashion a positive image of the city. As early modern Italian scholar David D’Andrea argues, the government of early modern Venice has a history of marginalizing people on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder in order to control the republic’s public image. Venice’s treatment of people with disabilities, particularly those with mental health conditions, fits into this pattern. Court cases record instances in which people with mental health conditions are exiled from Venice to remove from the city’s government the responsibility of care, often explicitly. Thus, this presentation will argue that the lack of early modern Venetian visual culture depicting people with diverse mental health conditions is reflective of the republic’s efforts to maintain a serene and controlled public image reinforced by the much studied “Myth of Venice.” This would be in line with Venice’s history of using visual art as a tool to promote certain positive ideas about the republic.

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