Maken Engelond Gret Ayeyn

The great Paul Strohm in Lapham’s Quarterly (hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily) discusses late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth century English trade, in particular the perennial conflict between the ideas of free trade and protectionism. A sample:

Giano’s killing was one episode in the larger story of international trade and its accompanying rivalries in the later European Middle Ages. The so-called Dark Ages were never as dark as their name would imply; hucksters, peddlers, chapmen, and other minor players had always plied Europe’s roads and dealt their goods. But it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that high-volume international trading seriously resumed, with trade in wool one of its major drivers. In those centuries, the Port of London alone handled almost a thousand arriving and departing trading vessels a year, and numerous other English ports (including the newly active ports of Dover and Southampton) were claiming a role. Half this activity was devoted to wool, and it generated immense wealth for the realm, conferring fortunes on a small and monopolistic group of men. These successful profiteers were not the sheepherders and shearers of the provinces, nor the merchant sailors who braved the seas, but the entrepreneurial middlemen who collected revenues on exported wool. A close-knit group of at most several hundred men, they formed allegiances and confederations throughout the mercantile establishment that dominated the leading guilds and ran the city of London.

Read the whole thing, which concludes that the author of the protectionist Libel of English Policy (1438) may be considered a Brexiteer avant la lettre, “laying early foundations for varieties of economic nationalism now returning to contemporary vogue.”

Venice

In my Renaissance and Reformation course this week, we did a quick tour of the major Italian city-states. One of the most distinctive, of course, is Venice, on account of all the canals. You know its Venice when you see a gondolier, sporting a horizontally striped shirt and straw hat, standing at the rear of his boat and propelling it with a rowing oar. Two such images that came immediately to mind:

Detail, Ragu spaghetti sauce label.

This prompted a search on YouTube for Venetian scenes. The Casino Royale reboot (2006), with its famous sinking piazza, was the one most people know:

I had forgotten the chase scene in Moonraker (1979), perhaps the campiest James Bond film: among other contrivances, Roger Moore’s gondola turns into a hovercraft.

This aging Gen-Xer then remembered that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video was set in Venice – and had forgotten that it features a lion wandering around (later in the video, a man in a Venetian-style lion mask acts as her seducer).

I was pleased to see this, because the symbol of Venice of course is a lion – specifically, the winged lion of St. Mark. From Wikipedia, here is the flag of the medieval Venetian Republic:

Well played, Madonna! (St. Mark has been the patron saint of Venice ever since the Venetians stole his relics from Alexandria in 828. His symbol was inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the four winged creatures, which was eventually applied to the authors of the four gospels.)

A winged man, ox, eagle, and lion, symbolic of the evangelists Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark respectively. From Preachingsymbols.com.

Warsaw Rebuilt

The Guardian is running a series called “The Story of Cities,” and number 28 on Warsaw is rather interesting:

Story of cities #28: how postwar Warsaw was rebuilt using 18th century paintings

When Warsaw’s Old Town was destroyed by Hitler’s troops in the second world war, the nation mobilised to rebuild the city with the rubble of its own destruction – and the work of Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto.

It is August 1944 and the Polish resistance are in violent clashes with the Nazi forces that have occupied Warsaw. The resistance intend to liberate the city from what the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz has called the “dark, black and red world of Nazi occupation”.

During the Warsaw Uprising, the ill-equipped Polish resistance succeed in inflicting serious damage on their oppressors, with 20,000 Nazi troops left wounded or dead. But it is the civilian population that suffers the greatest losses, with 150,000 people killed in air strikes and in fighting across the city.

In retaliation, the Nazis raze the Polish capital to the ground. More than 85% of the city’s historic centre is reduced to ruins. Unlike in other European cities, where damage largely occurs during the fighting, Warsaw is systematically destroyed once the two months of conflict have ended, as an act of revenge by Hitler’s forces.

What follows is the story of how Varsovians (residents of Warsaw) reconstructed their city – in part from the cityscapes, or vedute, of the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), often referred to as Canaletto after his more renowned uncle.

Bellotto, who was made court painter to the King of Poland in 1768, created beautiful and accurate paintings of Warsaw’s buildings and squares. It is testimony to the veracity of his work that almost 200 years later, those paintings were used to help transform the historic city centre from wreckage and rubble into what is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

More at the link.