Interview with Linda Carroll and Laura Sanguineti White


Marin Sanudo (1466-1536) is considered to be one of the most important historians of Venice.  His most important work is his Diary, which he kept from 1496 to 1533. This work consists of 58 volumes that have 40,000 pages containing an unparalleled record of life in renaissance Venice.  English readers can now access this work in Cita Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diary of Marin Sanudo, which was produced by the team of Patricia H. Labalme,  Laura Sanguineti White and Linda L. Carroll.  We interviewed Professor Carroll (Tulane University) and Professor White (Rutgers University) about their book and the fascinating Diary of Marin Sanudo

1. How did you become interested in Marin Sanudo and his diaries?

Carroll: Very important passages giving crucial information on the playwright I study, Angelo Beolco (Il Ruzante), were discovered in Sanudo’s Diaries as soon as they were published by the scholar Emilio Lovarini. I knew from those discoveries and from the discoveries of numerous other scholars in a wide range of fields that the Diaries were a treasure trove of information of all kinds about Venice, from the most exalted to the most mundane.

White: Since my university studies in Italy, I have been interested in the history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In particular, it was Prof. Felix Gilbert who introduced me to Sanudo and his Diaries. In the seventies I was his research assistant for two years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. The richness of the Diaries immediately fascinated me. In 1989-90, when Prof. Gilbert started thinking about the volume on Sanudo with Dr. Patricia Labalme, he asked me to become part of the project, and I was enthusiastic to accept.

From your introduction and his own writings, Marin comes across as a sympathetic figure – he was never able to become the official historian for the city of Venice, a position that he dearly wanted, and in his final years, he described himself as “Old, ill, poor and poorer than poor.” But in the end, it is his writings that are considered to be one of, if not the most important historical source for Venice in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Why is his work so valuable?

Carroll: His work is so valuable for a number of reasons: he faithfully recorded each day for decades information of all kinds about all sectors of Venetian life and its leading and also less illustrious citizens; he was an intimate of many of the city’s leaders and members of its governing commissions, which resulted in their sharing with him both oral and written information from their deliberations, information that is not available in any other source and that gives a full, nuanced, and personal account of why the Venetian government acted as it did; he cared and thought a great deal about the Venetian Republic and its present and future and recorded his views in the Diaries, which again gives scholars very important interpretive tools.

White: The 58 volumes embrace 37 years of Venetian history and indirectly of the known world of the time through its connections to the Most Serene Republic, at the peak of her power and splendor. Due to Sanudo’s access to documents and letters in the Chancery (that he summarized or copied) we have data otherwise most likely lost or incomplete. Furthermore, the news and descriptions of events Sanudo gives about his city were witnessed or heard about or attended to by him and therefore have the vividness, accuracy, and abundance of detail provided by an eyewitness (as he specifically likes to stress in some of his entries). In fact there is an additional unique aspect to the Diaries: the presence of the recorder himself and therefore his personal history as evidenced in the first chapter of our volume “Sanudo on Sanudo,” where the reader can follow his frustrations and disappointments, his modest successes and his keen interest in the political and social scene, and most of all his love for his motherland. I would like to think that our volume also gives some justice to the author.

The original publication of Sanudo’s diaries came out to 58 volumes. Your one volume offers a taste of the original work, giving excerpts from the diaries covering a wide variety of topics including: the Venetian government, crime and punishment, the wars and international politics that Venice was caught up in, and even the local theatre scene in the city. How did you go about deciding on what to include and leave out for this book?

Carroll: The project was conceived by the late Prof. Felix Gilbert, who was deeply familiar with the Diaries and their usefulness to scholars, and was spearheaded by the late Prof. Patricia H. Labalme, who as its senior editor guided it along much of its course. To her own list of leading scholars of Venice, Prof. Labalme added scholars in a range of fields whose names had been elicited from colleagues. She then invited them to indicate the passages that they had found most significant. These suggestions formed the core of our choices, and were augmented along the way, although the number of interesting passages was far too great for all of them to be included. A number of the consulted scholars accepted our invitation to become members of an advisory board, to which we turned for expert advice on various questions.

White: At the inception of the project Prof. Gilbert presented some entries and encouraged us, the members of the Sanudo Project, to contribute our own. He and Dr. Labalme assembled a list of many prestigious scholars of Venice who contributed passages as well as precious advice. Some of them assisted us with their expertise up to the completion of the volume and our gratitude is expressed in the Introduction. The initial entries were numerous, and we added many more as the project developed. Selecting the entries was difficult as it was difficult (I speak for myself) to stop following leads that unfolded into new stories.

For scholars interested in further exploring the Diaries of Marin Sanudo, what advice might you have about researching and working with his texts?

Carroll: The Indices are a treasure trove. They include a geographical index, which lists the names of localities in the many spellings in which they occur in the Diaries (orthography was far from standardized), as well as the modern equivalent, and an index of people and things, which includes a number of important topics (e.g. coins, soldiers). They were compiled by the group transcribing the Diaries, who became familiar with the many people about whom Sanudo wrote; the compilers often corrected errors in Sanudo’s text (in the form of the name or the patronym, for example) and identified by name figures that he referred to by office only (for example, the papal ambassador).

Familiarity with the structure of the data-keeping and formulas is helpful in orienting oneself. The Diaries were written in chronicle form, which is to say that events were entered in chronological order for the day, beginning in the morning, and involve a number of formulas (e.g. letters are entered as ‘Data’ [=given, i.e. given over to the courier] and then the hour and day, and the author (when he includes it). Venetian government committees met in a specified order and at specified times because of the hierarchy of decision-making, so it is very revealing to follow a given issue through the committees in chronological order. Because Sanudo includes so much material, one can often get lost in it; I have found that the best way to cope with this, when I really want to understand a specific person or issue, is to first follow the single thread or person to get a clear outline of events in mind and then go back and read all of the text of all of the entries in order to understand as exactly as possible what is going on.

White: My answer above leads me to this one. There is so much to explore and find in the Diaries that research on these texts will prove fruitful and stimulating for other scholars. The 58 volumes can be intimidating at first but their structure, that is dated daily entries, provides a clear frame and pattern. The Indices are the biggest help since they provide guidance to information on places, people, institutions, foreign communities, and more. The Indices make it easier to follow the development of an event through entries at different dates, they make it easier “to navigate” through the diaries in pursuit of the different “tessere” that are in the end pasted together. I wish to stress the satisfaction associated with following the various steps through entries to the completion of an entire story.

Finally, I was wondering if there was a particular entry from his diaries that you found yourself very fond of or intrigued about?

Carroll: Perhaps because it describes one of the biggest parties ever thrown by Venice, which involved the first recorded performance of Ruzante, and perhaps because it so clearly illustrates Venice as a theater state intermingling the public and the private, the passage describing the party given by the Immortali for the induction of Federigo Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, is my favorite. Indeed, it is the one with which we close the volume (Diaries 28: 253-55; pp. 531-33).

White: This is a very difficult question because I was very fond of or intrigued by many. One brief entry comes to mind, a sorrowful occasion that was at once uplifting: the last homage paid to Aldo Manutio – the famous printer and good friend of Sanudo – in the church of San Patrinian where his body is surrounded by books (19:425). I find this image so vivid and symbolic of the cultural richness and continuity of Venice, her excellence in the craftsmanship of the Press, and of Manutio’s great role in the edition of the classics. The entry reminds us of Sanudo’s love for books and of his magnificent library which comprised at one point more than sixty-five hundred volumes and was one of the desirable sites for learned distinguished visitors to Venice. There are also many beautiful descriptions of “feste” or receptions to honor visiting dignitaries or ducal processions that reveal the pictorial quality of Sanudo’s language and his admiration for the beauty and splendor of his homeland.

We thank Professor Carroll and Professor White for answering our questions.

Sharan Newman