Johns Hopkins £33.50

Venice: Cità excelentissima, eds Patricia H Labalme and Laura Sanguineti White, trs Linda L Carroll

A Venetian Pepys is freed from the archives

Marin Sanudo was a compulsive diarist who lived at the height of the Venetian Renaissance. With the publication of this sampling of his writings, lovers of Venice finally can acquaint themselves with riches that have previously been available only to scholars with a working knowledge of the Venetian language. Sanudo knew that he was living in a period of incomparable excellence for his beloved city – whether understood in terms of the glory of empire, the satisfactions of wealth, or the creations of the arts – and he determined early to record, and comment on, the passing show.

Like his fellow diarist Samuel Pepys, writing a century later, Sanudo was privileged by his closeness to the governing classes (of which he was a minor member) to see exactly how his society and its imperial possessions were ruled. Also like Pepys, he was an eyewitness to natural disasters, such as the spectacular 1509 fire at the Arsenal and the 1511 earthquake, which shook the statues from the roofs of the buildings.

Sanudo too confides his personal disappointments and his hopes to his diary, but these are restricted to career and finances; he has none of Pepys's desire to speak of his emotional and sexual encounters. Sanudo takes a detached view of the charms of Venice's famous courtesans and prostitutes; he does not say if he sampled their wares. Sanudo had a way of being present – and when not, of searching out reliable informants – at many key historical moments.

For example, he reports, on 26 March 1516, as "news of the morning", that Senator Zacaria Dolfin has proposed confining the Jews of Venice to an area then known as the Ghetto Nuovo [the new foundry], a suggestion that soon led to the world gaining a new term for one of its less attractive customs, the confining of unwanted persons, and thoughts, in separate spheres.

The Venice we see today, for all its beauty, is like a bare stage that once contained a vivid drama. To read Sanudo is to fill that stage with actors, costumes and sounds, so that the reader seems to see and hear the people who once walked its narrow streets, sailed its winding canals and erected the exotic buildings that continue to excite a wondering admiration.

Sanudo is at his most vivid in his employment of the telling detail. Here for example is the arrival of a Turkish ambassador at the Ducal Palace: "He made his entrance into the Collegio dressed in a gold tunic ... Behind him one of his attendants brought a dried head stuffed with straw on top of a pole, which is said to be that of a captain of the Egyptian ruler, the Sophì subjugated by the sultan, that is by his army, which the ambassador brings to the Signoria as a token of [their] victory."

Sanudo's diaries stretch from 1496 to 1533; in printed form they comprise 58 volumes. Amazingly, although the original manuscript has been the property of the Venetian state since Sanudo's death, it was not available in print until its publication by Italian scholars between 1879 and 1903. Since then, it seems fair to say with Sanudo himself, that "no writer will make much of modern history who has not seen my diaries, within which is contained every event." They are quoted in practically every guide book and every essay that mentions the salient happenings of early 16th-century Venice.

Having chosen to present their material in thematic, rather than chronological, form, the book's editors have constrained themselves to shoehorn Sanudo's observations into chapters with headings such as "The Venetians Govern", "Society and Social Life" and "Humanism and the Arts". In the main, their method makes for a readable introduction to the man and his times, although it does obscure the interdependence of social and political events as they unfolded.

Labalme and White have also contributed a running commentary which, in total, is roughly as long as Sanudo's own words. Although what they have to say is always salient and to the point, this practice has reduced their 600-page anthology to about 300 pages of Sanudo himself, a pity in the case of a seminal author who is not otherwise available to the English-speaking public. We can only hope that other scholars are labouring to present the full 58 volumes in English some day soon.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?