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The New York Public Library explores romance, sex, and desire in new exhibition
Giulio Campagnola (Italian, 1482–1515), [Woman Reclining in a Landscape]. Stipple engraving, 1510–15. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.

NEW YORK, NY.- The New York Library is hosting the exhibition Love in Venice, which examines the literary, artistic, musical, and cultural aspects of Venice’s enduring seductiveness. On view at the Library’s iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Love in Venice will run until August 29 in the Wachenheim Gallery.

The Republic of Venice, a secular state originating in the city of Venice and its surrounding lagoon communities, thrived for half a millennium (1297–1797) on the wealth of its mercantile elite, who dominated a robust sea trade with Europe and beyond. Such prosperity, combined with an autonomy and freedom atypical of the rest of Italy, made the Venetian republic a tolerant society—and, before long, a prime destination for lovers and pleasure seekers. Consequently, as leisure travel grew more fashionable among wealthy Europeans in the 16th century, Venice catered increasingly to tourists with a taste for art, music, literature, and dance, as well as those in thrall to the spell of love. Venice’s unique desirability would continue long after the decline of the republic in the late 18th century and its eventual incorporation into a unified Italy. Around sixty artworks, books, letters and other artifacts are on view from the Library’s special collections. “Together these works document Venice’s singular appeal as a destination for love and romantic intrigue,” said Madeleine Viljoen, Curator of the Prints and the Spencer Collection, who was also responsible for the show.

Themes the exhibition explores include Venice’s association with Venus, the ancient goddess of love and sensuality. Punning on the homonymic associations of Venice (Venezia) and Venus (Venere), Venetian writers and artists depicted Venus as a close companion and embodiment of the city. The idea, which is current from at least the early 16th century, is based on the shared association with the sea, for much as Venice rose from the briny waters of the lagoon, Venus was born from sea foam. The frontispiece for the festival book celebrating Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany’s visit to Venice in 1688, for example, shows a nude Venus arriving on a conch shell being introduced to a female embodiment of Venice, drawing a clear association between the two women. Venus was also a favorite of the leading sixteenth-century artist Titian, who depicted the goddess with her male lovers or simply gazing at herself in a mirror. Titian’s penchant for the goddess is memorialized in reproductive prints including one by the well-known woodcut artist Niccolò Boldrini depicting Venus and her son, Amor.

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