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The Gilded City: Gold, Venice and the Art Market 1233-1500

Cynthia Brenwall

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Thesis Description


The Gilded City: Gold, Venice and the Art Market 1233-1500


Cynthia Brenwall


Diana Gisolfi




  • Venice (Italy)--Civilization
  • Gold in art


    In Venice, a city known for its splendor and luxury, gold took many forms; its value and importance to the Republica and the world of Venetian art cannot be overlooked. By investigating the various aspects of the market for this precious metal in the Late Medieval and Early Renaissance periods, it becomes evident that gold influenced not only general commerce but the art market as well. My paper is an exploration of the many facets relating to the use of gold in Venice from 1233 when the government first records statutes relating to the orefici (the guild of goldsmiths) through 1500 when shifts in both the guild system and artistic styles takes place. By exploring such topics as the importance of the importation of the metal into the city, the role of mint, the gold sellers who brought the metal into the market place, and the various artistic trades who used gold within the city a fuller understanding of the Venetian art market can be made.
    Through the investigation of government records and archival resources of the period we can find a dynamic interrelationship between the arts and the governing policies laid out by the Venetian Republic. As the gold ducat was the primary coin of the region, tight control of the metal by the government left us with excellent documentation of how the structure of distribution and use of the metal was carried out. It was these records that also gave insight into the orefici and the challenging, but important, concepts involved in understanding of the guilds during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
    While Medieval and Renaissance Venice was renowned for luxurious gold thread, intricate filigree and shimmering golden paintings, one cannot forget all of the other uses to which gold was put. Ranging from gilding on bronzes, glass, architecture, manuscripts, and wood to pigment powders, inks and the creation of secular objects and altarpieces, it is through these works that we can see the wider role of gold in Venetian art. My hope is that by looking at these varied objects as well as the economic issues of the period, aspects of Venetian society and the materials and techniques involved with the metal that a broader understanding of the early Venetian art market as a whole will emerge.




Cynthia Brenwall, “The Gilded City: Gold, Venice and the Art Market 1233-1500,” History of Art & Design Theses, accessed May 21, 2018,