Founded in the 7th century on a lagoon off the northeast coast of Italy, Venice grew to be the capital of a great trading empire and one of the key western markets of the Silk Road. Its commercial networks extended far to the east and by the 15th century Venice had developed close ties with the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the Ottomans of Turkey, and the Safavids of Iran amongst others. As a consequence, the city is full of eastern influences.
The lanterns topping the domes of St Mark’s Cathedral are very similar to those found atop minarets in Mamluk Cairo. The geometric lozenges that cover the Doge’s Palace are thought to replicate the surface decoration of Ilkhanid mosques as far away as modern-day Uzbekistan.
The blue pigment applied to Renaissance masterpieces over 500 years ago, such as Bellini’s San Giobbe Altarpiece was produced from lapis lazuli mined 6,500km away in northern Afghanistan.
Venice is still home to a thriving community of artisans, many of whose businesses are centuries old. The origins of Luigi Bevilacqua’s weaving workshop on Venice’s Grand Canal date back to 1499.
Today, skilled workers still hand operate great wooden looms, creating luxurious tapestries, upholstery and other textiles. These are still made from silk imported from China. The work is time-consuming and labour-intensive.
Artisan workers can only produce 4cm of fabric a day but over several weeks a remarkable product emerges that is in great demand the world over. Clients include most of the great Italian fashion houses, the White House and the Kremlin.