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Carlo Goldoni and Venetian Freemasonry.

In the carnival of 1753 Carlo Goldoni took his leave from the public and the company at the Teatro Sant'Angelo with a comedy, Le donne curiose, which, as the playwright confessed a third of a century later in his Memoires: "les Etrangers en reconnurent le fond sur-le-champ et les Venitiens disaient que si Goldoni avoit devine le secret des Francs-Macons, on auroit tort en Italie d'en defender les assemblees." (1) The Goldonian lodge was located in Bologna, where "une societe de personnes de son etat" gathered under the direction of its founder and moving spirit, the Venetian merchant Pantalone de' Bisognosi (Le donne curiose I.I.55: "he had founded this our diversion; he governs our company quite well: he provides good food, and I think he pays for it himself"), (2) met "pour y diner, pour y souper, pour parler d'affaires ou des nouvelles du jour," in short to cultivate "plaisirs innocens." (3)

The abstract of the comedy entrusted to the Memoires does not render complete justice to a work that is in effect a paen exalting masculine sociability, or better, which identifies with Masonry a type of sociability that guarantees "the best pastime in this world" (I.9.12) to a particular "age," to civil order, to that bourgeoisie of which the "honored merchant," the "civil man" Pantalone was the most perfect incarnation. (4) Rejecting the diffuse images of Freemasonry as an integrated society, even entirely promiscuous in every aspect except the sexual (as the first Venetian historian of the company, the conservative patrician Vettor Sandi, would write only a few years later) one was convinced that in the lodges not only were "enrolled persons of every class, rich, poor, nobility, commoners, ignorant and learned recruited indifferently" but that they were also admitted "as brothers, Jews, Turks, idolaters and Christians alike with indifference to every religion, provided that they observe the prescriptions of Nature, however not simply natural, but made perfect by revealed Religion" (5); rejecting also the image of an elite society, of "a meeting of persons of quality and talent," which united the social and cultural creme, (6) Goldoni recruited in his lodge only "cittadini."

They were always well-to-do 'bourgeoisie,' "all men whom a felippo does not ... discomfort" (III.3.17), capable, therefore, of paying a member's dues ("one scudo per month for the maintenance of necessary things, that is furniture, lamps, servants, books and paper, etc.," III.4.18) equivalent to nearly 100 lire a year, a fee which at the time allowed one to subscribe to four or five periodicals. The selection of the new members occurred based on an ideal measure, that of the "gentleman of reason" (II.13.20), of the person who was "honest, civil, and of good habits" (III.4.18), a criterion that invited one to consider with a certain suspicion he who "is born well," because birth was by itself "an equivocal right." As Pantalone pointed out, taking up once again to benefit the bourgeoisie one of the traditional themes in the debate on nobility, "it isn't birth that makes a gentleman, it's his good deeds" (II.13.14).

Goldoni took into account this peculiar social profile of his Masonry (neither high nor low; neither noble, nor popular) when he refused to attribute a hierarchical structure to the Freemasons' lodge. The "diverse offices, [the] diverse positions, to which one arrives with time" (III.4.11), were, according to Pantalone, a part of the "chatter of the people," of "those we do not want in our conversation, those who, presenting us as something important, aimed to ruin us" (III.4.12). In this scene Masonry handed in its resignation from the "grand" world of politics and religion, which was then also the world of the privileged orders of the ancien regime, and took refuge in a private dimension of the 'bourgeois' sociability. It avoided the reproaches that had been posed in particular by the Tuscan ex-friar and ex-Mason Giovanni Gualberto Bottarelli in L'ordre des Francs-Macons trahi et le secret des Mopses revele and in Les Francs-Macons ecrases, two works that appeared in 1745 and 1747 respectively and were utilized by the redactor of the entry in the Nuovo dizionario. Bottarelli characterized Masonry as a "secret order," an "indivisible church, a sectarian structure that has a stable hierarchy, a territorial web, and an army of 'initiates," expressions of a "plot" at the same time "Protestant and republican." (7) The lodge consequently became a "friendly society" (I.1.43), a "company," a "diversion" (I.1.58), a "close community" (I.3.10), a "league" of "good friends" (I.3.9 and 11); it realized, in other words, an innocuous model of sociability for the use of the merchant class. "We pass the time properly, honestly, far from noises, and beyond servitude" (I.3.9), enjoying a "complete liberty" (I.1.61): "... here there is nothing to manage, there is no business, there are no offices; the only thing to do is to make sure there is good food, good drink, lamps, books, writing paper, and a few innocent games, and to enjoy oneself" (III.4.10). As a duty-free zone to the shelter from the "noises," from "the annoyances of ... offices and of the ... family" (I.1.49), the lodge insured above all a negative "fullest liberty," but at the same time, just as it safeguarded "cittadini" from "servitude" in the comparison with nobility and priests and restored them to a carefree otium, it offered them the opportunity to "satisfy one's own genius" (I.1.43), to conquer a positive "fullest liberty."

Taking up in his own way the Masonic binomial of equality and liberty--on which Bottarelli's denunciation had insisted, which he had made to derive from the Republicanism of Cromwell, (8) and in which instead the entry in the Nuovo dizionario had individuated, opportunely inverting the order between the two key words, "the most precious prerogative that is attributed to society" (9)--Goldoni insisted on friendship as the keystone to the "most honored conversation" (III.ULTIMA 40-41), (10) a friendship that placed everyone at the same level and ostracized the cortege of "ceremonies" and "compliments" (II.13.4 and 5), of "toasts" and "affectations" (III.4.18): "whoever is closest to the door leaves first. Without courtesies" (III.5.4).

Nevertheless for the playwright the lodge did not need to be only a "little house of diversion" (I.2.15), where one "passes time tranquilly, in all that gives pleasure ... honestly" (I.1.44), but also, at least in the first edition of the Donne curiose, a cultural institution, a type of academy reserved for the 'bourgeoisie.' Two requirements of the "conversation" provided that "each one has to apply himself to some art of science, communicating to the others the insights he will have learned from his reading" and that "every meeting day one of the company would have to propose some doubtful point, either economic, or mercantile, or scientific, on which each one would give his opinion" (III.4.18). In addition the lodge had to gather, in the same way as every other Venetian confraternity, honest men of good heart, kindly, who when the occasion demanded would know how to help a friend" (II.14.230); it had to function at the same time as a society for mutual assistance ("if someone in the company should fall into some misfortune, without damage to his reputation, he will be assisted by the others, and defended with fraternal love") and beneficence ("the dues that are not spent, should go into a savings box to help a few poor wretches," that is to say the 'bourgeoisie fallen' through no fault of its own into misery) (III.4.18).

The Nuovo dizionario had evoked the "most disadvantageous suspicions," that were weighed against the lodges because of the "great secrecy" and the "absolute exclusion of women." (11) Goldoni quite astutely attributed to this last Masonic rule both the "great secrecy" and the "most disadvantageous suspicions": "this great secrecy incites suspicion," affirmed not by chance the first woman in the comedy (I.9.39). Since the wives, girlfriends, and female servants of the Masons were excluded from the lodge, they were 'naturally' led to wrap the "simple conversation" of Pantalone and his friends (II.11.59) in the veils of mystery and the secret. The lodge was for the dissatisfied feminine curiosity a "cursed enclosed place" (I.8.57), a "secret conversation" (II.1.1), a "secret place" (II.2.18), a "secret house" (II.8.7), while to the "philosopher" Ottavio, the "Bolognese citizen" and Pantalone's principal interlocutor, was assigned the role of "headmaster" (I.5.8). From this arose the unmotivated "suspicions," the "almanacs" (as Brighella called them) (I.3.10) around what happened in that infamous "union of men without women" (III.2.9).

On the other hand, exactly because they were put in the mouths of women, the "most disadvantageous suspicions" lost all credibility. The discordant chorus of accusations (they play--and then the lodge became an "accursed gaming house," I.4.3,--"they want to get money," "they do a world of witchcraft," I.6.15 and 17, for the purpose of finding the lapis philosophorum, I.5.7, they linger with women of dubious virtue, with "signorine," I.5.6, a word that throws an unsuspected bridge between the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and the neo-realistic postwar Italy) had no other function than to exalt the character of the "admirable company" (III.4.18), of "most honored conversations" (III.ULTIMA.40), which the Goldonian apologia assigned to Freemasonry.

The Venetian public demonstrated an appreciation of Le donne curiose in such a cordial way ("la piece fut extremement applaudie," remembered Goldoni in the Memoires) (12) that another Venetian comedywright, Francesco Griselini, attempted immediately to take advantage of latomystic success, announcing in April of 1753 to the Bassanese editor Giambattista Remondini his intention of publishing his own comedy entitled I liberi muratori (13) (an operation effectively brought to fruition the next year by the Venetian printer Pietro Bassaglia), in fact a lifting of the Goldonian text, but in a tone explicitly, and in some scenes didactically, Masonic. (14) In the title of the comedy reported to the editor in Bassano, Griselini concealed himself behind the anagram Ferling Isac Crains and proclaimed himself "brother in the Society of Freemasons of Danzig," a declaration of membership repeated in a slightly different form ("brother worker of the Danzig lodge") in the first printed edition of the Liberi muratori, which was dedicated "to the celebrated and illustrious Mr. Aldorino Glog" (an anagram, once the G in Glog is corrected to a C, for Carlo Goldoni), "most excellent comic author." (15)

The cumulative effect of Griselini's Masonic testimonial of the dedication of the Liberi muratori to Goldoni and the philo-Masonic message of the Donne curiose have induced some of the critics to enroll not only Griselini, but also Goldoni in the ranks of the Masons, and thus resolve the problem of the genesis of the Donne curiose with the solution both more direct and economic: the comediographer takes the part of the Freemasons insofar as he himself belonged to the 'company,' (16) of else because he was under the influence of "Freemason friends." (17) It appears highly possible that Goldoni's sympathetic interest for Masonry may have matured in the course of his Tuscan sojourn of 1744-48, in contact with environments among the most predisposed in Italy to receive the latomystic word, (18) and that even in Venice he could have been nourished by relationships with recognized Masons like the Englishmen Joseph Smith and John Murray. (19) But it should also be remembered that the presence of a lodge in Venice in those years finds confirmation only in that documentation of a circumstantial and hypothetical genre, in which as a rule the historians of Masonry are brought to trust too much.

It should not be forgotten that in July of 1751 Pope Benedict XIV declared himself convinced that Freemasonry would not be able to take root in Venice, (20) an hypothesis faithfully backed up about fifteen years later by Sandi, according to whom "that sector profession of persons would not be introduced in the capital city of the Venetian dominion; the police of the Republic being attentive enough in their competent duties to hinder the slightest disadvantages of whatever assembly, or even any pious Catholic lay confraternity, without express permission from the government." (21) It is true that the exact year in which the volume of Sandi's works went to press a lodge of the English rite was founded in Venice, but it is also known that its activity avoided the spies of the Inquisitori di Stato only for a couple of years, just as Giacomo Casanova's profession of Masonic faith did not escape them in the past. (22) In sum, in the beginning of the 1750s there were certainly Masons in the ranks of the partriciate itself (the abbe Filippo Vincenzo Farsetti S. Luca had joined a lodge in Paris in 1737), (23) but nothing makes one presume that they constituted a critical mass capable of influencing Venetian culture and, in particular, that Goldoni had written and produced Le donne curiose as a result of their commission or input.

It is more probable that the Goldonian comedy--as in more general the philo-Masonic tendency, which from the Nuovo dizionario to Goldoni, from Griselini to Gasparo Gozzi (24) earmarked the principal strand of the Venetian culture in the middle decades of the eighteenth century--might have found fertile soil in the Serenisima's politics, which were often at loggerheads with that of Rome; and that the playwright's close ties with certain patricians of a more or less enlightened orientation, but which however recognized themselves in a politics of jurisdictional inspiration, might have played a determinant role in the genesis of the Donne curiose. In other words, the Goldonian apologia for the Freemasons, if at the level of the contents appears an exaltation of a mercantile society and sociability, that appropriated the framework of Masonic practice, making it banal and converting it into a utopia at the same time, it can also be considered a tool that sectors of the patriciate utilized to mark the distances of the intrusions of the Roman Curia. The Masons appeared or could appear sympathetic to Venetian patricians insofar as they were persecuted by a pope held to be hostile to the Republic.

In the first months of 1751 the Serenissima was constrained to accept an unfavorable conclusion to the disputes relative to the Patriarcate of Aquileia, in which she had opposed Pope Benedict XIV and the Hapsburg Empire: the widespread resentment in the confrontations with the pope, which this controversy had roused in particular among the so-called 'giovani,' not only was not erased by the agreement obtained, but on the contrary had continued to feed a powder magazine which was to explode in the anti-curial and anti-ecclesiastical battles of the two subsequent decades. (25) Coincidentally, not casually, along with the entente with Venice the pope had confirmed the excommunication of the Freemasons pronounced by Clement XII in 1738, a measure that had had repercussions as much in Naples as in Modena. (26) In the Venetian dominions, apart from "a few vain, unverified and perhaps calumnious rumors," the pontifical constitution did not have appreciable relapses and when, in 1754, a parish priest denounced a French physician as a Mason, the Venetian government intervened to block the trial intended by the Bishop of Lesina against the Freemason and refused to follow a papal excommunication judged to be contrary to the laws of the Republic. (27)

The year that preceded the production of the Donne curiose was without a doubt the most gratifying of those spent by Goldoni in contact with the Venetian patriciate. In March of 1752 the Accademia of the nobles of S. Gregorio assigned to the playwright the prestigious and certainly well-paid job of composing the text for L'Amor della Patria, a "musical serenade for the most felicitous raising to the Ducal Throne of the Most Serene Doge Francesco Loredano" S. Stefano, who was among other things an admirer of the comedy writer. (28) A few months later Alvise 2 Zuanne Mocenigo S. Samuele, a patrician who had already garnered the gratitude of Goldoni for having lodged him in his home, married Catterina Loredan, the Doge's only granddaughter: among the friends that Mocenigo invited to the great wedding banquet held in the Ducal Palace was also the author of L'Amor della Patria, who on that convivial occasion also had the opportunity to make a sort of forestage parade among the patricians, who overwhelmed him with courtesies. (29)

If, as is probable, Zuanne Mocenigo profited of the occasion to reunite some among his numerous relatives, one cannot exclude that at the banquet participated all or nearly all of the other five members of the very rich houses of the "vecchie," (30) which figure among the dedicatees of Goldoni's comedies published by Pasquali, (31) that is Andrea Querini S. Maria Formosa, (32) Zan Domenico Almoro Tiepolo S. Aponal, Cattarin Corner S. Cassan, Cecilia Querini Zorzi S. Severo, and Marina Sagredo Pisani S. Vidal. Andrea Querini was Zuanne Mocenigo's brother-in-law, having married his sister Elena; another sister of Zuanne, Cornelia, gave birth to Zan Domenico Almoro Tiepolo, while Catterin Corner was the some of Zuanne's paternal aunt, Cecilia; Cecilia Querini was, on the contrary, a sister of Andrea, who had married Marin 1 Zorzi. A case in itself was that Marina Sagredo Pisani, who had no official kindred relationship with the houses of this 'circle,' but who during those years was the lover of Alvise 3 Girolamo Mocenigo, one of Zuanne's brothers. (33)

It follows that the great aristocratic houses patronizing Goldoni constituted a familiar archipelago and, in the particular Venetian context, necessarily also politically relevant; and that, at least on this elitist front, the patronage had followed the path indicated by the kinship. It is not surprising that the Accademia of the Nobles had appealed to the playwright for the celebrations in honor of the new doge. It is not even astonishing that Goldoni decided to touch on a theme, Masonry, that had indubitably delicate implications, being encouraged by these high-level frequentations and by the ties with persons very open to the most advanced culture (in particular, Zuanne Mocenigo would bequeath a library abounding in libertine and Enlightenment texts, from Montaigne to Charron, from Bayle to Locke, from Fontanelle to Montesquieu, from Voltaire to Rousseau, from the Encyclopedie to Beccaria), (34) and also with Andrea Querini, spokesman for the patricians most embittered by the "painful series of passages made with public indignity and total oppression by the Patriarcate" (he had wanted that the Venetian ruling class behave themselves like "those, who in the Interdict of the Seicento / to weaken Paul V's councils") (35) and therefore decisive supporters of an anticlerical and anti-Roman policy.

The same location of the lodge in the Donne curiose in Bologna, a city doubly pontifical insofar as it was subject to the Holy See and was the homeland of Benedict XIV, can be interpreted as a mocking joke on the Bull of 1751. (36) If to this is added the circumstance that Goldoni entrusted properly to a Venetian, the merchant Pantalone, the task of introducing Masonry into the Pope's backyard, one cannot help but discern in the comedy a small, spiteful retort by the Serenissima against a pontiff, whose condemnations and prohibitions of "certain said societies, communities, assemblies, congregations, cabals, aggregations said to be of the Freemasons, or Framassoni, or in whatever other manner they are named," (37) risked, among other things, to appear ridiculous as never before in the moment in which the Donne curiose 'demonstrated' that the lodges were not only completely harmless, but bore also all the imprints of a "highly honored community."


(1) Carlo Goldoni, Memoires pour servir a histoire de sa vie et a celle de son theatre, partie II, chap. XVI, Tutte le opere, ed. Giuseppe Ortolani, I (Milan: Mondadori, 1935) 315.

(2) The text of the Donne curiose used is the version expertly edited by Alessandra Di Ricco in the national edition of Opere (Venice: Marsilio, 1995).

(3) C. Goldoni, Memoires, partie II, chap. XVI.

(4) Franco Fido, "Le commedie e la carriera del borghese in Societa," Guida a Goldoni. Teatro e societa nel Settecento (Turin: Einaudi, 1977) 8-13.

(5) Vettor Sandi, Principi di storia civile della Repubblica di Venezia. Dall'anno di N.S. 1700 fino all'anno 1767 III (Venice: Sebastian Coletti, 1772) 368-69. On Sandi, Venetian culture in general in the eighteenth century, and Masonry, see Piero del Negro, "Sociabilita e massoneria nel Settecento a Venezia," Il Vieusseux 11 (maggio-agosto 1991) 147-66.

(6) [Francesco Griselini?], "Muratori liberi o Liberi Muratori e Francs-macons," Nuovo dizionario scientifico e curioso sacro-profano VI, ed. Giovan Francesco Pivati (Venice: Benedetto Milocco, 1747) 886. Everything indicates that the principal source for the Donne curiose might have been--together with another defense of Masonry, Valerio Angiolieri Alticozzi's Relazione della Compagnia de'Liberi Muratori--exactly this entry in the Nuovo dizionario (see the "Introduzione" by A. Di Ricco in the cited edition of the Donne curiose 13-16).

(7) See Giuseppe Giarrizzo, Massoneria e illuminismo nell'Europa del Settecento (Venice: Marsilio, 1994) 94-97.

(8) Ibid. 96-97.

(9) Nuovo dizionario VI: 889.

(10) See Norbert Jonard, "A propos du 'Vero amico.' L'amitie dans le theater de Goldoni," Problemi di critica goldoniana 6 (1999): 390-93.

(11) Nuovo dizionario VI: 886.

(12) C. Goldoni, Memoires, partie II, chap. XVI.

(13) See F. Griselini to G. B. Remondini, Venice, 29 April 1753, in the appendix to Renata Targhetta, La massoneria veneta dalle origini alla chiusura delle logge (1729-1785) (Udine: Del Bianco Editore, 1988) 115-16.

(14) See the most recent reprint of Francesco Griselini (Isac Ferlengo Crens), I liberi muratori. Commedia, ed. Edoardo Ghiotto (Schio: Edizione Menin, 2000).

(15) "Nota al testo," Ibid. 12.

(16) See, for example, Carlo Francovich, Storia della massoneria in Italia. Dalle origini alla Rivoluzione francese (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1974) 139.

(17) A "rather probable" theory for R. Targhetta, La massoneria veneta 47.

(18) See, in particular, the fine investigations of Alessandra Di Ricco, "Gli anni pisani del Goldoni: Polisseno Fegejo in Arcadia," AA.VV., Goldoni in Toscana, Atti del convegno di studi (Montecatini Terme, 9-10 October 1992), Studi italiani 5.1-2 (1993): 41-65.

(19) See the overviews of Gilberto Pizzamiglio, "Lettura de Le donne curiose," Studi goldoniani 7 (1985): 90-100 and R. Targhetta, La massoneria veneta 46-48.

(20) Bianca Marcolongo, "La massoneria nel secolo XVII," Studi storici 19 (1910): 412.

(21) V. Sandi, Principi di storia civile III: 371.

(22) See in particular the ample documentation collected by R. Targhetta, La massoneria veneta.

(23) C. Francovich, Storia della massoneria 97-98.

(24) For this last figure, see P. del Negro, Sociabilita e massoneria 155-56.

(25) See ID. "Venezia e la fine del patriarcato di Aquileia," Carlo M. d'Attems primo arcivescovo di Gorizia, II, Atti del Convegno, ed. Luigi Tavano and France M. Dolinar (Gorizia: Istituto di storia sociale e di storia religiosa--Istituto per gli incontri culturali mitteleuropei, 1990) 31-58.

(26) G. Giarrizzo, Massoneria e illuminismo 111-18.

(27) V. Sandi, Principi di storia civile III: 371-75.

(28) Andrea Da Mosto, I dogi nella vita pubblica e privata (Milan: Aldo Martello Editore, 1960) 491.

(29) C. Goldoni, Memoires, partie III, chap. XXIII.

(30) On the division of the Venetian patriciate in the eighteenth century and on the criteria used to define the rank of the houses, see Volker Hunecke, Il patriziato veneziano alla fine della Repubblica 1646-1797. Demografia, famiglia, menage (Rome: Jouvence, 1997).

(31) See Laura Rossetto, "Tra Venezia e l'Europa. Per un profilo dell'edizione goldoniana del Pasquali," Problemi di critica goldoniana 2 (1995): 101-31. See, more generally on the dedicatees of the Goldonian comedies Carmelo Alberti, "Dediche ad uomini prudenti. Le relazioni di Goldoni con i destinatari delle sue commedie a stampa," Ariel. Quadrimestrale dell'Istituto di Studi Pirandelliani e sul Teatro Italiano Contemporaneo 7.3 (Sept.-Dec. 1992), Special issue dedicated to Carlo Goldoni on the occasion of the anniversary of his birth, 98-130.

(32) On the relationships, strategic for different reasons, between Andrea Querini and Goldoni, see G. Pizzamiglio, "I Querini, le lettere, il teatro nel Settecento," and Giorgio Busetto, "Andrea Querini e la formazione della biblioteca familiare nel Settecento," AA.VV., I Querini Stampalia. Un ritratto difamiglia nel Settecento veneziano, ed. Giorgio Busetto and Madile Gambier (Venice: Fondazione Scientifica Querini Stampalia, 1987) 110-11 and 157.

(33) On the relationship between Marina Sagredo Pisani and Girolamo Mocenigo, see P. Del Negro, "Amato da tutta la veneta nobilta. Pietro Longhi e il patriziato veneziano," AA.VV., Pietro Longhi, ed. Adriano Mariuz, Giuseppe Pavanello, and Giandomenico Romanelli (Milan: Electa, 1993) 232.

(34) "Inventario de' libri esistenti nel mezza della Libreria," Inventarii dell' eredita del fu Nobil Uomo ser Alvise 2ndo Mocenigo Kavalier detto Zuanne fu de ser Alvise 4 Kavalier, Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Giudici di petizion, b. 482/147 n. 4.

(35) P. Del Negro, Venezia e la fine del patriarcato di Aquileia 56-57.

(36) It is true that Bologna figures among the cities most often present in the 120 Goldonian comedies analyzed by Odoardo Bertani, "Una geografia di opere, luoghi e personaggi," Goldoni. Una drammaturgia della vita (Milan: Garzanti, 1993) 8 (six occurrences versus 33 in Venice, seven in Milan and Paris, four each for Pavia and Palermo, three in Verona, etc.) but in this case the choice appears too pertinent--provided that one accepts my interpretive hypothesis--to be casual.

(37) See the Italian version of the Bull in the appendix to R. Targhetta, La massoneria veneta 110-15.

PIERO DEL NEGRO has been a Professor of Modern History at the University of Padua since 1986. His areas of specialization include modern Venetian history and Italian military history from the Cinquecento to World War I. Among his major publications in these areas are Esercito, Stato, societa Saggi di storia militare (1979), Il mito americano nella Venezia del Settecento (1986, 2nd.ed.), and Guerra ed eserciti da Machiavelli a Napoleone (2001). More recently, he has edited Guida alla storia militare italiana (1997); Carlo Goldoni's L'amante militare (2000); and co-edited, with Paolo Preto, volume 8 (L'ultima fase della Serenissima) of the Storia di Venezia (1998).
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