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THE foreign wars of the city are almost constant, but at a distance; there are no civil wars, a sheltered position affording protection against invasion by sea or land makes possible a continuous development; ten centuries of independence are acquired by fortunate struggle and by easy and living effort this, even more than the water and the sky, is what gives Venice her original character in the midst of an Italy who becomes herself only in moments of crisis, torn by revolutions and mutilated by conquests. Venice seems to be unaware of the fever and the anguish of her search; she gropes but little in order to find her path, travels along it steadily with the wind or against it, slackens her pace to gather up the magnificent fruits that are offered her, enjoys their pulp, becomes intoxicated, and falls asleep to the sound of music, among the fading garlands, the dying flowers, and the lights which the daylight pales in the depths of the old ruined palaces. It is Greece reborn, nude once more, grown heavier, laden with golden grapes, and seen against a background of sleeping forests and stormy twilights. One would say that Venice prolonged the effort of antiquity only that she might affirm—despite her retreats, her necessary reactions, and the apparent contradictions of the world which surrounded her—the continuity of human effort, and to transmit to the modern mind, with the fruits which she holds out to it so ripe that they open by themselves, the seed of constantly recurring harvests.

She herself had found this seed amid the rotten pulp which was fermenting at the foot of the tree of Byzantium. For five centuries her sailors drained Hellenized Asia in order that the mounting life of young Italy might assimilate the ancient spirit of voluptuousness, of magnificence, and of death. The roots of Venice go deep into the red shadow of Saint Mark's, under the cupolas of burnt gold where the incense has an odor like that of rotting grain and blood.

This city of merchants mingled, in its lively activity, Italian passion with the corruption of the later empire, the tainted Christianity of the Orient with the barbaric Christianity of the Occident, the spirituality of Islam with the paganism of Greece ; and from all this it made, with the sustained sweep of its indefatigable energy, something as personal as its own life hanging between air and water, something as victorious as the warfare which it carried on upon every sea to affirm and maintain its dominion. And so it arrived at its profound, imperious, and unchallengeable harmony, accumulating without choice or taste, subject to the chance of defeat and caprice, all the scattered elements whose cohesion and agreement are, as a rule, necessary for the attainment of harmony. Before it had ripened in the soul of Titian, the harmony of Venice, imposing itself like a natural force, had arisen spontaneously in the current of an overwhelming force which unconsciously made use of the vapor of the water and the light to mingle sea and sky, thereby attenuating contrasts and sweeping unrelated colors into a single movement.

Only parvenus, who succeed in everything, who have the fire of audacity and the habit of victory, could pile up in this manner centuries and styles one upon another, decorate the gates of a church with nude women, set up a Roman quadriga above the golden cupolas which they brought back from Byzantium, perch diminutive lions upon columns too tall for them, and build palaces whose base is on top. Bad taste displayed with such insolence ends by creating a kind of elementary and fatal beauty, like a forest in which the roughest and most delicate forms are mingled, like a crowd in which the brutality of primitive instincts is blended with the refinement of the spirit and the purest impulses of the heart. Venice tempered her strength and her grace in a kind of tide of intoxicated and troubled matter, like a world in which, from the womb of tropical nature, there should arise alcazars and mosques, Hindu temples, parthenons, and cathedrals.

In this atmosphere of an Oriental tale, amid the sound of festivals, of the flapping of the flags, of the reviews of the ships with the purple sails, and of the tremendous hum of the docks where three thousand ships poured the whole of the Orient into the motley crowd, there was born spontaneously an order full of the energy of Venice, at the moment when this wonderful hearth, absorbing the warmth of distant lands, sent it back to its sources across the sea, and spread it over the Occident. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Europe was torn by the anarchy of feudalism, by the effort of the communes to retain their life, and by the first attempt at monarchical unity. Venice alone, at the peak of its development, enjoyed absolute peace within itself; its people were happy under the iron rule of its commercial nobility which, save in political matters, allowed them complete liberty and gorged them with the wealth that its terrible policy of protectionism was accumulating within the city, at the risk of stifling it. Venice witnessed the fusion of the ideas which its traders and sailors brought to it amid the tumult in the wake of their ships. The Moslem world and the Christian world, the two hostile forces which for three centuries had been contending for the mastery of the Mediterranean, found in Venice the only territory where they could meet without fighting—a strange, fairylike, and spontaneous harmony in which Moorish form and Gothic form harmonized without effort. As in all other places, the rise of architecture preceded the rise of plastics and of literature. Everywhere else, it was coincident with the great moment of the collective energy of the people, who first construct the dwellings which, later on, will be supplied by the energy of liberated individuals.

But, as everywhere in Italy, the temple does not respond to the desire of the city. Here it is the palaces of the merchants which interpret that desire. Wealth did not destroy the expression of popular enthusiasm, because wealth could not be maintained and increased except by indefatigably opposing to the brutality of the peoples a physical and moral force; because all the lower organisms of the isolated, unique city were perpetuated in its achievements; because wealth was coincident with the awakening and the burst of Italian passion. Since the death of the world of antiquity and after the time of the cathedral, our most powerful symphony of stone is there. It unrolls all along the Grand Canal or at the edge of the solitary rios where, in the evening, the lanterns pour into the waters of the night their narrow pools of blood; it is in the façades of red and gold and verdigris, whose frescoes are corroded with salt, and above which, over the moldy flight of steps, tiers of colonnettes sprang out of the openwork of the balconies, to join, at the peak of the ogival windows, with the trefoils and the embellishments of the flowers above. In these moments of tremendous vitality the unity which is inherent in man dictates his gestures and ripens his thoughts; between this mingling of water and sky, amid this feverish world in which languages, religions, manners, dress, and blood merge, everything is permitted. Instead of suspending the lacework of the colonnades in space, old Giovanni Buon will compel it to come forth from the pavement and will, without crushing it, understand how to place upon it an enormous cube of pink stone open only in a few places and bristling with thorns. The architectural paradox is swept away in the triumphal movement of life and conquest. The fantastic palaces emerge from the shadowy water like an Oriental night in which story-tellers, on the terraces, evoke the confused piles of milky bulbs and shafts of enamel that sleep in the moonlight. The long campaniles which launch upward remind one of minarets. Here, without imprudence, one can load the ceilings of Gothic palaces with gold. The domes, which are to come from Rome, gaze without astonishment upon the cupolas from the Bosphorus. And the three rows of ancient columns, superimposed and framing the arched windows, above which lie nude statues, alternate, without offending the eye, from one façade to another, with slender rows of Arab or French colonnettes. As she will do with the painters, Venice drags into the vertigo of her glory and her sensuality all the architects who come to her from the Continent, from Verona, from Vicenza, from Ferrara, from Florence herself, so different from Venice that the influences of the two cities, seen in their ensemble and from a distance, appear antagonistic. Fra Giocondo, the Lombardis, Sanmicheli, Sansovino, and Andrea Palladio are transformed in Venice or even discover themselves there, and the architecture of the Italian Renaissance finds in the city a favorable ground for the development of the severe force which sometimes redeems its lack of logic and its decorative fantasies. The procession of palaces swings about with the waters, the narrow canals open and lose themselves amid the inclined houses which bathe their reflections in the dark pools; Chinese bridges outline their mass like that of an ass's back against perspectives of dappled and rippling water, of which one gets a momentary glimpse and loses sight the moment after. The harmony is maintained everywhere: it has developed from a single ideal of unrestrained abundance, from a single effort to dominate Oriental lands and seas, from a single history of victories, and from a single resplendent line of radiances and reflections that proceeds from the waves to the clouds after having so penetrated the stones that they have its own color of seaweed steeped in azure and in fire.

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