Life in Venice

Palazzo Mocenigo Casa Nuova, Venice (c) Didier Descouens

Lady Arundel had already spent time alone in the Veneto before in 1613. After accompanying Elizabeth Stuart to Heidelberg, she and her husband and Inigo Jones had travelled on to Italy. From the end of September she spent a long time alone in a villa near Padua, while Lord Arundel travelled to Florence and Siena via Vicenza and Bologna. Antonio Foscarini, then ambassador to London, wrote to the Venetian Senate to announce the couple’s arrival – a letter that would not reach Venice until after the couple had left. The couple was received with all honors on this first visit to Venice. The Senate organized several banquets and receptions on the occasion. During her second and much longer stay in the Veneto between 1620 and 1623 Lady Arundel alone was in charge.

Living alone in Venice was a big deal, as the city was at the time the cultural capital of Europe. In close exchange with Antwerp, the northern pole of European knowledge transfer, the first notable stop on the Countess’ journey, goods and discourses from all over the world were being traded and collected. The subject variety of the Venice publishing houses was exceptional as the city was known for its liberty of the press. Venice as a trading and publishing center stood in contact with the whole world and therefore offered a multitude of experiences only to be had here and not to be compared with any other city in Europe, least London, a rather backward place in many senses (Peter Burke, Early Modern Venice as a Center of Information and Communication 2000). The Countess justified her stay in the Veneto with the supervising the education of her two sons, however, above all it gave her the opportunity to continue the exploration of Italian art and knowledge which she had begun in 1613.

The first message about Lady Arundel’s second trip to Italy reports on an unfortunate host who had apparently been taken prisoner because of an accommodation deemed inappropriate for the Countess. Giacomo Vendramin, Venetian Secretary at Milan, wrote to the Doge and Senate on October 7, 1620:
“The Countess or Princess of Arundel, an Englishwoman, has passed through Milan on her way to Padua to visit one or two of her sons staying there. As she wished to remain incognita and did not wish his Excellency to know that she was here, she arranged with a merchant, who placed her for a night in the house of one Sig. Ercole Visconti, which happened to be empty, the owner being away at his villa. When his Excellency heard this he was wroth, because he desired, so they think, to do her honor. He threw the merchant into a dark prison, with fear of worse, upon the pretext that he had not informed the magistrates of a foreigner staying in the city. “(Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice 16).
The report of the Venetian Ambassador from Milan to the Senate of Venice illustrates the importance attached to the visit of the Countess to Italy, who shared the name with an English warship sent against Spain in support of the Venetian fleet: “In August 1617, Wotton had recommended the engagement of the English ship Alethea (…) The Alethea must have been engaged soon after, as on the 2nd January, 1618, we find it definitely mentioned as in the Venetian service. “(Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice 15).

In Venice, there is evidence of further efforts by Lady Arundel to recruit talented painters for the English court. It can be safely assumed, moreover, that Lady Arundel’s activities were not limited to the persuading of artists and the purchasing of art. Venice was known for the genius of Titian in painting and Palladio’s in architecture. But it was also the second most important center of publishing in Europe (after Paris), a confluence of knowledge, with experts flocking the city, eager to put their writings in print for fame and money. Any interested parties could purchase new publications fresh from the press. The city was the focal point for numerous arts and secrets, in particular for the manufacture of glass, but also in medicine and natural philosophy. All over Europe artisans tried to imitate the astonishing quality of Venetian glass.

Lady Arundel resided primarily in the city center, with a country residence on the Terraferma. Through her sons she also had connections to Padua. With Palazzo Mocenigo, Lady Arundel found a befitting accommodation in one of the most magnificent palaces on the banks of the Canale Grande. There are four Palazzi Mocenigo, the Ca ’Vecchia, the Ca’ Nova and Il Nero consisting of two smaller buildings. The buildings belonged together, but were not connected to one another until the 18th century. The Casa Vecchia was not rebuilt and modernized until after 1623, so that Lady Arundel probably resided in the Casa Nuova (Brusegan, I Palazzi di Venezia 2007). She also stayed on a regular basis in a villa in Dolo, halfway to Padua. The villa was probably also owned by the Mocenigo family. Dolo was comfortably accessible from Venice by water. Constantijn Huygens saw the villa on his way to Venice: “(…) in het vorbijgaan heb ik wel gezien dat de villa’s van Mocenigo, van Foscari, Grimani and van Contarini […] zeker niet tot de minste behoren.” (Huygens, Journaal van de Reis naar Venetië, 2003).

Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Theatrum Anatomicum, in: Gymnasium Patavinum, Udine 1654, p. 94.

The villa on the Terraferma put Padua within a near distance, home to one of the most important European universities and Europe’s leading medical faculty, where Lady Arundel’s father had studied (Woolfson, Padua and the Tudors: English Students in Italy, 1485-1603, 1998 and Batho, Gilbert Talbot, Seventh Earl of Shrewsbury (1553-1616): The ‘Great and Glorious Earl’? 1973). Now that her two sons were enrolled, the ever-curious Countess had secured herself a front-row seat at the famous anatomical theater at Palazzo del Bo built in 1594.

Most importantly, in the house of the English ambassador Henry Wotton, Lady Arundel could admire a well-equipped laboratory. Lady Arundel and the ambassador shared a common interest with art agent Thomas Coke, who was employed by Lady Arundel during her stay. In a letter to the Earl of Arundel back in England, Coke describes the ambassador’s lavoratorio noting he would feel lucky if he were as well equipped: “His Lo: showed me his Lavoratorio, wheare in truth he hath accomodated his stills for balneo and arena, his presses for oyles, and other things in such sorts as made my mouth run on water to have the lyke, as I would have if I had the lyke purse. “(Letter from Thomas Coke to Lord Arundel on June 27, 1621, Autograph Letters, Arundel Castle, No. 251). Long before the establishment of her own house of experiment (Shapin 1998) – Tart Hall – Lady Arundel had access to an exemplary private laboratory in Venice.


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