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Custodian of Wisdom

Throughout the sixteenth century, the Venetian aristocracy showed increasing signs of disgregation.  While some families still enjoyed great wealth, others – due to the slow decline of maritime trade – were sliding into poverty.  Tensions between political factions intensified, and clientelism became rampant.  At the same time, the Republic was being politically and militarily eclipsed by the great national monarchies emerging in the rest of Europe.

Venicescapes' guided tour "Custodian of Wisdom" takes place within the Marciana Library

“Actaeon and Diana” (detail)
Battista Franco
Reading Room


For presumptuous students who believed they had arrived at the end of the journey, the fateful story of Actaeon admonished that further hard work and self-discipline were necessary.


In “Custodian of Wisdom”, you’ll explore the historical rooms of the Marciana Library to see how the government used imagery to communicate a sense of purpose and unity to the noble students while ensuring that they understood and accepted the responsibilities inherent to their class.  You’ll also discover that this physical repository of accumulated knowledge was in reality the greatest effort of the intellectual elite to refashion Venice’s international image and present the Republic as the realization of Plato's Ideal State, ruled by an enlightened aristocracy and destined to last for all eternity.

We'll begin our visit in the monumental staircase, the inspiration for the famed Golden Staircase in the Doge's Palace.  Under the gilded vaults and domes, we'll retrace the origins of the Library with the donation of Cardinal Bessarion's extraordinary collection of Greek and Latin codices and talk about the importance of the Library as a symbol of Venice’s newfound national identity in the aftermath of its greatest military defeat.  We'll also unlock the mystery of Renaissance hieroglyphs and see that the symbols in the frescoes and stuccoes had the objective of inculcating qualities of dedication to duty and moral excellence in the noble youth, destined to govern the Republic, who studied in the Library.  Climbing the staircase, we'll follow in the footsteps of these young noble students as they rise above the vices of wrath, envy, lust, and avarice to embrace virtue and knowledge and learn why the study of classical philosophy came to be considered essential to the civicly engaged nobleman.  Inside the former classroom of the public school, we'll talk about academic and intellectual life in Renaissance Venice and learn the reasons that attracted internationally famous teachers and pedagogues to the city.  You’ll also discover the central role of the Venetian aristocracy in co-opting humanism to promote the belief in the superiority of the Republic and in the innate virtue of the aristocracy.  Beyond lies the gilded Reading Room with paintings by the great masters of sixteenth-century Venetian art.  We'll discuss the important lessons of life that the allegorical scenes were meant to evoke for the students and see the long journey of sacrifice and of intellectual and moral preparation conclude with a philosophical validation of the Venetian aristocracy's vision of society: nobly born, liberally educated, morally principled, the city’s aristocracy benevolently ruled by natural right, and as a result peace, justice, and longevity were ensured for the Republic.


A private visit to the Venier casino is included in Venicescapes guided walking tour of Venice "The Age of Decadence"

“The People” (detail)
Andrea Schiavone
Reading Room


Plato contends that a defective education results in intemperance when appetites prevail and the individual who is otherwise destined for custodianship of the State sinks to the level of the people and seeks to satisfy his primitive desires.


Approximately 2 1/2 hours


Marciana Library - works by Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Salviati, Padovanino, and others


  • A precious gift: Cardinal Bessarion's codices and the preservation of the classical world

  • Where wisdom dwells: the Library and the rebranding of national identity

  • Going to school: the curriculum of the Republic's future rulers

  • University awaits: mathematics and Aristotle

  • Renaissance philosophy: reconciling paganism and Christianity

  • The search for truth and wisdom: Plato through the eyes of Plotinus 

  • Seneca enlisted: propagating the Stoic ideal

  • The everlasting Republic: Venice as the Platonic paradigm


In consequence of the periodic closure of the monumental rooms of the Marciana Library for conferences and temporary exhibits, the itinerary can be definitively confirmed only a month prior to arrival in Venice.


The price indicated for this guided tour is intended to cover the costs of the Society's continued research initiatives and organization and is in compliance with the conditions concerning the activities of non-profit organizations as set forth in the Ministry of Finance Unified Code Article 148, paragraph 3 (T.U. Art. 148, comma 3).

  • Price: 250.00 (U.S. dollars) for two (2) persons.  Each additional adult costs $60.00.  Minors under the age of 18 cost $30.00 each.

    • Entrance fee is not included

  • Special note:

    • The entrance fee is part of the Museum pass which includes the Doge's Palace and the Correr Museum.


To help make this guided tour a culturally enriching and educational experience, these books are recommended.





For further information about this unique guided walking tour, write to:

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