Archival study traces the history of a wealthy Venetian family
Archivists Michela Tombel and Luisa Servadei have concluded the cataloguing of the Donà dalle Rose Archive conserved at the Museo Correr in Venice. The project was selected by Save Venice Inc. and executed with a grant received from the Gladys Kreible Delmas Foundation, as part of the UNESCO - Private Committees Joint Programme for the Safeguarding of Venice.
The project is of great relevance, as it allows us insight into the political, military, commercial and social dealings of two wealthy Venetian families, spanning several generations. The rich historical and biographical details obtained by tracing the relationship between collections and individual documents reveal the intricate personal and public lives of several generations of merchants, public administrators and military men. Together, these accounts paint a picture that contributes to our knowledge of life in Venice through the centuries.
The Donà Archive, containing around 500 documents from the 15th-18th centuries, was carefully catalogued and its content reconstructed thematically. Before conducting the inventory, the two researchers made efforts to piece together the biographical background of those responsible for producing and filing the texts: the branch of the Donà delle Rose family from the Fondamenta Nove, and the Tron family from San Stae. In doing so, they consulted genealogical records from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The archives were merged in 1792, when the two families united in marriage. In 1881, Francesco Donà generously bequeathed a large section (mostly consisting of papers pertaining to public affairs, the private section remaining in the family home) to the Museo Correr. In making the donation, he expressed the desire to keep the public records intact, making it available to future historical and cultural researchers. As a result of the donation, however, the thematic and chronological links between the various sections of the archives were lost, at least in part.
The importance of these archives lies not only in what they can teach us, as outsiders, about Venetian history and society, but in the crucial role they played in introducing members of the families to different aspects of public and professional life. Young men wishing to hold public office would refer to their documents in the course of their political training. Venetian scholars are also known to have consulted the rich collection long before it was officially made available to the public.
The project sought to reconstruct – using the latest indexing techniques – the structure of the archives as they were originally arranged in the Donà building in the Fondamenta Nove, establishing connections between different sections of the documentary records. It also studied how the documents had been preserved since being transferred to the Museo Correr. This project will provide the basis for a future cataloguing of the documents that remained in the house on the Fondamenta Nove. An extensive essay detailing the Donà Archive’s history and composition was produced in parallel to the project, with particular reference to the historiographical criteria behind the selection and the representational methods of aristocratic Venetian collections.