Dutch-Italian art historian who emigrated to Scotland discovers oldest drawing depicting Venice

Italian art historian Sandra Toffolo discovers the oldest drawing depicting the city of Venice.

The oldest known drawing where the city of Venice is depicted has been discovered in Florence.The author of the important find is Sandra Toffolo, a young Italian-Dutch art historian who works as a researcher at theUniversity of Saint Andrews in Scotland. The image of Venice is part of a manuscript containing the travel account of Niccolò da Poggibonsi, a pilgrim who traveled to Jerusalem between 1346 and 1350, while the discovery of the image dates back to May 2019, when Sandra Toffolo was at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, where she conducted her research on the representation of Venice in the Renaissance: the results of the study, however, have only been released in the last few hours. From May until the end of the year, in fact, the scholar spent months working to do due diligence on her discovery.

Niccolò da Poggibonsi’s manuscript was probably compiled upon his return to Italy in 1350, and the drawing of Venice, traced in pen, accompanies a description of the city. Toffolo believes that this illustration is the oldest known view of Venice: less recent is only the map by Fra’ Paolino, a Franciscan friar from Venice, who made it around 1330. But there were no known views from the same period.

On the drawing by Niccolò da Poggibonsi there are several marks left with pins and needles, revealing the fact that the image experienced a certain diffusion: in fact, it is thought that the drawing was transferred to other media using the dusting technique. “The presence of the needle marks is a strong indication that this view was copied,” suggests Sandra Toffolo. “In fact, there are many images in manuscripts and even in some ancient printed volumes that are clearly based on the image of the Florence manuscript.”

This discovery, Toffolo concludes, “has important consequences for our knowledge of the depiction of Venice, since it shows that Venice, even in very ancient times, exerted a great fascination on its contemporaries.”

Sandra Toffolo is a Dutch art historian of Italian descent whose research focuses on the history of Italian art in the Renaissance with particular reference to Venice and the territories of the former Republic of Venice. She received her bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 2007, and has also studied at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, the University of Perugia, and the University of Florence. In 2013, he received his doctorate in history from the European University Institute in Fiesole.

Pictured below is an image of Venice (manuscript BNCF II.IV.101, fol. 1v). On the right, Sandra Toffolo.

Dutch-Italian art historian who emigrated to Scotland discovers oldest drawing depicting Venice
Dutch-Italian art historian who emigrated to Scotland discovers oldest drawing depicting Venice

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