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Alvise Cornaro (B-26)


Born: 1484

Married: 1517, Veronica Agugia

Died: 8 May 1566

ALVISE CORNARO was one of the most intriguing figures in the long history of the Cornaro family and, indeed, one of the most intriguing and influential of the Venetian Renaissance. His achievements are overshadowed only by his own soaring ambition.

Alvise CornaroCornaro, born the son of a Paduan innkeeper, can be characterized as a man of many passions. The first was to be recognized as a descendant of the noble Venetian family of Cornaro. The American scholar Douglas Lewis has concluded that Cornaro was, in fact, a great-great-grandson of Doge Marco Cornaro (SA-51/B-1), but Cornaro himself was unsuccessful in his attempts to have his descent from the patrician Cornaros recognized by the Venetian authorities. Nonetheless, with his characteristic skill, he arranged a Cornaro heritage for his descendants by negotiating the marriage of his daughter Chiara Cornaro (B-58) to Giovanni Cornaro (D-17) of the prominent Piscopia branch of the Cornaro family. Equally in character, Cornaro is said never to have paid the dowry that he promised the bridegroom. (The great-great-granddaughter of that union, Dott. Elena Lucrezia Cornaro (D-94) will be forever remembered as the first woman in history to be awarded a university degree.)

Staked by an inheritance from his mother's brother, Cornaro rose to financial security through investment skills and real estate development. He was a passionate exponent of developing valuable farmland through constructing dikes and draining lowland swamps. Sometimes, however, his enthusiasm overreached; on one occasion he was ordered to break his dikes to avoid adverse effects on the lagoon of Venice. He expressed his views on land reclamation and water management in several publications, culminating in Tratto di Acque [Treatise on Waterways], 1566.

Perhaps his most profound influence was in the field of architecture. Cornaro was a committed patron of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, a painter who--under Cornaro's sponsorship--matured into a pioneer architect of the Renaissance style in the Veneto. For the garden of Cornaro's home in Padua, Falconetto designed the Loggia Cornaro, generally considered the first rigorous example of al antico style in the Veneto. As business manager for the Bishop of Padua, Cornaro arranged Falconetto's appointment as architect of Villa dei Vescovi in Luvigliano. Falconetto also designed Cornaro's own Villa Cornaro and its acclaimed gateway at Este. The Odeo Cornaro that Cornaro erected in his garden adjacent to the Loggia Cornaro after Falconetto's death may also bear Falconetto's mark although Andrea Della Valle usually receives the attribution. In addition, Cornaro was an acquaintance--and possibly an influence upon--the young architect Andrea Palladio from about 1538. Cornaro's own views on architecture are expressed in his Trattato dell'Architettura [Treatise on Architecture].

Cornaro was equally recognized for his patronage of the popular dialect actor Angelo Beolco [Il Ruzante], a relationship which presumably inspired construction of the Odeo Cornaro and of a theater on the grounds of his villa at Este, as well as one of his most bizarre (and thankfully unfulfilled) ideas: a proposal to construct -- as the site of a theater -- a man-made islet in the basin of the Grand Canal, just offshore from the piazzetta of S. Marco in Venice.

Finally, as a writer, Cornaro is remembered for his four Discorsi [Discourses], 1583-95, on the secrets of his long and healthy life. The Discorsi have been reprinted at intervals through hundreds of succeeding years, usually under titles such as The Sober Life or How to Live 100 Years.

The portrait of Cornaro shown here is by Tintoretto.


1997 C. I. Gable