jump to navigation

Historical meme: seven facts on Wladimiro Dorigo March 3, 2008

Posted by dorigo in physics.

Ed Darrell tagged me in one of those games that keep bloggers busy -as if we did not have other things to take care of! But seriously, I like these things. New ideas, whose main function is to get some content out which would otherwise find no reason to be written.

So the rules this time are:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
  3. Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
  4. Let the tagged people know by leaving a note on their site.

I thought for quite a while about whom I should write. I do know random or little known  facts about a few historical figures from biographies, essays, and the like – but this is something anything can do: what is the added value of a post if I cannot write anything new, id est, stuff one can only learn here?

So, here is the deal. I will write about Wladimiro Dorigo, my father. He was an art historian, and he wrote several tens of books, the most important ones about medioeval art history and on the birth of Venice (see here for a very short list of some titles). Objectively, Dorigo was a historical figure of secondary importance, but defintely somebody who left a mark on a very specific topic: Venice in the medioeval times.

Ok, I know it is kind of lame. Not original, and a bit nepotistic. But the thing is, I am not the only one who admired Wladimiro Dorigo for his painstakingly deep research, his detective-like, multi-disciplinary method of approach to finding the truth on the past. He taught Medioeval Art History at the Venice University, where he arrived rather late in his career, well in his fifties, after having been a journalist and a director of the archive of the Biennale di Venezia. But he was a researcher for his whole life.

I am for sure not a good biographer, and I think I would be paying a poor service to my father if I were to write about him more than just a few lines. After all, I was his son, and I always saw him from that unique perspective, save maybe during the last dozen years of his life, when I became able to really appreciate him for his work, and started to read his books. So I will limit this post to what it should really be about: seven random facts about Wladimiro Dorigo.

  1. Wladimiro graduated in letters with a thesis on the mosaics of Villa romana del Casale(right, a detail of one of the many wonderful pavements), in Piazza Armerina, a small town in the center of Sicily. During his thesis, he visited the place several times.
  2. He never bought expensive clothing. He regularly wore some that were easily thirty years old.
  3. When he visited Japan for his job at La Biennale in the early seventies, he flew above the artic ocean and took several rolls of film of the landscape from the airplane. Upon coming back to Venice he took the rolls to a photographer to have them developed, but they got lost or stolen, and he never got them back.
  4. Wladimiro was given a Laurea Honoris Causa in Urbanistics on December 15th, 2005. Two weeks afterwards he fell sick, was hospitalized, and diagnosed with a secondary leukemia which killed him in six months.
  5. In the latter part of his life he spent his summer holidays in the Alps -preferably in a quiet hotel near easy hikes. He used to take possession of a table suitably located far from the action in the common area of the hotel, spread tens of books, maps, and scribblings on it, and spend entire afternoons at work.
  6. His last book, “Venezia Romanica”, is a monumental work in two large volumes, 1200 pages, and about 25 pounds in weight. It is the result of close scrutiny of thousands of documents from the thirteenth and fourteenth century describing the sale, location, change of use of real estate in Venice. Through that information, previously ignored by historians, he reconstructed the map and the life of the city through those two centuries.
  7. One of his favourite teachings to his children who would ask for a new toy was “your brain is the best toy you will ever have”.

Ok. There remains to tag seven fellow bloggers. Let them be Gattostanco, Fliptomato, Babe in the UniverseArun’s Musings, Cocktail Party Physics, Arcadian Functor, Backreaction, and Uncertain Principles. Wait – that’s 8. Oh well. Too bad for the meme – it just mutated.



1. Tony Smith - March 3, 2008

Your father’s books all look very interesting, but their availability here in the USA is limited (and my ability to read Italian is even more limited).
The title “La basilica di San Marco. Arte e simbologia” is all that I know of one of his co-authored books,
but the reference to “simbologia” reminds me that the protagonist of the popular novel/movie “The Da Vinci Code” and its prequel-book and sequel-movie (to be released in about a year) “Angels and Demons” is a Harvard Professor of Symbology.
Further, the plot of “Angels and Demons” is basically a contest between CERN and the Vatican.
Maybe your father (as simbologist) and you (as CERN physicist with strong opinions about the Vatican) are real-life mirrors of some aspects of those novels/movies ???

Did your father’s book, or other works, say much about the symbolism of the geometry of the San Marco mosaics and the tessellated floor?

Tony Smith

2. Jennifer Ouellette - March 3, 2008

Cool! Much better than the usual meme-type thing. 🙂 I’ve been tagged by a couple of other memes, so I’ll respond to all three sometime this week…

3. Arun - March 3, 2008

Nice game! I will play, but it will some couple of days before I do anything.

4. Kea - March 3, 2008

Aw, gee, Tommaso, that’s a hard one. But I guess I’m at least obliged to pinch some stuff from google for a post….

5. what a great saying…. « Andromeda*Art - March 3, 2008

[…] what a great saying…. Posted on March 3, 2008 by andomeda*art While wasting time researching the complexities of human existence and all of it’s nuisances, i came upon this blog. […]

6. Stefan Scherer - March 3, 2008

Thanks for tagging us – puh, but this will give me a hard time…
You had a very remarkable father!

Best, Stefan

7. dorigo - March 3, 2008

Hello Tony,

no, not that much fiction in my family…
About titles available in the US, admittedly very few. Only one major title was translated (by Praeger: Late Roman Painting”). I know the Library of Congress has a few more of his books. But many are not easy to find – usually the copies printed were too few; even the last book, Venezia Romanica, only printed about 3000 copies, and is now practically exhausted.

However one thing might interest you: my father was a catholic in his young years, and he directed a political magazine, Questitalia, for ten years (1960-1970, when it had to be closed for economical problems). In Questitalia he discussed italian politics and high culture, and he was very knowledgeable on theological issues, on which he used to write and argue against vatican “luminaries”.


8. dorigo - March 3, 2008

Hello Jennifer, Arun, Kea, Stefan…

Yes, not the usual easy way to do away with a post. This one requires some research – unless one has just read a biography. The best of luck to all of you who wish to participate…


9. Sergio Serra - March 4, 2008

Caro Tom,
trovo che le “sette cose” su tuo padre che hai scritto avrebbero dovuto essere almeno otto. I due volumi sull’origine di Venezia (“Venezia Origini. Fondamenti, ipotesi, metodi”, Electa Editrice, Milano, 1983) sono a mio parere un’opera fondamentale sull’argomento, opera cui tutti coloro si sono successivamente occupati della storia di Venezia hanno dovuto far riferimento.
Credo sia anche un’opera importante per capire come funziona il sistema universitario italiano. Wladimiro era, per formazione e per interessi, un “antichista”, esperto del periodo a cavallo della caduta dell’Impero romano. Nei due volumi che ho citato si è occupato di tutti i problemi inerenti all’origine di Venezia (storici, geografici, archeologici, urbanistici, climatologici) e quindi ha “invaso” territori che i docenti universitari di storia, geografia, archeologia, ecc. considerano proprietà personale. Ha quindi provocato reazioni di rigetto assolutamente sproporzionate e scomposte (potrei citarne molte, anche divertenti, ma lasciamo perdere). Per giunta, mentre la quasi totalità dei libri sull’origine di Venezia è basata sulla lettura della bibliografia e sullo studio delle fonti, Wladimiro ha operato una ricerca sul campo (nella laguna di Venezia e in città) non indifferente: altra cosa che i cattedrattici italiani o non compiono mai (se sono storici) o non ammettono che compiano altri (se sono archeologi).
Per questo, ritengo che “Venezia Origini” non possa essere dimenticata quando si parla di Wladimiro Dorigo.

Thank you Sergio for this comment, which I find useful to translate here:

I find that the “seven facts” on your father you wrote should at least have been eight. The two volumes on the origins of Venice (“Venezia Origini. Fondamenti, ipotesi, metodi” [Origins of Venice. Foundations, hypotheses, methods”, Electa Editrice, Milan 1983) are in my opinion a fundamental work on the matter, a work to which all those who later dealt with the history of Venice had to refer to. I think it is also an important work to understand how the italian university system works. Wladimiro was, for his formation and his interests, a studious of antiquity, expert of the period of the fall of the roman empire. In the two volumes I cited he dealt with all the problems related to the origin of Venice (historical, geographical, archeological, urbanistic, climatologic) and he thus “invaded” terrain that university professors of history, geography, archaeology, etc. consider private property. He so provoked reactions of rejection absolutely disproportionate and incoherent (I could cite several of them, even funny ones, but let’s avoid that). Moreover, while almost the totality of books on the origins of Venice is based on reading bibliographies and studies of sources, Wladimiro operated a non trivial search in the field (in the Venice lagoon and in the city): another thing that italian academics never do (if they are historians) or do not allow others to do (if they are archaeologists). Because of that, I believe “Venezia origini” cannot be forgotten when one speaks of Wladimiro Dorigo.

10. A blogomeme « An American Physics Student in England - March 4, 2008

[…] 04Mar08 Tommaso recently tagged me in a blog-meme. I’d like to play along, but unfortunately I don’t have much to contribute to the meme […]

11. Fred - March 5, 2008

Hello Tommaso,

Like Tony, the chances of reading any of the publications by your father are slim. This would be a nice opportunity to request some periodical articles from yourself collaborating with your father’s works about the city of Venice. Maybe a short paragraph or so with graphics by your father and some relative comments from yourself would be grand. Most of us are not very intimate with the place where you grew up and now reside. After all, what do we know, Saint Mark’s Square, some bridges, museums and art, the film festival, something to do in the past with the spice trade from the middle east, the city is sinking, and the gondoliers? I have some recollections from my visits there as a youth but they are growing fainter. I do remember not liking the darkness inside one of the cathedrals. We know you are consumed with many things but this would allow your father to give us a few of his insights.

Thank you, Fred

12. dorigo - March 6, 2008

Hello Fred,

your request obliges me, and I think I will try to satisfy it. Indeed, it is one of the purposes of this blog to keep a record for myself, not just to broadcast. If I can then kill two birds with one stone, then even better. I have many things I would like to write about that concern my father’s work and life. However these things require some inspiration, and so I think you have to be patient, archaeological excavations are slow.


13. Fred - March 6, 2008

By all means, Tommaso. Certainly what you eventually dig up will be a find. Patience is always a virtue as the saying goes.

14. dorigo - March 9, 2008

Fred, in the meantime check the comment of Sergio above (which had been caught by my spam filter, and I retrieved today).


15. Stefan Scherer - March 12, 2008

Don’t know if (and how) trackbacks work, so here is a link:

Historical Meme: Seven Things about Richard Carrington

Cheers, Stefan

16. gattostanco - May 17, 2008

In italian, sorry.

Ho finalmente risposto. Non ho affrontato il tema, ma ho indugiato a cercare le risposte degli altri. Il post che ne è venuto fuori è gattostancamente svampito (ma in rete un link resta pur sempre un link) ed è ripiegato su coloro che hanno accolto il tuo meme (sperando di non aver tralasciato qualcuno): mi sono divertito di più così che non dilungandomi su qualche figura matusalemmica (tra l’altro non sarei riuscito mai a identificare il mio personaggio storico “preferito” -anche se ho letto da Stefan che la blogcatena ha subito un cambiamento in questa definizione in uno dei passaggi precedenti-).

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: