A lantern from Venice
This lantern was probably made for a Venetian galley—a large ship powered by oarsmen. Ships of the Venetian fleet signalled to each other using large lanterns such as this positioned on the stern (rear). Gilded lanterns were also displayed by senior commanders as symbols of their rank. These remained the property of the commander's family and might later be displayed in the entrance of the family palace as a trophy-reminder of the family's naval success.
Venice’s location, at the head of the Adriatic Sea, meant it was ideally situated for maritime trade. This became the main source of Venice’s wealth, and had to be protected and extended as much as possible. The city-state was built on a series of islands on a lagoon, so it is not surprising that Venice developed a superior navy. The navy enabled Venice to prosper, increasing its military and commercial power. By the 12th century Venice more or less controlled all trade between Western Europe and the middle and far eastern markets; a trading empire created and maintained by the strength of its navy.
During the 15th century Venice suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, who were encroaching on their trading activities. Despite this, the city-state remained one of the richest in the known world, and the navy remained powerful. Defeat at the Battle of Zonchio (1499) however, was the start of a decline in Venice’s power and wealth. While the navy remained important to Venetian culture and politics, it was never again the superior force that it had been at the height of its strength.
You can listen to an enhanced description of the lantern using the audio bar below. If you then click on the main image you can view a large version of the lantern while listening to the description.