Quarrels and accommodations
Over time, even the Venetian colonists in Crete became alienated by the requirements laid on them by their appointed rulers, chiefly in the form of taxes. Their resentment reached such a point that they began to harbor rebellious sentiments of their own. By the middle of the 14th century the Republic could no longer regard a Cretan uprising as an exclusively Greek affair. “Blood of their blood, bone of their bone” or not, Venice’s own sons and daughters were willing to make common cause with the dispossessed Greeks in throwing off the colonial yoke. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did.
The rebellion spread until it engulfed the whole island. When word of this arrived in Venice, the authorities were gobsmacked. The doge sent an embassy, urging his straying children to return to their former loving obedience, but, when this was predictably rejected, and the ambassadors returned with tales of a perilous escape from hostile mobs, the Republic prepared for war. It took the Venetians months to organize a fleet—one reason being a recent decline in population because of the Black Death—but in the meantime they succeeded in subjecting Crete to a trading embargo, requesting all other nations to avoid sending ships to Cretan ports, and even to refrain from purchasing Cretan goods already in their markets.
In Crete during this time support for the movement began to fragment. It was not just the embargo: more conservative members of the Venetian upper class were put off by some of the measures that the rebel leaders had taken, such as releasing criminals from prison in exchange for a promise of six months’ military service. There was also fear—not altogether unfounded—that some Greeks who had joined the cause would be happy to kill all Venetians, even the ones on their own side, should they get the chance. A peasants’ revolt was something no aristocrat wanted to face.
Dal Verme’s army was mainly but not entirely Italian; it included Englishmen, Bohemian mining engineers (very useful in siege warfare), and Turkish cavalry. This highly professional force took very little time to squelch the Revolt of St. Titus, and Venice was not merciful to the rebel leaders.
Not long after he painted the icon, Theotokópoulos went to Venice, the natural place in Italy for a Cretan to go. There he made friends with the great Croatian miniaturist Giorgio Giulio Clovio (Juraj Julije Klović when at home), the subject of his first known portrait, and also studied with the aged Titian.
A few years later he went to try his fortune in Rome, where he had some success, but also made enemies of some important art lovers with his sometimes unorthodox opinions, such as dismissing Michaelangelo as “a good man, but he didn’t know how to paint.” Theotokópoulos didn’t care for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and offered to paint the whole thing over, but the pope wasn’t interested. (All the same, the Cretan apparently couldn’t escape being influenced by Michaelangelo, whatever he might have thought of him.
The last century of Venetian rule in Crete was also distinguished by the construction of many fine buildings in the typical style of the Italian Renaissance. Every important city had a loggia, a good-sized public building that served as a social gathering place for gentlemen of the upper class. I took this picture in the loggia of the capital and largest city, Candia, which has been carefully restored without changing its original form.