Giovanni Pietro Contarini

Contarini’s identity is still an enigma. The dedication of the History indicates that he was a Venetian. The reverent tone in which he addresses the patron, Patriarch Giovanni Grimani, suggests that he was more likely a commoner than a member of the patriciate. Contarini knew his classics, which implies good education, but his approach to history and his style reflect neither a trained historian nor a humanist.

The only other work besides the History that can be associated with his name is the Elegantissima descriptio, a geographical atlas of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East in sixteen plates, first published in 1564. Both works point to a meticulous mind, carefully balancing detail and larger framework, able to present concisely, visually and verbally, and intimately an agenda without articulating it in the elegant synthesis of the humanist.

Contarini is thus a keen but accidental scholar. These are the only certain facts and plausible inferences about him at present; anything else would be pure conjecture.

— from the Editor’s Introduction

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