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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Hanged Man: The Life, Death and Afterlife of Antonio Foscarini

I am one of the speakers in a symposium on 'Scandals, Crime and Corruption', which takes place at the State Library in Sydney tomorrow, 9 September 2009, 9.30-5.00, as part of NSW History Week. Admission is free. Speakers include my colleagues from the University of Sydney, Penny Russell and Kirsten McKenzie, among many others. My talk is about Antonio Foscarini, who appears as the victim in Pistols! Treason! Murder!, and who is also the subject of my next collaboration with Dan Hallett. The following is from the press release for the event (my apologies for the surfeit of rhetorical questions):

Dr Jonathan Walker is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of History at the University of Sydney. He is the author of a biography, Pistols! Treason! Murder!: The Rise and Fall of a Master Spy (MUP, 2007) and an illustrated novel, Five Wounds (Allen & Unwin, forthcoming, 2010). His website is www.jonathanwalkervenice.com.

Antonio Foscarini was executed for treason in Venice in 1622. A year later he was exonerated posthumously. The original sentence was scandalous enough; its subsequent reversal even more so. Everyone had an opinion on the matter; all of them were self-confessedly ill-informed. Several years earlier, Foscarini had been Venetian ambassador to the court of James I in London, in which capacity he was also no stranger to scandal. At the end of his embassy, he had been prosecuted for bringing the Venetian state into disrepute. The list of accusations from the first trial ran into the hundreds. Was he embroiled in a poisonous feud with his own secretary? Did he pester a group of English noblewomen with a glass dildo? Did he fart ostentatiously during mass? Or was he actually guilty of nothing more than tactlessness? The truth of the matter is obscure, even occult, buried deliberately by the investigating magistrates, who wished to hide their own uncertainties and errors. Perhaps we might try to interpret this occult story using an occult device? This talk will therefore retell the story of Foscarini's fall from grace and eventual rehabilitation using a series of images from seventeenth-century Tarot cards.

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