while others claim that it's not a color at all.
Some say that black is the presence of all color.
Others believe that black is the complete absence of color.
I think the options above may each have merit depending on the situation, but in the case of the Venetian gondola, the reason that gondolas are black began as an "absence of color".
There are a number of incorrect theories behind the reason Venice's gondolas are black. Some of the more mainstream falsehoods include some sort of mourning.
I've heard a number of people claim that they are black to mourn the fall of Venice at the hands of Napoleon.
Others have said that Venice's gondolas are painted black to mourn those who died in the plague, and I've also heard it said that they are black because they were also used as funeral barges during the plague.
These are all interesting theories, and most of the false statements about the gondola could conceivably be true, but the truth is that there was no paint-color mandate - it was a mandate against paint.
For the longest time gondolas were the "private coaches" of the rich and powerful of Venice. Not surprisingly, these follks spent a fair amount of attention on looking good, which included dressing up their gondolas.
How a well-to-do Venetian appeared to his neighbors was important to him. Great wealth was poured into each gondola.
A little healthy rivalry can be good - it keeps people on their toes, makes them strive to be better, but at some point things got out of hand, this Venetian version of "keeping up with the Joneses" ended up on the radar of the city fathers. The more these high-profile Venetian families tried to outshine each other, the more money they dumped into the competition. It seems that what had begun as a harmless beauty contest, developed into what the leaders of the city called an "unecessary financial expense".
The Venetian law of 1633 was different: it had been put in place to control the rich. There are some who are quick to point out, however, that the government's boats were exempt - giving them the ability to outshine the regulated boats.
Because pitch was used in the waterproofing process in the 1600's, an absense of paint meant that the boats would end up black. At some point black paint worked it's way into the mix, and even though the sumptuary law was meant to curtail the beauty of these boats, it really just brought about a new kind of beauty. Before that time, gondolas in Venice were ridiculously well decorated. Adorments of gold and other expensive materials literally hung from the boats. Brightly colored paints, which were a show of wealth as well, were used to outshine other boats. I'm told that ferros and other metal elements on the gondolas were sometimes made from pure gold.
This was all far from utilitarian, but on the Grand Canal it had become a priority to dazzle everyone.
The gondola today has a much more classy, understated beauty - one that doesn't scream out like a candy-apple red hot rod, but rather simmers with the seductive allure of a black Maserati.
It's a beauty that comes with confidence and inherent grace.
As I have obsessed over these boats for many years now, maybe it's conditioning, but I can't think of another color more perfectly suited to the Venetian gondola.
I'm not so crazy about seeing black on my toast for breakfast, but on a long boat full of complex curves on the waters of Venice,
Black is Beautiful.