Myths of Venice: The figuration of a state

Political stability
Social Harmony
* A “Renaissance self-fashioning.” (Rosand)
* “Venice had refined a portrait of itself that responded to
and exploited historical circumstance.” (Rosand)
* Myth= fictions or half-truths
* Personification of Venice- the values of the state embodied
in the Virgin, Justice, Venus and Juno
* The perfection of a monarchy, oligarchy and democracy
* Wealth, power and cosmopolitanism was derived from its
* Rule of law held it all together
* Claimed to be the first republic born in a Christian era
* Grew up on the mudflats, protected by water and the Lido
* Foundation date March 25 421AD- You must memorise this date
How did the location influence the physical structure of Venice?
* “It seemed impossible to separate the uniqueness of its
legal constitution from the singularity of its physical
* 1177 Doge Ziani mediated between the Pope and the HRE
Barbarossa => supposedly V received the trionfi gifts:
umbrella, candle, sword, ring, seal, banners and musical
* Originally painted as a cycle in the Ducal Palace but were
lost in the 1574 and 1577 fires. The PAINTINGS became the
verifying documents that the event had taken place.
* Venice was quick to take advantage of the printing press to
verify other claims. Created the idea of a copy-write
* A German in 1500 received a 4 year contract on Barbari’s
woodcut. Kohl (the German) said he did it “principally to
the fame of this sublime city.”
* A lot is connected with this date and it is important that you
familiarise yourself with all of the aspects.
* March 25 421AD- the day the first stone on the Rialto islands
was laid
* Ascendancy of Venus
* Feast of the Annunciation- when the Virgin is told by
Archangel Gabriel that she is pregnant
* Also was connected with the crucifixion by the C15th
* March was also the ancient start of the year.
* ‘Venice was a new Jerusalem’ bring political salvation to the
* Begins to explain why Venice was often depicted as the
* Features with Gabriel in the 2 most southerly reliefs on San
Marco’s façade
* Also features across the C16th gate of the Rialto-> Rialto was
a civic sacred ground, it was were the city was born and
continued to dominate through trade
* Coronation of the Virgin by Guariento 1365, partially lost in
the 1577 fire, was located in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio =
harmony reigns with the Patricians
* Was replaced with Tintoretto’s painting of the same matter
called Paradise, in which Jesus is directly behind the Doge’s
* V saw itself as sharing the divinely chosen honour with the
* V’s independence is similar to virginity
* Lions near a throne is a symbolic connection with Solomon the
Wise from the bible. He wrote advise for rulers.
* Justice was also used to represent the embodiment of V
* Personification of Justice/V covers the Ducal palace = Venice is
* To assist tourists with the symbolic nature of V art a guide to the
Ducal Palace was published in 1587- notice the date, this is during
the decline of V as an empire and military power
* Festa della Sensa->Ascension Day-> “We espouse thee, O Sea, as a
sign of true and perpetual domination”, Venetia is the maiden on
the helm. Also connects to the Papal gifts (Trionfi) of 1177.
* 1411- Filippo Corsini identified V respect for law as its main
reason for its longevity
* V had been placed under interdict numerous times;1508, 1605
* Defiance of Rome was herald by Paolo Sarpi, a satirist who wrote
scathing accounts and who also suffered from an attempted
assassination during that time 5/10/1607 (rumoured to be from Papal
* V ordered that churches keep open and operating
* Pope Pius II liked the Venetians to fish an what could they possibly
know of God and law.
* C16th proverb “Venetian law does not last a week.”
* “The celebration and discussion of the virtues of V society…
accelerated from the close of the period (C15th) as V emerged as one
of the few Italian states to survive foreign invasion and as the stability
of the V society appeared to contrast with the upheavals experience
in the rest of C16th Europe.” (Hay and Law) Focus on the: contrast
* Enlightenment historians saw V as a sinister oligarchy. 1743 Rousseau
called the Council of 10 “a tribunal of blood, an object of horror to
patricians and people alike.”
Filippo Calendario, Venecia, C14th
Venecia/Justice sitting on a throne
flanked by 2 lions,
2 vanquished foes at her feetwrath and pride,
Scroll declares her victorious over
the furies,
Furies also suggest civil discord
and military threat by their
clothing, Ruler of the Adriatic.
Notice that this Justice only
carries a sword, no scales
NB: Calendario was executed for
treason after the failure of Doge
Faliero’s attempt at being Lord of
Venice April 1355. He was hanged
from the balcony of the palace.
Patricia Fortini Brown Painting and History in renaissance Venice, Art
History , Vol. 7 No. 3, September 1984
* Three artworks appear on the roof by Palma il
Giovane, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese
* They should be read as a continuum;
conquering provinces -> voluntary allegiance->
thanksgiving for the blessing of V rule
* AKA Sala del Maggior Consiglio
Palma il Giovane, The
Triumph of Venice
Seated figure of V
supported by Roma.
There is a hidden lions face
in the red banner.
Tintoretto, The Voluntary
submission of the Provinces
to Venetian Dominion
V and lion present Doge
Nicolo da Ponte with palm
and laurel= victory and
Members of the Collegio
and Ducal cabinet surround
the Doge
The provinces are shown
scrambling up the stairs
Paolo Veronese, The
Assumption of the Virgin
Juno crowned by Victory,
surrounded by the
embodiments of; Peace,
Abundance, Fame, Happiness,
Honour, Security, the Graces
and Liberty
Paintings were not only to inspire good and honourable deeds amongst the
patricians that sat in the halls and walked the corridors…
They acted as documentation to verify that the event took place!
 C13th Martin da Canal (chronicler) and C15 Sanudo (diarist) both justify
their claims by saying that is how it was depicted in the art:
 “and if some of you wish to verify that those things happened just as I told
you, come and see the beautiful church of San Marco in Venice, and look at
it right in front, because this story is written there just as I have told it to
you.”(Canal, in reference to the translatio)
 “It was also painted in our Grand Council Hall; which if it had not been
true, our good Venetians would have never have had it painted.” (Sanudo,
in reference to the Trionfi cycle 1474 painted to replace the aged and
damaged ones in the hall)
 “It was a likely time for a restatement of those civic ideals that were so
clearly and eloquently expressed in the images and text of the Alexander
legend.” (Fortini Brown)
 Muir- V govn seems to be the most successful in Italy at adapting art for
political purpose.
Some key dates of the C15th:
1404- Vincenza, Verona and Padua submitted to V
1409- V purchases Dalmatia for 100,000 ducats
1423- Doge Foscari is elected and drives further
expansion onto the terraferma
1446- League of Milan, Florence, Bologna and
Cremona fought against further terraferma gains
1453- Fall of Constantinople
1454- Peace of Lodi, confirmed terraferma gains to
the Adda river
1457- Foscari is forced to abdicate
Francesco Bassano,
Consignment of the
Sword to the Doge,
Great Council Hall,
This is just one (of
perhaps 4, lost to
time and fire)
interpretation of the
* As St Mark defers to Christ, the lion defers to the Doge
* A winged lion would often symbolise V
* It was often used a sign of V domination
* Predestination became an C13th add on to the Myth of St
Mark-> that he was told by the Archangel Gabriel that he would
find “peace” in the marshes
* This was a justification of them stealing the body from
Alexandria 828AD -> known as the translation
* He usurped the position of St Theodore as the patron saint of
V, who was Greek in origin
* St M was the V alternative to the Roman St Peter -> especially
in times of conflict with the Pope
* Gave “independent legitimacy” (Rosand) for the emerging
* League of Cambrai declared war on V December 1508 to stop their
‘thirst for domination’ on the terrafirma
* V suffered a major loss at the Battle of Agnadello May 14 1509
which saw V pushed back to the lagoon
* Did recover much of the lost back by 1518 but that was through
diplomatic luck that military prowess
* Palma’s Allegory of the League of Cambrai 1593 painted in the
Hall of the Senate- depicts Doge Loredan, Venetia (armed), the
Lion, Peace and Abundance attacking the Papal Bull and the
League (shown through the shield)
* V decides to change its role from aggressor to peace bringer of
* Another aspect of St Mark’s story was apparitio or his miracles performed
after his death
* 1094- Doge Vitale Falier (Faliero) led the city in 3 days of prayer to recover
the lost relics of the St -> they put him somewhere safe during rebuilding
and couldn't remember where.
* On the 3rd day a piece of stone fell forward revealing the relics in a pillar
* He also saved the slave of Provence-> broke the tools of torture the master
wanted to use of the slave for disobeying and going on pilgrimage to V
* February 23 1341- fisherman taking refuge from a great storm was
approached by 3 strangers: St Mark, George and Nicholas. They demand to
be ferried to San Giorgio Maggiore. They ended the storm and saved V. Mark
gave a ring to the fisherman who then presents the ring to the Doge.
* All of these stories and more are depicted in artwork
* His relics became a symbol of V piety and his miracles confirmed his
protection over V
* Titian’s earliest masterpiece before 1510 showed St M with Sts Cosmas,
Damian, Roch and Sebastian. In attempt to protect V from the Plague
* V limited political participation to the Patricians
* Scoula and guilds provided an opportunity for the cittadini to
participate in civic life
* There was one scoula grandi for each sestieri
* They became heavily involved in the beautification of V through:
art, architecture and processions
* An example of this is the Procession of the True Cross
commissioned by the Scoula Grandi di San Giovanni painted by
* The procession depicted takes place before the Doge’s
procession. This particular one takes place 25 April 1444 (St
Mark’s feast day)-> visiting merchant from Brescia approaches
the cross and begs for intervention with his ill son. Cross
performs the miracle.
* Naturally from its name and association was the most important
of confraternities
* Scoula were competitive and therefore it was important for San
Marco to be lead the charge in regards to artwork and
* Founded in 1261, but when its quarters were destroyed by fire
in 1458 the State contributed to its rebuilding -> the honour of
the name needed to be protected and reinforced
* When it was rebuilt it mimicked the domes and arches of the
Church of St Mark and was decorated with a lion on the top
* “Maintaining pictorial tradition was essential for maintaining the
Myths of Venice” (Rosand) which is why they avoided innovative
design until the time of Sansovino
* Gentile Bellini was on the board (banca) of the Scoula
* It took nearly 100 years for the Scoula to completely decorate
the 2 main halls of their building
* One was Tintoretto’s The Rescue (Stealing) of the Body of St
Mark along with other paintings of St Mark’s miracles
* Confraternities were to empower and control the cittadini
* Sansovino “a certain type of civil government, in which as in a
republic of their own, the citizens enjoy rank and honour
according to their merits and qualities.”
* The Scoula represented a microcosm of the patrician state
In The Rescue… the location reflects the Piazza San Marco
looking towards the church of San Germiniano
Also seems to show Sansovino’s library and Procurators wing
But then includes the otherworldly camel
Many V would have easily decoded the symbols despite the
factual inaccuracies
* The spatial arrangement of the Piazza San Marco with the joining
between the Doge’s palace and church of St Mark “continued to
manifest the unity of religion and state in the Republic” (Rosand)
* For Sansovino it “seemed appropriate… that justice should embrace
* The Porta della Carta by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon(last year’s image
of assessment in the exam) was constructed 1438-42 under Doge
Francesco Foscari and bridged the space between the palace and the
* Although the Senate were known to reject projects, like Sansovino’s
façade for the Church San Germiniano because it included the likeness
of an individual donor, an exception was made for Doges. Foscari is
feature kneeling before the lion
* Justice is enthroned on the top and the figures of Temperance,
Prudence, Fortitude and Charity were included on the sides
* According to Muir, Venice followed 2 policies in regards to the
consolidation of the image/symbolism of St Mark
* 1st cover the basilica and other major monuments with
symbols/booty taken from areas that have come under V control
or a power they have replace
-Genoese pillars and platform that had been taken from a
previously Genoa colony
-Bronze horses
-St Demetrius relief, and more
2nd Encouraging religious orders, like the Dominicans who “revised
the hagiographical (biography) tradition of St M to show that since
apostolic time V had been destined to be not just a shrine for the
relics of St M but also his seat of authority.” (Muir)
* Carved into the corner of the Doge’s palace is the Judgement of
Solomon-Venice is justice and the Doge’s palace is comparable
to Solomon’s
* Solomon was also known as the King of Peace
* Above that carving is the Archangel Gabriel- connection with
the Annunciation and the Peace of St Mark
* The corner closest to the sea has the Archangel Raphael with an
inscription calling for the sea to be calmed
* Don’t forget the roundel of Venecia calming the furies-> this
was located on the façade overlooking the piazetta and
sometimes place of execution and trade fairs
* Jacopo Sansovino was a Florentine artist who was living in Rome
and fled to V after the Sack of Rome 1527
* He was hired as protomagister to the Procuratori di San Marco and
operated as chief architect
* He introduced monumental classicism- mainly seen in the
Loggetta 1536 and the Libreria di San Marco 1537
* Important in transforming the space from a crowded commercial
space to a civic space worthy of La Serenissima
* Needed to complement the Ducal palace, Porta della Carta and
the Giant Staircase which could be viewed looking from the
Loggetta through the PdC
* 3 marbel reliefs on the top display the terrafirma and sea
territories and include: Venice/Justice, Jupiter on Crete and
Venus on Cyprus
* 4 statues in niches: Minerva= wisdom (longevity of the Rep),
Mercury= eloquence, merchants and diplomacy, Apollo= music
(social harmony) and Peace representing the Republic and also the
peace offered to St Mark
* Cardinal Bessarion donated/bequeathed his library to V in 1468
* It was about 1000 works ½ in Greek
* He did so because of the “justice”, “wisdom” and “morality”
(amongst other glowing traits) that V had shown
* Created a need for a glorious library, a place a learning for all
young patricians to become wise leaders.
* Earlier Petrarch had offered to donate his also but the deal fell
* Inspired other donations such as the Grimani collection in 1591.
* The library became a symbol of V’s virtue
* Titian was commissioned to paint the ceiling with a central
figure that has been identified as History or Wisdom
* 25 March 421 also belongs to the Goddess of Love, Venus.
* She was added during the Cinquecento as apart of the deliberate
application of Classical visual language- after the fires of 1574
and ‘77
* “As her power waned Venice proclaimed herself defender of
Italian freedom.” (Rosand)
* Art and architecture became grander- led by Sansovino
* Sansovino crowned the Giant’s Staircase with Mars and Neptune
in 1566, the original staircase was built in 1485-95.
* Mars= land and war-> reinforcing the idea of an empire
* Classical gods and goddess’ appear on the 3 flag posts (used to
fly the banner of St Mark naturally) in the Piazza. Mars, Mercury
and Minerva with nods to Peace, Abundance and Justice. These
were easily identified by Piero Contarini in 1541
* Sanudo noted a parade of mythological/allegorical individuals in
1532 through the Piazza
Originally commissioned
by Doge Marco Barbarigo
(1485) and completed
by his brother who
succeeded him.
Seen as an example of a
Doge trying to promote
Depicted coats of arms
of enemy cities that had
been defeated by
Agostino apparently had
people knell in his
The giants were added,
perhaps, to dwarf the
Doge as he said his
promissone- a reminder
of his place.
* The Olympians mainly featured on the ceilings; increasingly from
1530 following the Peace of Bologna under the influence of Doge
Andrea Gritti
* Co10 had a depiction of Jupiter cleansing the heavens of crimes
dealt with by the council; Heresy, Rebellion, Sodomy and
* Co10 also had Veronese’s Juno showering Gifts on Venice the gifts
were wealth, dominion and peace
* During Doge Sebastiano Venier’s election 1577 an orator drew
comparisons between Venice and Venus
* Veronese’s decoration of the Sala del Collegio after fire in 1574
composed of three panels all with clear messages and symbols: 1.
triumphant in battle to 2. diplomatically imperial to 3.Olympian
and beloved
Religion and Faith
Triumph of the Christian
faith, promising eternal
protection to Venice
Venice Enthroned with Justice
and Peace
Venice received homage from
Justice and Peace
Mars and Neptune
Mars- military power but not
wilful violence rather war that
brings peace
Finlay, R., Politics in Renaissance Venice, New Brunswick, N.J:
Rutgers University Press ,1980
Fortini Brown, P., Painting and History in renaissance Venice, Art
History , Vol. 7 No. 3, September 1984
Goy, R., Venice: The City and its Architecture, London: Phaidon,
Hay, D and Law, J., Italy in the Age of the Renaissance, Longman,
New York, 1989
Lane, F., Venice: A Maritime Empire, John Hopkins University Press,
Baltimore, 1973
Muir, E., Image of Power: Art and Pagentry in Renaissance Venice,
American Historical Review, Vol. 84 No. 1, February 1979
Rosand, D., Myths of Venice: The figuration of a state, University
of North Carolina Press, 2001
VCAA, Study Design, January 2013

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