Doge’s Palace in Venice

Wednesday, 1 September 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks
Reading Time:  14 minutes

Doge's Palace © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0

Doge’s Palace © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city of Venice in northern Italy. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic. It was built in 1340 and extended and modified in the following centuries. It became a museum in 1923 and is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The oldest part of the palace is the wing overlooking the lagoon, the corners of which are decorated with 14th-century sculptures, thought to be by Filippo Calendario and various Lombard artists such as Matteo Raverti and Antonio Bregno. The ground floor arcade and the loggia above are decorated with 14th- and 15th-century capitals, some of which were replaced with copies during the 19th century. In 1438–1442, Giovanni Bon and Bartolomeo Bon built and adorned the Porta della Carta, which served as the ceremonial entrance to the building. The name of the gateway probably derives either from the fact that this was the area where public scribes set up their desks, or from the nearby location of the cartabum, the archives of state documents. Flanked by Gothic pinnacles, with two figures of the Cardinal Virtues per side, the gateway is crowned by a bust of Mark the Evangelist over which rises a statue of Justice with her traditional symbols of sword and scales. In the space above the cornice, there is a sculptural portrait of the Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of Saint Mark. This is, however, a 19th-century work by Luigi Ferrari, created to replace the original destroyed in 1797. Today, the public entrance to the Doge’s Palace is via the Porta del Frumento, on the waterfront side of the building.

The north side of the courtyard is closed by the junction between the palace and St Mark’s Basilica, which used to be the Doge‘s chapel. At the centre of the courtyard stand two well-heads dating from the mid-16th century. In 1485, the Great Council decided that a ceremonial staircase should be built within the courtyard. The design envisaged a straight axis with the rounded Foscari Arch, with alternate bands of Istrian stone and red Verona marble, linking the staircase to the Porta della Carta, and thus producing one single monumental approach from the Piazza into the heart of the building. Since 1567, the Giants’ Staircase is guarded by Sansovino‘s two colossal statues of Mars and Neptune, which represents Venice’s power by land and by sea, and therefore the reason for its name. Members of the Senate gathered before government meetings in the Senator’s Courtyard, to the right of the Giants’ Staircase.

Over the centuries, the Doge’s Palace has been restructured and restored countless times. Due to fires, structural failures, and infiltrations, and new organizational requirements and modifications or complete overhaulings of the ornamental trappings there was hardly a moment in which some kind of works have not been underway at the building. From the Middle Ages, the activities of maintenance and conservation were in the hands of a “technical office”, which was in charge of all such operations and oversaw the workers and their sites: the Opera, or fabbriceria or procuratoria. After the mid-19th century, the Palace seemed to be in such a state of decay that its very survival was in question; thus, in 1876 a major restoration plan was launched. The work involved the two facades and the capitals belonging to the ground-floor arcade and the upper loggia: 42 of these, which appeared to be in an especially dilapidated state, were removed and replaced by copies. The originals, some of which were masterpieces of Venetian sculpture of the 14th and 15th centuries, were placed, together with other sculptures from the facades, in an area specifically set aside for this purpose: the Museo dell’Opera. After undergoing thorough and careful restoration works, they are now exhibited, on their original columns, in these 6 rooms of the museum, which are traversed by an ancient wall in great blocks of stone, a remnant of an earlier version of the Palace. The rooms also contain fragments of statues and important architectural and decorative works in stone from the facades of the Palace.

St Mark's Square with Doge's Palace and campanile of St Mark's Basilica © Kasa Fue/cc-by-sa-4.0 St Mark's Square with Doge's Palace and campanile of St Mark's Basilica © Kasa Fue/cc-by-sa-4.0 Doge's Palace and campanile of St Mark's Basilica © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0 Doge's Palace © Didier Descouens/cc-by-sa-4.0 Ceiling © DestinationFearFan/cc-by-sa-4.0 Chamber of the Great Council © Riccardo Lelli/cc-by-sa-3.0 Courtyard © Benh LIEU SONG/cc-by-sa-4.0 Doge's Palace © Zizza93/cc-by-sa-4.0 Piazzetta San Marco with Doge's Palace (left) and The Marciana Library (right) © Benh LIEU SONG
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St Mark's Square with Doge's Palace and campanile of St Mark's Basilica © Kasa Fue/cc-by-sa-4.0
The rooms in which the Doge lived were always located in this area of the palace, between the Rio della Canonica – the water entrance to the building – the present-day Golden Staircase and the apse of St. Mark’s Basilica. The disastrous fire in this part of the building in 1483 made important reconstruction work necessary, with the Doge’s apartments being completed by 1510. The core of these apartments forms a prestigious, though not particularly large, residence, given that the rooms nearest the Golden Staircase had a mixed private and public function. In the private apartments, the Doge could set aside the trappings of office to retire at the end of the day and dine with members of his family amidst furnishings that he had brought from his own house (and which, at his death, would be promptly removed to make way for the property of the new elected Doge).

  • The Scarlet Chamber possibly takes its name from the colour of the robes worn by the Ducal advisors and counsellors for whom it was the antechamber. The carved ceiling, adorned with the armorial bearings of Doge Andrea Gritti, is part of the original décor, probably designed by Biagio and Pietro da Faenza. Amongst the wall decoration, two frescoed lunettes are particular worthy of attention: one by Giuseppe Salviati, the other by Titian.
  • The “Scudo” Room has this name from the coat-of-arms of the reigning Doge which was exhibited here while he granted audiences and received guests. The coat-of-arms currently on display is that of Ludovico Manin, the Doge reigning when the Republic of St. Mark came to an end in 1797. This is the largest room in the Doge’s apartments and runs the entire width of this wing of the palace. The hall was used as a reception chamber and its decoration with large geographical maps was designed to underline the glorious tradition that was at the very basis of Venetian power. The two globes in the centre of the hall date from the same period: one shows the sphere of the heavens, the other the surface of Earth.
  • The Erizzo Room owes its name to Doge Francesco Erizzo (1631–1646) and is decorated in the same way as the preceding ones: a carved wood ceiling, with gilding against a light-blue background, and a Lombardy-school fireplace. From here, a small staircase leads up to a window that gave access to a roof garden.
  • The Stucchi or Priùli Room has a double name due to both the stucco works that adorn the vault and lunettes, dating from the period of Doge Marino Grimani (1595–1605), and the presence of the armorial bearings of Doge Antonio Priùli (1618–1623), which are to be seen on the fireplace, surmounted by allegorical figures. The stucco-works on the walls and ceiling were later commissioned by another Doge Pietro Grimani (1741–1752). Various paintings representing the life of Jesus Christ are present in this room, as well as a portrait of the French King Henry III (perhaps by Tintoretto) due to his visit to the city in 1574 on his way from Poland to take up the French throne left vacant with the death of his brother Charles IX.
  • Directly linked to the Shield Hall, the Philosophers’ Room takes its name from the twelve pictures of ancient philosophers which were set up here in the 18th century, to be later replaced with allegorical works and portraits of Doges. To the left, a small doorway leads to a narrow staircase, which enabled the Doge to pass rapidly from his own apartments to the halls on the upper floors, where the meetings of the Senate and the Great Council were held. Above the other side of this doorway, there is an important fresco of St. Christopher by Titian.
  • The Corner Room’s name comes from the presence of various paintings depicting Doge Giovanni Corner (1625–1629). The fireplace, made out of Carrara marble, is decorated with a frieze of winged angels on dolphins around a central figure of St. Mark’s Lion. Like the following room, this served no specific function; set aside for the private use of the Doge.
  • The Equerries Room was the main access to the Doge’s private apartments. The palace equerries were appointed for life by the Doge himself and had to be at his disposal at any time.

Prior to the 12th century, there were holding cells within the Doge’s Palace but during the 13th and fourteenth centuries more prison spaces were created to occupy the entire ground floor of the southern wing. Again these layouts changed in c.1540 when a compound of the ground floor of the eastern wing was built. Due to their dark, damp and isolated qualities they came to be known as the Pozzi (the Wells). In 1591 yet more cells were built in the upper eastern wing. Due to their position, directly under the lead roof, they were known as Piombi. Among the famous inmates of the prison were Silvio Pellico and Giacomo Casanova. The latter in his biography describes escaping through the roof, re-entering the palace, and exiting through the Porta della Carta.

A corridor leads over the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1614 to link the Doge’s Palace to the structure intended to house the New Prisons. Enclosed and covered on all sides, the bridge contains two separate corridors that run next to each other. That which visitors use today linked the Prisons to the chambers of the Magistrato alle Leggi and the Quarantia Criminal; the other linked the prisons to the State Advocacy rooms and the Parlatorio. Both corridors are linked to the service staircase that leads from the ground floor cells of the Pozzi to the roof cells of the Piombi. The famous name of the bridge dates from the Romantic period and was supposed to refer to the sighs of prisoners who, passing from the courtroom to the cell in which they would serve their sentence, took a last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon and San Giorgio through the small windows. In the mid-16th century, it was decided to build a new structure on the other side of the canal to the side of the palace which would house prisons and the chambers of the magistrates known as the Notte al Criminal. Ultimately linked to the palace by the Bridge of Sighs, the building was intended to improve the conditions for prisoners with larger and more light-filled and airy cells. However, certain sections of the new prisons fall short of this aim, particularly those laid out with passageways on all sides and those cells which give onto the inner courtyard of the building. In keeping with previous traditions, each cell was lined with overlapping planks of larch that were nailed in place. The only art theft from the Doge’s Palace was executed on 9 October 1991 by Vincenzo Pipino, who hid in one of the cells in the New Prisons after lagging behind a tour group, then crossed the Bridge of Sighs in the middle of the night to the Sala di Censori. In that room was the Madonna col bambino, a work symbolic of “the power of the Venetian state” painted in the early 1500s by a member of the Vivarini school. By the next morning, it was in the possession of the Mala del Brenta organized crime group. The painting was recovered by the police on 7 November 1991.

Read more on Doge’s Palace and Wikipedia Doge’s Palace (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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