Palazzo Ducale facade: a tale of marble and stone

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Palazzo Ducale is a unique landmark of Venice. You maybe visited it. If you haven’t done it yet, you can read my post called Jurney to the Centre of the Doge’s Palace. But I think that also the Palazzo Ducale facade deserves a deepest attention. Have you ever paused to observe it carefully? No? Well, let’s do this together!

Founded in 814, the Doge’s Palace once was like a castle, with towers and walls. But a fire destroyed it. The reconstruction started in 1400 and lasted until the end of 1500, cause other 3 fires have hindered and delayed the work. Now it is a superb and elegant palace in Gothic style, with some reminders to oriental architectural style, probably due to the commercial contacts between Venetians and other populations.

Its two main façades overlook the piazzetta and the dock. They consist of two levels of colonnades plus a marble body with large ogival windows. In the middle, each façade has a monumental balcony. The airy loggia on the first floor is supported by the ground floor porch, decorated by finely carved capitals.

Palazzo Ducale facade towards the Dock

Bass reliefs on the corners of the basin facade were created by Filippo Calendario:

  • Adam and Eve on the left corner. Above: Archangel Michael
  • The drunkenness of Noah on the right corner, towards the Bridge of Sighs, at the Ponte della Paglia (Straw bridge). Above: Archangel Raphael.

Central balcony: It is the balcony of the Great Council Hall. There are 6 statues: in the lower part San Teodoro and San Giorgio. In the upper part: Temperance, Justice, Fortitude and Prudence. Above, Charity flanked by Faith and Hope. Then the lion of San Marco, then again statues of San Marco, San Pietro and Paolo. On top Justice.

Palazzo Ducale facade toward the piazzetta

On the left corner you can see the Judgment of Solomon and the Archangel Gabriel.

The main access to the Palace was once the adjacent Porta della Carta (Paper Door – so called probably because the Palace hosted the State Archives), next to San Marco’s Basilica, whereas now people enter through the Porta del Frumento (Wheat Door), on the side of the dock.

La Porta della Carta is monumental. Built in 1439-42 with different kinds of precious carved marble. Among decorations, leaves and small figures, the main sculptures are the four sculptures of Fortitude, Prudence, Hope and Charity (the qualities of a good government). Over the door, the Doge Foscari and the lion of San Marco. When French invaded Venice in 1797, they destroyed this statue to delete a symbol of the splendour of Venice. It was later rebuilt (1800). At the apex stands the statue of Justice. Inside the roundel is a bust of San Marco.

Central balcony: Mars and Neptune, two figures representing Fame, then Mercury and Jupiter, the Doge Andrea Gritti and the lion. On top the statue of Venice. On its right you can see a bass relief depicting Justice.

Balcony, piazzetta side - Palazzo Ducale facade
Balcony, piazzetta side – Palazzo Ducale facade

The two red columns

Standing in the piazzetta, looking at the facade of the Palazzo Ducale in front of you, you will probably notice that two columns are different from the others. They are in fact not white, but red. It was the spot from which the death sentences were proclaimed, and then attended by the Doge. The executions of common people were held down in the piazzetta, between the two columns of San Marco and San Todaro. Those of the aristocrats were held just between the two red columns: the condemned was hanged and left there for several days, so that everyone could see. Even Filippo Calendario, an architect who worked to decorate the Palace, cause he had joined the conspiracy of Doge Marin Falier against the Serenissima.

You can see the two columns in the photo below. I’m sure you noticed that it was taken on a different day 😀 (umbrellas and gray sky).

 Palazzo Ducale facade- The red columns
Palazzo Ducale facade – The red columns

The capitols

Many capitals have been substituted with copies. The originals are now preserved at the Museo dell’Opera (ground floor of the Doge’s Palace). These capitals are very important because they are not just simple decorations, but a real tale, a way to transmit historical, moral and political teachings. If you look at them you will notice that they are all different. You will see animals, human faces, angels, zodiac signs, symbols, allegories and so on.

Starting from the Porta della Carta they are:

1. Justice and legislators (under the Judgement of Solomon)
2. Children
3. Birds
4. Virtues and Vices
5. Teaching
6. Monsters
7. Vices
8. Virtues
9. Virtues and Vices
10. Fruits
11. Ladies and Knights
12. Works related to the months of the year
13. Marriage and plus the representation of Venice
14. Nations (faces of men coming form different countries)
15. Ages of man
16. Professions
17. Animals
18. Sculptors
19. Creation of man and planets (under Adam and Eve)
20. Philosophers
21. Venetians
22. Ladies and Knights
23. Animals
24. Lions
25. Virtues and Vices
26. Birds
27. Vices
28. Virtues
29. Monsters
30. Virtues and Vices
31. Ladies
32. Emperors
33. Children
34. Knights
35. Birds
36. Childhood (under The drunkenness of Noah)

I’m sure next time you see the Palazzo Ducale facade you will pay much more attention. Right? 😉

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