Palazzo Agnusdio – Religious Symbolism

Palazzo Agnusdio – Religious Symbolism. This palace in San Croce, features unique decoration of the “Lamb of God” and the “Four Evangelists”.

Above the water entrance doorway, is a marvellous “Agnes Deo” or “Lamb of God”. On its 14th century facade, with five-pointed arched windows; can be found the symbols of the four Evangelists – an “Angel” for Matthew, a “Lion” for Mark, an “Eagle” for John, and an “Ox” for Luke. These reflected the devotion of the commissioning owners.

This post also discusses, why historically; there are four evangelists and the origins of the living creature symbols, assigned to each of the four evangelists.

  • Introduction
  • Why four Evangelists?
  • The four living creature symbols
  • Links (internal-external)


Palazzo Agnusdio – Religious Symbolism – Introduction

Palazzo Agnesdio (or Agnesdeo), also known as Palazzo Quattro Evangelista; is a small building along a narrow canal on the Fondamenta Pesaro, in the Santa Croce district. The nearest Vaporetto stop close by, is “San Stae” on the Grand Canal.

Apparently, it derives its name, not from the aristocratic Venetian “Agnesdeo” family, that died out by 1242; but rather from mystic symbolism, found on the exterior.

It was built in the 1300’s, but it was modified several times over the centuries. However, it still preserves some characteristics of a mixed style of Venetian-Byzantine-Gothic, quite typical of that period.

Above the water entrance doorway, is a marvellous Agnes Deo or Lamb of God” (Below). The five-pointed arches on its 14th century facade, are found the symbols of the four Evangelists – an Angel for Matthew, a Lion for Mark, an Eagle for John, and an Ox for Luke. (Below) These reflect the devotion of the commissioning owners. At the sides of the four reliefs with the evangelists, you can also admire the Annunciation, with the Virgin Mary on the left and the Archangel Gabriel on the right. Note also that the sublime feathers of the four symbols, are placed parallel with the outlines of the ogee gothic arches.

Above the land entrance, over a small bridge you can see two angels holding a coat of arms and the third figure representing God’s blessing Angel.



The Palazzo, offers a new exhibition space in the heart of Venice. Access to the exhibition area is through a large entrance hall and courtyard. The water facade, which looks directly on the canal; can also be used as a display window.

Internally, the perimeter walls are in bare brick, the ceiling in wooden beams and planking and the floor in beaten cement. Four windows look out to the canal, while two look over the internal courtyard.

It is only a short walk from the entrance to Ca’ Pesaro, home of the prestigious International Gallery of Modern Art and Oriental Art Museum and from the new Prada Foundation’s exhibition centre, in Ca’ Corner della Regina.


Palazzo Agnusdio – Religious Symbolism: Why four Evangelists?

In the 1st century AD, there were a number of Gospels relating to Christ’s life; including that of Saints Thomas, Judas and Peter; now considered to be apochryphal (of doubtful authenticity).

In the 2nd century AD, Ireneaus of Lyon, claimed that just as there were four distinct regions in the world and four winds; so the Church which extended throughout the world; there should be bases on four Gospels.

The correspondence between the four Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John and the four “living creatures”; probably played a part in these texts becoming officially accepted. Others have argued that the so-called apocryphal Gospels, did not propound ideas concordant with the message that the early Church, largely inspired with the teachings of St Paul; wished to propagate in order to nurture the growth of Christianity, within the Roman world.

In fact, some of these texts were Gnostic (relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge) in content, reserving salvation to a few chosen initiates; rather than mankind. Others, presented Jesus as a Jewish prophet-king and not a God-made man; to help the Hebrews escape the yoke of Roman occupation.


The four living creature symbols

In many Venetian churches and around the world, depictions of the four Evangelists; show them accompanied by living creatures. The explanations for these pairings, was given by St Jerome (348-420).

St Mathew: a Man. He was paired, because his Gospel begins with the human genealogy of Jesus (Mathew 1: 1-17).

St Mark: a Lion. They were paired because the first lines in his Gospel refer to “the voice that cried out in the wilderness“; which St Jerome claims, cannot be other than the roar of a lion.

St Luke: an Ox. The ox, a sacrificial animal, was associated with St Luke, because his Gospel begins with a reference to the sacrifice offered in the temple in Jerusalem by Zachariah (Luke 1:5).

St John: an Eagle. The eagle was associated with St John, because the Evangelist soared to the very peaks of the Christian doctrine; just as the eagle soars to the peaks of mountains.

The attribution of the four symbols to the Evangelists, is rooted in the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of God in his glory; the “four living creatures” mentioned in Ezekiel 1:5. Also, in the vision of the throne of God, in the Book of Revelation (4:6); again mentions “four beasts” around the throne of God.

Ireneaus of Lyons, in his anti-Gnostic treatise “Adversus haereses” (about 180 AD); was the first to link the four evangelists, with the four living creatures.

St Jerome’s explanation, was first introduced in his “Vulgate“, (his Latin translation of the Bible in the 5th century”; linking the  four evangelists and the four creatures. It became widespread in Western Christendom. Interestingly, this pairing of evangelists and creatures, was not accepted by the Eastern church. This is why few examples of this symbolism, exist in Byzantine art; apart from when influenced by the West; for example, as seen in St Mark’s Basilica. St Jerome also stated, that the four living creatures; symbolise four fundamental moments in Christ’s life – the incarnation of God (man), Jesus tempted in the desert (lion),his sacrifice (ox) and ascension into heaven (eagle).

Above: Photograph of Palazzo Agnusdio, on Calle Pesaro near San Stae at the Ponte del Forner, Venice.  The photograph is attributed to Carlo Ponti. This object forms part of a selection of photographs that have been collected, commissioned or acquired by John Wharlton Bunney; or by his family throughout the 1870s, until the 1880s.


LINKS (internalexternal)

Please see my other related posts, in the category of: History and Architecture

For those interested in the mysterious, mythical or dark side of Venetian history and culture; I have put together a list of links below to those posts that include elements of Christian Symbolism, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, Freemasonry and Alchemy, which I hope to expand.

Sacred Geometry

St Mark’s Basilica

The Lion of St Mark

Santa Maria della Salute

Symbolism of the Venetian Cross

Palazzo Lezze and Alchemic Symbolism

Kabbalah and San Francesco della Vigna

La Maddalena and Masonic Symbolism

Doge’s Palace – Column Capitals

Mouths of the Lion

Pateras – Small Circular Reliefs

55 Religious Symbols Explained – You Tube video







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