The Doges Palace, a masterpiece of Venetian Gothic style, was the residence of the Doge; the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice.
This impressive building is composed of layers of building elements and ornamentation, from its 14th and 15th century original foundations; to the significant Renaissance and opulent Mannerist additions.
The structure is essentially made up of three large blocks, incorporating previous constructions. The southern wing overlooking St. Mark’s Basin is the oldest, rebuilt from 1340 onward. The western wing facing onto St. Mark’s Square, was built in its present form from 1424 onward. The eastern canal-side wing, housing the Doge’s apartments and many government offices, dates from the Renaissance and was built between 1483 and 1565.
It is bounded directly to the north by the Basilica and the three wings enclose a central courtyard, entered through the main gate, adjacent to the Basilica; called the “Porta della Carta”.
The Doge’s Palace became a museum in 1923 and is one of the eleven museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia
Above: View over San Marco waterfront (Molo), with the Doge’s Palace to the right of the Campanile.
Below: Canaletto (1727) “Bucentaur’s return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale”.
The first Doges
The first stable settlements in the lagoon probably came just after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Gradually, these became more established and were considered as outposts of the Byzantine Empire. At the beginning of the 9th century, Venice enjoyed a growing level of independence from Rome.
In 810, Doge Angelo Partecipazio moved the seat of government from the island of Malamocco, to the area of Rivo alto (the present-day Rialto); where it was decided the Palazzo Ducale should be built. However, no trace remains of that 9th century building.
The Old Castle-Palazzo (10th– 11th century)
It is probable that the Castle-Palazzo Ducale, being protected by a canal, strong walls and massive corner towers, was an agglomeration of different buildings destined to serve various purposes. Reached by a large fortified gateway where the Porta della Carta now stands, the buildings within these walls housed public offices, courtrooms, prisons, the Doge’s apartments, stables, armouries and other facilities.
Left: Giorgio Albertini, Illustrazione dell’antico castello di Palazzo Ducale (X–XI)
Doge Ziani’s Palace (1172-1178)
In the 10th century, the Doge’s Palace was partially destroyed by a fire and subsequent reconstruction works were undertaken at the behest of Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178). A great reformer, Doge Ziani radically changed the layout of the entire St. Mark’s Square area.
Two new structures were built for his palace: one facing the Piazzetta; to house courts and legal institutions. The other overlooking St. Mark’s Basin; to house government institutions.
Left: Giorgio Albertini, Illustrazione di Palazzo Ducale all’epoca del doge Ziani (1172-78)
These new palaces probably had all the Byzantine-Venetian architecture characteristic features (seen in the Fondaco dei Turchi, which today houses the Natural History Museum).
Unfortunately, only few traces of this period remain, for example parts of the ground-level wall in Istrian stone and some herringbone-pattern brick pavement.
The 14th century palace.
At the end of the 13th century it became necessary to extend the palace once more. Political changes in 1297, led to a significant increase in the number of people, who had the right to participate in the legislative assembly meetings.
The works, which would result in the building that we can see today, started around 1340 under Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1339-1343) and concerned mostly the side of the palace facing the lagoon.
In 1365, the Paduan artist Guariento, was commissioned to decorate the east wall of the Great Council Chamber with a large fresco; while the room’s windows works were done by the Delle Masegne family.
The Great Council met in this chamber for the first time in 1419.
Doge Francesco Foscari’s Renovations and the 15th century.
It was only in 1424, under Doge Francesco Foscari (1423-1457), that it was decided to continue the renovation works on the side of the building; overlooking the Piazzetta San Marco.
The new wing was designed as a continuation of that overlooking the lagoon; a ground-floor arcade on the outside, with open first-floor balconies running along the facade and the internal courtyard side of the wing.
The vast Sala dello Scrutinio, formerly the Library, was built on the same floor as the Great Council Chamber and its large windows and the pinnacled parapet took up the same decorative motifs; as had been used previously. The Piazzeta’s facade was completed with the construction of the Porta della Carta, by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon.
Works on the other wings of the Palace would not come until later. These would start with the construction of the Foscari entrance beyond the Porta della Carta, culminating in the Foscari Arch. This work was not completed until the time of Doge Giovanni Mocenigo (1478-1485).
The other wings of the Palace and the various fires in the building (1483-1574).
In 1483, a violent fire broke out in the canal-side of the Palace, which housed the Doge’s apartments. Once again, important reconstruction works became necessary and Antonio Rizzo was commissioned; introducing the new Renaissance architectural language to the building.
An entirely new structure was raised alongside the canal, stretching from the Ponte della Canonica to the Ponte della Paglia. Works were completed by 1510 and in the meantime Rizzo was replaced by Maestro Pietro Lombardo; who reviewed the decoration of the façade and of the Giants’ Staircase in the internal courtyard of the palace.
In 1515, Antonio Abbondi, also known as Lo Scarpagnino, took over from Lombardo; finally completing the works by 1559. The 1565 erection of Sansovino’s two large marble statues of Mars and Neptune at the top of the Giants’ Staircase marked the end of this important phase.
However, in 1574 another fire destroyed some of the second-floor rooms, fortunately without undermining the structure. Works began immediately to replace the wood furnishings and decorations of these rooms.
In 1577, when works had just been finished, another huge fire damaged the Sala dello Scrutinio and the Great Council Chamber; destroying masterpieces by artists such as Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone and Titian. Reconstruction works were rapidly undertaken to restore it to its original appearance, completed by 1579-80.
The prisons and other 17th century work.
Until this time, the Doge’s Palace housed not only the Doge’s apartments, the seat of the government and the city’s courtrooms; but also a jail.
It was only in the second half of the 16th century that Antonio da Ponte ordered the construction of new prisons, built by Antonio Contin around 1600; which were linked to the Doge’s Palace by the Bridge of Sighs.
This transfer of the prisons, left the old space on the ground floor of the palace free and at the beginning of the 17th century works began to restructure the courtyard. A colonnade was created in the wing that houses the courtrooms, similar to that of the Renaissance façade; while on the inner side a marble façade was constructed alongside the Foscari Arch, decorated with blind arches and surmounted by a clock (1615) designed by Bartolomeo Manopola.
The palace after the fall of the Venetian Republic.
The Doge’s Palace was the heart of the political life and public administration of the Venetian Republic. Therefore, when the Republic fell in 1797, its role inevitably changed.
Venice was firstly subjected to French rule, then to Austrian and finally in 1866, it became part of a united Italy.
Over this period, the palace was occupied by various administrative offices and housed important cultural institutions such as the Biblioteca Marciana (from 1811 to 1904).
By the end of the 19th century, the structure was showing signs of decay and the Italian government set aside significant funds for an extensive restoration. Many original 14th century capitals were removed and substituted and the originals now form the collection in the Museo dell’Opera.
All public offices were moved elsewhere, with the exception of the State Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, which is still housed in the building, but under the current name of Superintendence of the Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice and its Lagoon.
In 1923 the Italian State, owner of the building; appointed the City Council to manage it as a public museum. In 1996, the Doge’s Palace became part of the Civic Museums of Venice network.
The oldest part of the palace is the southern 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. (Above: middle and right photo )
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 southern and waterfront side of the building.
Having entered the palace by the Porta del Frumento, the oldest side of the building overlooking the basin, you can see the Piazzetta wing to the left and the Renaissance wing to the right.
The north side of the courtyard is bounded by St. Mark’s Basilica, originally 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. This linked the staircase to the Porta della Carta and thus produced 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.
The rounded arch dedicated to Doge Francesco Foscari (1423-1457) alternates bands of Istrian stone and red Verona marble flooring and links the Giants’ Staircase to the Porta della Carta, through which visitors today leave the palace.
Members of the Senate gathered before government meetings in the Senator’s Courtyard, to the right of the Giants’ Staircase.
The opposite end of the Renaissance facade, the wide Censors’ Staircase leads visitors to the loggia floor above, where the tour to the upper floors commences.
After entering the courtyard from the ticket office and guides rooms, there are public facilities for toilets, cloakroom, cafeteria and lifts. The Museo dell’Opera can be entered from another door directly off the ticket office.
Over the centuries, the Doge’s Palace has been restructured and restored countless times.
There was hardly a moment in which some kind of works have not been under way at the building; whether due to fires, structural failures, new organisational requirements and modifications or complete overhaul of the ornamental decorations.
From the Middle Ages, maintenance and conservation was in the hands of a “technical office”, the Opera, (fabbriceria or procuratoria); which was in charge of all such operations overseeing their sites and workers.
In 1876 a major restoration plan was launched, the Palace appeared to be in such a state of decay that its very survival was in question.
Restoration work involved both the southern and western facades and the capitals and their columns belonging to the ground-floor arcade and the upper loggia. Forty-two of these, in a specially dilapidated state; were removed and replaced by copies.
The originals, masterpieces of Venetian 14th and 15th century sculpture; were placed together with other significant items from the facades, in the purpose built “Museo dell’Opera”. After restoration, they are now exhibited on their original columns, in six rooms of the museum; which are traversed by an ancient wall in great blocks of stone, recycled from an earlier version of the Palace.
The Doge’s Apartments
The Doge’s personal living quarters, were always located in the eastern wing of the palace overlooking the Rio della Canonica; between the present-day Golden Staircase and the apse of St. Mark’s Basilica.
In 1483, a disastrous fire in this part of the building made important reconstruction work necessary and the Doge’s apartments were completed by 1510. The apartment complex 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 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 removed and replaced by the property of the new elected Doge.
The Scarlet Chamber possibly deriving 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 and the other by Titian.
The “Scudo” Room named 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. Two globes in the centre of the hall date from the same period: one shows the sphere of 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 school of Lombardy 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). He visited 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.
The Philosophers’ Room, directly linked to the Shield Hall, 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.
The Institutional Chambers
The Square Atrium served as a waiting room, the antechamber to various halls.
The decoration dates from the 16th century, during the reign of Doge Girolamo Priuli (1486-1567), who appears in Tintoretto’s ceiling painting with the symbols of his office and accompanied by scenes of biblical stories and allegories of the four seasons; probably by Tintoretto’s workshop, Girolamo Bassano and Veronese.
The Four Doors Room was the formal antechamber to the more important rooms in the palace and the doors which give it its name, are ornately framed in precious Eastern marbles; each is surmounted by an allegorical sculptural group that refers to the virtues which should inspire those who took on the government responsibilities.
The present decoration is a work by Antonio da Ponte and design by Andrea Palladio and Giovan Antonio Rusconi. Painted by Tintoretto from 1578 onwards, the frescoes of mythological subjects and of the cities and regions under Venetian dominion were designed to show a close link between Venice’s foundation, its independence and the historical mission of the Venetian aristocracy.
Amongst the paintings on the walls, one that stands out is Titian’s portrait of Doge Antonio Grimani (1521–1523). On the easel stands a painting by Tiepolo portraying Venice receiving the gifts of the sea from Neptune.
Antechamber to the Hall of the Full College was the formal antechamber where foreign ambassadors and delegations waited to be received by the Full College, delegated by the Senate to deal with foreign affairs.
This room was restored after the 1574 fire and so was its decorations, with stucco-works and ceiling frescoes. The central fresco by Veronese shows Venice distributing honours and rewards. The top of the walls is decorated with a fine frieze and other sumptuous fittings, including the fireplace between the windows. The fine doorway leading into the Hall of the Full College, has Corinthian columns that bear a pediment surmounted by a marble sculpture showing the female figure of Venice resting on a lion and accompanied by allegories of Glory and Concord.
Next to the doorways are four canvases that Tintoretto painted for the Square Atrium, but which were brought here in 1716 to replace the original leather wall panelling. Each of the mythological scenes depicted is also an allegory of the Republic’s government.
The Council Chamber: the Full College was mainly responsible for organising and coordinating the work of the Venetian Senate, reading dispatches from ambassadors and city governors, receiving foreign delegations and promoting other political and legislative activity.
Alongside these shared functions, each body had their own particular mandates, which made this body a sort of “guiding intelligence” behind the work of the Senate, especially in foreign affairs.
The decorations were designed by Andrea Palladio to replace that destroyed in the 1574 fire; the wood panelling of the walls and end tribune and the carved ceiling; are the work of Francesco Bello and Andrea da Faenza.
The paintings in the ceiling were commissioned from Veronese, who completed them between 1575 and 1578. This ceiling is one of the artist’s masterpieces and celebrates the Good Government of the Republic, together with the Faith on which it rests and the Virtues that guide and strengthen it. Other paintings are by Tintoretto and show various Doges with the Christ, the Virgin and saints.
The Senate Chamber was also known as the “Sala dei Pregadi”, because the Doge asked the members of the Senate to take part in the meetings held here.
The Senate which met in this chamber was one of the oldest public institutions in Venice; it had first been founded in the 13th century and then gradually evolved over time. By the 16th century, it was the body mainly responsible for overseeing political and financial affairs in such areas as manufacturing industries, trade and foreign policy.
In the works produced for this room by Tintoretto, Christ is clearly the predominant figure; perhaps a reference to the Senate ‘conclave’ which elected the Doge, seen as being under the protection of the Son of God. The room also contains four paintings by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, which are linked with specific events of the Venetian history.
The Chamber of the Council of Ten, takes its name from the Council of Ten which was set up after a conspiracy in 1310, when Bajamonte Tiepolo and other noblemen tried to overthrow the institutions of the State.
The ceiling decoration is a work by Gian Battista Ponchino, with the assistance of a young Veronese and Gian Battista Zelotti. Carved and gilded, the ceiling is divided into 25 compartments decorated with images of divinities and allegories intended to illustrate the power of the Council of Ten; that was responsible for punishing the guilty and freeing the innocent.
The Compass Room, is dedicated to the administration of justice; its name comes from the large wooden compass surmounted by a statue of Justice; which stands in one corner and hides the entrance to the rooms of the Three Heads of the Council of Ten and the State Inquisitors.
This room was the antechamber where those who had been summoned by these powerful magistrates, waited to be called and the decoration was intended to underline the solemnity of the Republic’s legal machinery, dating from the 16th century.
The ceiling paintings are by Veronese and the large fireplace was designed by Sansovino.
From this room, one can pass to the Armoury and the New Prisons, on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs. Alternatively you can go straight down the Censors’ Staircase, to pass into the rooms housing the councils of justice on the first floor.
Liagò, means a terrace or balcony enclosed by glass in the Venetian language.
This particular example was a sort of corridor and meeting-place for patrician members of the Great Council, in the intervals between their discussions of government business.
The Chamber of Quarantia Civil Vecchia, was originally a single 40-man-council which wielded substantial political and legislative power and the Quarantia was divided into three separate councils; during the course of the 15th century.
This room was restored in the 17th century; the fresco fragment to the right of the entrance is the only remnant of the original decorations.
The Guariento Room. Its name is due to the fact it houses a fresco painted by the Paduan artist Guariento, around 1365.
Almost completely destroyed in the 1577 fire, the remains of that fresco were in 1903, rediscovered under the large canvas Il Paradiso; which Tintoretto was commissioned to paint.
The Chamber of the Great Council. Restructured in the 14th century, was decorated with a fresco by Guariento and later with works by the most famous artists of the period, including Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Pordenone and Titian. Along with a 1582 ceiling painting of The Triumph of Venice, “Crowned by Victory” by Veronese.
At 53 m long and 25 m wide, this is not only the largest chamber in the Doge’s Palace; but also, one of the largest rooms in Europe.
Here, meetings of the Great Council were held, the most important political body in the Republic. A very ancient institution, this Council was made up of all the male members of patrician Venetian families over 25 years old, irrespective of their individual status, merits or wealth.
This was why, in spite of the restrictions in its powers that the Senate introduced over the centuries, the Great Council continued to be seen as the bastion of Republican equality.
Soon after work on the new hall had been completed, the 1577 fire damaged not only this Chamber but also the Scrutinio Room. The structural damage was soon restored, respecting the original layout and all works were finished by 1579-80.
The decoration of the restored structure involved artists such as Veronese, Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto and Jacopo Palma il Giovane. The walls were decorated with episodes of the Venetian history, with particular reference to the city’s relations with the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. The ceiling was decorated with the Virtues and individual examples of Venetian heroism, and a central panel containing an allegorical glorification of the Republic.
Facing each other in groups of six, the twelve wall paintings depict acts of valour, or incidents of war that had occurred during the city’s history. Immediately below the ceiling runs a frieze with portraits of the first 76 doges (the other portraits are to be found in the Scrutinio Room). Commissioned from Tintoretto, most of these paintings are in fact the work of his son.
Each Doge holds a scroll bearing a reference to his most important achievements, while Doge Marin Faliero, who attempted a coup d’état in 1355; is represented simply by a black cloth as a traitor to the Republic. One of the long walls, behind the Doge’s throne, is occupied by the longest canvas painting in the world, “Il Paradiso”, which Tintoretto and his workshop produced between 1588 and 1592.
The Scrutinio Room, is in the wing facing the Piazzeta, built between the 1520’s and 1540’s during the rule of Doge Francesco Foscari (1423–57). It was initially intended to house the precious manuscripts left to the Republic, by Petrarch and Bessarione (1468); as it was originally known as the Library.
In 1532, it was decided that the Chamber should also hold the electoral counting and/or deliberations that assiduously marked the rhythm of Venetian politics, based on an assembly system whose epicentre was the nearby Great Council Chamber. After the construction of Biblioteca Marciana though; this room was used solely for elections.
After the 1577 fire, the present decorations date from between 1578 and 1615. Episodes of military history in the various compartments glorify the exploits of the Venetians, with particular emphasis on the conquest of the maritime empire; the only exception being the last oval, recording the taking of Padua in 1405.
The Quarantia Criminale Chamber and the Cuoi Room were used for the administration of justice.
The Quarantia Criminal was set up in the 15th century and dealt with cases of criminal law. It was a very important body as its members also had legislative powers.
The Magistrato alle Leggi Chamber housed the Magistratura dei Conservatori ed esecutori delle leggi e ordini degli uffici di San Marco e di Rialto.
Created in 1553, this authority was headed by three of the city’s patricians and was responsible for making sure the regulations concerning the practice of law, were observed.
The State Censors were set up in 1517 by Marco Giovanni di Giovanni, a cousin of Doge Andrea Gritti (1523–1538) and nephew of the great Francesco Foscari.
The title and duties of the Censors resulted from the cultural and political upheavals that are associated with Humanism. The Censors were not judges as such, but more like moral consultants; their main task being the suppression of electoral fraud and protection of the State’s public institutions.
On the walls of the Censors’ Chamber hang a number of Domenico Tintoretto’s portraits of these magistrates and below the armorial bearings of some of those who held the position.
The State Advocacies’ Chamber is decorated with paintings representing some of the Avogadori di Común, venerating the Virgin, the Christ and various saints.
The three members of the Avogadori, safeguarded the very principle of legality; making sure that the laws were applied correctly. They were also responsible for preserving the integrity of the city’s patrician class, verifying the legitimacy of marriages and births inscribed in the Golden Book.
The “Scrigno” Room. The Venetian nobility as a caste, came into existence because of the “closure” of admissions to the Great Council in 1297. However, it was only in the 16th century, that formal measures were taken to introduce restrictions that protected the status of that aristocracy. Marriages between nobles and commoners were forbidden and greater controls were set up to check the validity of aristocratic titles.
There was also a Silver Book, which registered all those families, that not only had the requisites of “civilisation” and “honour”, but could also show that they were of ancient Venetian origin.
Such families furnished the manpower for the State bureaucracy and particularly, the chancellery within the Doge’s Palace itself. Both books were kept in a chest in this room, inside a cupboard that also contained all the documents proving the legitimacy of claims to be inscribed therein.
Chamber of the Navy Captains. Made up of 20 members from the Senate and the Great Council, the “Milizia da Mar”, first set up in the mid-16th century; was responsible for recruiting crews necessary for Venice’s war galleys. Another similar body, entitled the “Provveditori all’Armar”, was responsible for the actual fitting and supplying of the fleet.
The furnishings are from the 16th century, while the wall torches date from the 18th century.
Old and New Prisons
Old Prison or Piombi. Prior to the 12th century there were holding cells within the Doge’s Palace, but during the 13th and 14th 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 the dark, damp and isolated qualities of 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.
Bridge of Sighs and the New Prisons. 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, which would house prisoners 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. In keeping with previous traditions, each cell was lined with overlapping planks of larch that were nailed in place.
Left: Inside the New Prison
The Tale of the palace’s only Art theft.
This 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.
Left: “Madonna col bambino” School of Viverini
The Ismailiyya building in Baku, which at present serves as the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, was styled after the Doge’s Palace.
The Central rail station, in Iași, built in 1870, had as a model the architecture of the Doge’s Palace. On the central part, there is a loggia with five arcades and pillars made of curved stone, having at the top three ogives.
There are a number of 19th century imitations of the palace’s architecture in the United Kingdom, for example:
the Wool Exchange, Bradford,
the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem,
the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
the Templeton’s Carpet Factory, Glasgow (Left)
These revivals of Venetian Gothic were influenced by the theories of John Ruskin, author of the three-volume “The Stones of Venice“, which appeared in the 1850’s.
National Academy of Design (1863–65), one of many Gothic Revival buildings modelled on the Doge’s Palace (Left)
The Montauk Club in Park Slope, Brooklyn (1889) imitates elements of the palace’s architecture, although the architect is usually said to have been inspired by another Venetian Gothic palace, the Ca’ d’Oro.
The elaborate arched facade of the 1895 building of Congregation Ohabai Shalome in San Francisco is a copy in painted redwood of the Doge’s Palace.
The ornate gothic style of the Doge’s Palace (and other similar palaces throughout Italy) is replicated in the Hall of Doges at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington by architect Kirtland Cutter.
The facade of the building is replicated at the Italy Pavilion in Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Along with other Venetian landmarks, the palace is imitated in The Venetian, Las Vegas and its sister resort The Venetian Macao.
The Doge’s Palace was recreated and is playable in the 2009 video game, Assassin’s Creed II. In the game, one of the objectives is to get protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze to fly a hang-glider built for him by Leonardo da Vinci into the Palazzo Ducale in order to prevent a Templar plot to kill the current Doge, Giovanni Mocenigo. Though he arrives too late to prevent the Doge from being poisoned, he does manage to kill the assassin, Carlo Grimaldi, who was a member of the Council of Ten.
Of this palace, which holds so many riches and histories, there might be no more adept description than that of Byron himself, who wrote:
I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!
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Canaletto: The Doge’s Palace
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