Venice – Characters in Stone

Venice – Characters in Stone. Everywhere you turn in Venice, you can see statuary and plaques; that decorate, both religious and secular buildings, on walls, doorways and in public spaces and gardens.

In Venice, these figures are simply more noticeable than in many other cities; due to the compact size of the historic city, the sheer density of buildings and the narrowness of its many walkways and passages.

Historically, on some private dwellings, they may denote the family’s town or country of origin, their trade or profession. Particularly frightening half man-half animal characters, are found on both religious and secular buildings; that functioned simply to ward off evil spirits or said to bring good luck!

This predominantly photographic post, offers a selection of my “Characters in Stone” images, changed to a square format and processed by a sequence of techniques; designed to render a more “old fashioned” feel, consistent with the subject matter.  This gives the images give a greater visual impact.



Venice – Characters in Stone. Technique

These sculptures or applied plaque reliefs (“pateras”) shown; were carved in Istrian stone or marble. Reliefs in Venice, may have been moved from their original site; or repositioned during rebuilding in a different period style.

I have given some locational details for those who might be interested in seeing the originals. My camera systems do not have locational tagging. However, a fair number were taken in, or near to St Mark’s Square and other well-known tourist landmarks.

I have also include links at the bottom of the page, where relevant to some of my other posts. 

(NOTE. It is worth reading my post “Pateras – Small Circular Reliefs” in Links section below. Reliefs or “Pateras”, were extremely fashionable in the 12th to 14th centuries, the patera was usually used to decorate friezes and walls and to interrupt mouldings. However, in later periods their use declined. The recurring subjects are fighting animals, birds, foliage and hybrid monsters; but there are also figures symbolizing trades or people. However, the most popular image consists of an eagle eating the head of a rabbit or hare; symbolizing the victory of virtue over vice or good over evil. The patera may have also performed an apotropaic function (to keep away evil spirits or bad luck). Similarly, many of the columns capitals of grander buildings, were highly decorated with human, animal or other forms; that were of symbolic significance. A good example would be the column capitals of the Doge’s Palace in St Mark’s Square and fully described and illustrated in my post “Doge’s Palace – Column Capitals”, in the links section below.)

My aim was to try to concentrate the eye on these wonderful old stone characters, enhancing textures and dimensionality; bringing them to life (as compared to the colour originals). Giving them an “old-fashioned feel” in sepia and with a frame, I thought might be more consistent with their age and subject matter and also unified the collection of images. Of course, they might not be to everybody’s taste (or perhaps mine as time goes by) – you cannot tell unless you try it and chew over them for a while! The colour originals are beautiful, but these manipulated images of these characters, are certainly – “in your face”! Many of the images below, look as if you are level with them; when most were actually way above my head.

  • I have learnt by experience, especially photographing architecture; to take photographs using not more than about 90% of the full frame or less (ie, more space around the conceived final image size). This is to allow for vertical/horizontal perspective distortion correction in Photoshop, where the subject matter is well above eye level. Also in Venice, not all buildings are vertical! I recommend you use a screen grid on your camera or phone when photographing. For instance, if photographing down a canal; try to get the most visually important part of the image vertical.
  • Firstly, in Photoshop, using my colour master files (tif’s), after any distortion correction, I cropped the image into a square format; giving the images a tighter composition, leading to a greater focus on the actual characters. 
  • Using a “plug-in” called “Nik Collection DxO”, I selected the filter collection called “Silver Efex Pro 3” for B&W photography. I the choose the “034 Yellowed 2” filter. This also added an old-fashioned frame, in the style of B&W negative film stock.  Small simple adjustments were made using the various adjustment tools in the software and when happy with the effect; they were applied.
  • Automatically taken back in Photoshop, I selected in Adjustments, the Hue-Saturation drop down box and in its Preset Default box, selected sepia. After small adjustment to the sepia saturation, I then went into Adjustments and selected Colour Balance and added a small amount of blue, to slightly cool the warm sepia tint.
  • I then reduced the image size show below; down to 700 pixels at 72 dpi resolution for on-screen viewing. Small images may need some further adjustment, to the mid range, brightness and contrast. 
  • The last stage was to add a little sharpening using “Unsharp Mask” to the image; to compensate for the reduction of the master file to the final on-screen image size. They are then reduced from 16 to 8 bit format and saved as jpeg’s in medium quality (no 6).
  • Before uploading into the posts, I looked at all the images to be used in the file and made some minor adjustments; to broadly match up the tint, brightness and contrast. Quite a  lengthy job!


Venice – Characters in Stone-1: Religious figures.

Venice - Characters in Stone

Above. Christ and two Angels.San Francesco della Vigna.

Venice - Characters in Stone

Above. Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. The Brothers kneeling before St John, in the Campiello della Scuola, on the right-hand wall close to the entrance on the right.

Venice - Characters in Stone

Above. Perhaps one of the finest and typical examples, full of religious symbolism; are to found on the north door of the church of Santa Maria dei Carmini in the Dorsoduro district; located close to the south-western end of the Campo di Margherita.

Dating from the 12th c, these five pateras, are made from Greek marble. From top to bottom and left to right, they depict, an eagle pecking at a rabbit or hare, a gryphon pecking at a rabbit or hare, another eagle pecking at a rabbit or hare, a wader or pelican with a fish in its beak and another eagle pecking at a rabbit or hare. The sun was frequently associated with Christ. The eagle with its double eyelids, is the only bird capable of looking directly into the sun, thus could be taken as a symbol of spiritual elevation. The rabbit of the hare symbolises the lower instincts of mankind. The eagle by pecking at them, represents the struggle between good and evil; the ultimate striving to break free through the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Eucharist. The pelican too, symbolises Christ’s sacrifice and the fish represents Christ himself. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the pelican nourished its young, by drawing blood by pecking at its chest; symbolising Christ’s sacrifice. Actually, it feeds its young by regurgitating fish. The Greek word for fish is icthus, an acronym for “Iesious Christos Theou Uious Soter” (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour). Christ’s birth was also said to have brought the beginning of the sign of Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac.

Venice - Characters in Stone

Venice - Characters in Stone

Above. The Drunkenness’ of Noah and the Judgement of Solomon. On the south-eastern corner of the Doge’s Palace with the view to the Bridge of Sighs.

Venice - Characters in Stone

Venice - Characters in Stone

Immediately above and below. Carved into the door-frames on the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, East Cannaregio. Probably carved in marble.

Venice - Characters in Stone


Venice – Characters in Stone-1: Fish Market Rialto

Sea Creatures and Human characters, found on the column capitals enclosing the fish market building

Venice - Characters in Stone


Characters in Stone: Giardini Pubblici

The traditional site of La Biennale Art Exhibitions since the first edition in 1895, the Giardini rise to the eastern edge of Venice and were made by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was the success of the first editions (more than 200,000 visitors in 1895, more than 300,000 in 1899) to trigger the building of foreign pavilions since 1907, which were added to the already built Central Pavilion. The Giardini now host 29 pavilions of foreign countries, some of them designed by famous architects


Characters in Stone: The Moors. Cannaregio.

 The Campo dei Mori, on the Rio della Sensa, North Cannaregio


Characters in Stone: Column Capitals – Doge’s Palace.

On the south and western side of the palace, at the top of rows of columns. The have symbolic significance, as fully described in my post below: “The Column Capitals – Doge’s Palace”.



Characters in Stone: Biblioteca Marciana

Directly opposite the Doge’s Palace, in the Piazzeta San Marco.


Characters in Stone: Ward of Evil Spirits

Above. On the canal-side facade of the church of Santa Maria Formosa in the Castello district.


Characters in Stone: Hercules

Hercules, wrestling with an alligator and his head decorating buildings in the small Campo Pisani, next to the San Marco side of the Academy bridge.


LINKS (internalexternal)

The links below are interesting, particularly if you are interested in religious and/or masonic symbolism.

Pateras – Small Circular Reliefs

Doge’s Palace – Column Capitals”

Sacred Geometry

Palazzo Agnusdio – Religious Symbolism.

Rialto Fish Market

La Maddalena and Masonic Symbolism

Mouths of the Lion

All my History and Architecture Posts


Below is an external link to the Giardini della Biennale, where you can get current info on their organisation and main festival events:

Giardini della Biennale

The traditional site of the Biennale Art Exhibitions since the first edition in 1895, the Giardini rise to the eastern edge of Venice and were made by Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was the success of the first editions (more than 200,000 visitors in 1895, more than 300,000 in 1899) to trigger the building of foreign pavilions since 1907, which were added to the already built Central Pavilion. The Giardini now host 29 pavilions of foreign countries, some of them designed by famous architects such as Josef Hoffmann’s Austria Pavilion, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s Dutch pavilion or the Finnish pavilion, a pre-fabricated with a trapezoidal plan designed by Alvar Aalto. The pavilions can be visited during the exhibitions period.


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