Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers

Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers. These fitments on old wood and metal doors, contribute to the unique character of this historic city. 

The more embellished forms, are certainly not unique to Venice, being very common in Europe; especially in other Italian cities, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Perhaps what makes the number and variety of forms, so noticeable and part of the character of Venice; is not only the sheer density of old buildings, but also, the narrowness of the streets.

Beauty comes in many forms and often lies in small details. Old doors and their fitments, especially those showing “romantic decay”, are fun to discover and photograph and what Victorian visitors thought; represented a small part of “the real Venice, far from the maddening crowds”.

  • Introduction.
  • Brief History.
  • Door Knockers in Literature
  • Links (internal-external).


Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers – Introduction

Door knobs and knockers exist in many different forms, from the very simple to the lavishly decorated with sculptured and artistic forms; whether original or reproduction. In Venice, some of the more embellished designs, have survived successive restorations over the different architectural epochs. Originally most were made of bronze, but more modern ones are usually brass, or sometimes made of iron or wood.

In Venice, many take the recognisable form of animals, people, divinities, mythological characters, or other objects. They also may have some significant symbolic meaning to the families living within or organisations; such as their importance, religion, trade or ethnic origins. Some grotesque forms, may simply be to ward off evil spirits.

Perhaps the most typical but not unique to Venice; is the lion. Whereas those in Venice refer to the lion of San Marco, the lion in general symbolises bravery, nobility and strength. You will also find creatures of the sea such as dolphins, mermaids or and even Neptune.

Door knobs.

Door knobs, had the simple function of pushing open and closing doors. They can be seen, ranging from the simple round forms, to those of rectangular, hexagonal, curvaceous, or oval shape. The patterns of the more decorative and abstract designs, can repeat multiple times and can be radial, concentric, spiral, or swirl, in form (or a combination thereof).

You can easily tell those that are regularly used, by the fact that some of their sculptural detail may be worn away and appear “polished”. This is especially true of fitments on double doors, where the knobs come in pairs and only one side is used. Sometimes these sculptured designs are identical; but they can also be complementary, such as a man and a woman.


Above: Two ornately patterned door knobs

Above: Figure of a women of African origin with hat, adorned with what appears to be a fleur-de-lis emblem.

Above: Grotesque figure of man, possibly to ward off evil spirits.

Above: Rather strange hybrid of man and animal 

 AboveNo evil spirits or I’ll scream!

Door Knockers.

Knockers, also come in a variety of forms; from the simple and rather crude to the highly embellished. From those left to deteriorate to the well-maintained. Here’s a selection:

      Above: three simple, but well aged knockers. 


Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers: Brief History

Doorknobs and knockers are thought to have originated thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. It was considered impolite to enter a house without warning. At first, you would of have had to announce your arrival by shouting or just banging on the door.

The first knockers, were simply a short bar of iron attached to a chain. However, as this could potentially be used as a weapon; later designs, incorporated a heavy ring onto a larger metal plate, that was attached to the door.

More sophisticated Greeks, had the use of a doorknocker and it is probable that the upper class had slaves; whose sole purpose was to guard and answer the door; often by being chained to it by a metal ring!  Adopting the Greek custom, the Romans spread the use of door knockers, to the farthest reaches of their empire. While the heavy ring remained until around the 15th century, blacksmiths became adept at working various forms, onto a back plate.

Over time the original basic design developed to point that, decoration became almost as important as its function.


Below left: Ring and Plate Door Knocker. Albania. Credit Wolfgang Sauber    Below right: Ancient Roman lion and ring door knocker













In Venice, many take the recognisable form of animals, people, divinities, mythological characters, or other objects. You can also find creatures of the sea, such as dolphins, mermaids and even Neptune.They also, may have some significant symbolic meaning to the families living within or organisations; reflecting their importance, religion, trade or ethnic origins. Grotesque forms, may simply be to ward off evil spirits.

Perhaps the most typical but not unique to Venice; is the lion. Whereas those in Venice refer to the lion of San Marco, the lion in general symbolises bravery, nobility and strength.


Above: Lions head with unusual knocker design, featuring a cross.  

Above: a lion/man hybrid back plate and complex knocker with two lateral male figures. Who lived here? 


In Venice, more ornate doorknobs and knockers, became particularly popular from 1546 onwards; when Jacopo Sansovino in 1550, was asked to design a new bronze door for the sacristy of the Basilica di San Marco.  He surprised everyone with a huge bronze doorway with 6 heads as decoration. It has bronze panels depicting the Resurrection of Christ and the Deposition, surrounded by a frame, decorated with figures of the Evangelists and Prophets and portraits (among them Titian, Veronese, Palladio, Aretino and Sansovino). This marked the start of the use of similar sculptural and embellished fitments; on doors of private or public buildings, all over the city.


       Above left: The bronze sacristy door of Jacopo Sansovino, at the Basilica di San Marco; dated 1550.

       Above right: 16th century. Venice. Bronze. Metmuseum.


 Above: beautifully cast fish knocker

Above: An unusual Venetian doorknocker with a hand, refers to the “Hand of Fatima”; which is meant to protect the house and its inhabitants from evil. They were common in countries bordering the Mediterranean (especially Spain); further spreading to neighbouring countries.


Lion’s head knockers, were popular up to the American independence in Georgian times; to be replaced by their own symbolic emblem – the Eagle.

Apparently, the first patented design was only lodged in 1878, by Osbourn Dorsey in the United States of America.


Since the introduction of electricity in Venice, many doorways began to feature an integrated bell-push; situated either on the door, its frame if wide enough, or set in the wall, adjacent to the door frame.

Single and multiple electronic doorbell plates, featuring an amazing array of traditional and modern designs, are another distinctive feature of Venice and are featured in several of my image galleries (links at bottom of page).


Below: single old bell pushes fitted into the door, frame and set into the stonework adjacent to the door frame.



Door Knobs and Knockers – Door Knockers in Literature

Shakespeare may have been the inspiration for the “knock-knock” joke craze that swept England and America in 1936 and with the famous “porter scene” in Macbeth, in which Macduff and Lennox knock at the castle gate.

And who can forget the haunting scene in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” in which Scrooge’s door knocker; morphs into an apparition of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. His warnings to Scrooge, sets the stage for the story of how he transforms from a self-absorbed, miserly old man; into a happy, generous one

Finally,  corny “knock-knock jokes? You probably know much better ones!

Knock. Knock Who’s there? Theodore! Theodore who? Theodore wasn’t open, so I knocked.

Knock, knock! Who’s there? Tuna! Tuna who? Tuna piano if it sounds off-key.

Knock, knock! Who’s there? Auto!  Auto who? You auto know it’s me by now.



LINKS: (internalexternal)

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

If you like to see much more of the the rustic charm of old doors, knockers, knobs, hinges, locks and bell systems in Venice; see my photo-galleries below.

G7 Doorbells

G8 Doors of Wood 

G12 Doors of Metal

G24 Doorbells

G25 Doorbells 

 Also a significant number of doors, especially in the more traditional “working class” and university areas; are often well decorated with graffiti, posters and messages. As the latter disintegrate over the passage of time and meld into their base; images can take on a pictorial appeal, similar to mixed media artwork. See my three galleries named “Torn and Time”:  G-19     G-26  –   G-41.


Here’s a couple of links that might be of interest.

Italian door Knockers – Life in Italy

THE 10 BEST Venice Antique Stores (with Photos) – Tripadvisor



Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers    Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers    Venice – Door Knobs and Knockers


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