Venice Decoded: Top 3 Lion Statues

June marked my 3 year anniversary since I first met and became infatuated with Venice and its history. I traveled there in 2010 to study art history and in particular the Reniassance of Venice and the Veneto region. I keep coming back to it and I keep trying to find a way to get back (next year fingers crossed).

This month the ArtSmart* theme is sculpture and what better place to explore this topic than in Italy. Every square around every corner hosts yet another statue from another historical context in Italy’s (and even Europe as a whole) history and capturing each one on your camera becomes a sport with all the people buzzing about. In Venice especially, it is well known, has huge crowds of tourists coming and going down its narrow alleys. Locals and travelers sit in the squares people watching and gazing at the buildings noticing the smallest fragments that whisper of another time. It is a city that both I and Marco Polo have visited and has looked almost the exact same to each of us.

One of Venice’s charms is the amount of winged lions that you can spot about the lagoon city. The lion represents San Marco, Venice’s patron saint however you will find lions with books, goddesses women, men on horseback and even on tombs. Each represent something different to their particular monument and I want to point out 3 of my all time favourite sculptures in Venice.

Campo Manin - The Daniele Manin Monument in Venice via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

3. Monument to Daniele Manin in the Campo Manin

Daniele Manin (1804-1857) was a revolutionary figure within the history of Venice. He was a leader of the Risorgimento, a movement which desired the political unification of Italy and took place between 1750 and 1870. In 1848 Manin successfully lead the Venetians to defeat the Austrians during their occupation of the city. However, the Austrians returned in 1849 with a vengence and Manin was forced into exile in Paris where he died in 1857. Austria left Venice in 1866 and the city was liberated. In 1868 Manin’s body was returned to Venice with a public funeral and this monument, created by Luigi Borro, was erected for him in 1875. Manin was born in Venice and his home is still standing and is commemorated with a plaque. The winged lion, symbolizing the state in this case, in the image above is actually looking toward Manin’s home.

The Paper Gate aka Porta della Carta, Palazzo Ducale in Venice via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

2. The Paper Gate (Porta della Carta)

The Porta della Carta or Paper Gate, along with the entire Palazzo Ducale, is an example of Venetian Gothic architecture. The gate links the Basilica di San Marco with the Palazzo Ducale demonstrating the importance that Venice insisted with both church and state working together. The Paper Gate has the winged lion, in this case it is San Marco and Venice in one, holding an open book which represents the sovereignty of the state. The Doge kneeling before it is Doge Francesco Foscari who reigned between 1423-1457 during a costly war with Milan which was attempting to control all of Northern Italy and take over the Veneto region of which Venice ruled. The Doge was not a king but more like a president who ruled in service to the Venetian people, state and church. The fact that the Doge is kneeling shows that he is a humble man equal to all those in God’s kingdom rather than being equal to God as was though to be the French monarchy. Along with allegorical figures, saints and cherubs is San Marco at the top of the gate within the shell-like inset. This gate is the assertion of the importance and connection both church and state have between each other.

Paper Gate aka Porta della Carta, Venice, Italy via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

Unfortunately, what you see today of this gate is a copy of the original which was destroyed in 1797 when Napoleon conquered Venice and began tearing down buildings such as the Paper Gate and the gates of the Jewish Ghetto (which then allowed the Jewish population to roam about the rest of the city freely for the first time) and many more buildings.

TheWanderfullTraveler.com

 

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument Venice

Vittorio Emanuel II Monument Photo Credit: AViewOnCities.com

3. Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

Vittorio Emanuele II (1849-1861) was the first King of united Italy in 1861 (you’re probably beginning to notice a theme with these monuments and unification). Not only does Venice host this statue, one of my all time favourites, but Rome also holds a prolific monument dedicated to Emanuele II, known as the Altare dell Patria, in the Piazza Venezia as seen in the two images below.

Altare della Patria Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II Rome via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

Altare della Patria Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II in Rome

 As you can see in Rome there isn’t a winged lion as in the Venice version.
At the top of the Venetian monument is the equestrian statue of Emanuele II with his sword drawn. Before him and behind him at the base of the statues are winged lions with women perhaps the same women all together but with entirely different stances. 

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Venice via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

Take the woman behind the horse for example (as seen above). She is en garde with her broken sword drawn with a flag resting against her shoulder. It is uncertain to me which flag, that of the Venetian empire or unified Italy. Not only do winged lions represent Venice but so too does the goddess Venus who emerged from the sea much the same as Venice itself is a miracle city born upon the Adriatic. Her winged lion gnaws at the chains of oppression imposed by Napoleon, Austria and those that looked to take the Venetian empire down. The woman, appearing to have succeeded in battle, can now free her lion to be united again just as all of Italy was united by Emanuele II. 

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Venice via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

Now let’s look at the opposite side of the statue. It is like a before and after. One side is turbulent and disturbed while the other is proud and strong as reflected by the lion. The woman’s clothing is regal and not armour as it was on the opposite side. Notice how the book is closed beneath the lions grip signifying that either the Venetian state is no more, a separate volume of a long history that is Venice. 

There is still a lot about this monument that also puzzles me and requires in depth research. 
Such as the 1815 date just below the front right foot of the lion, what the book says in Italian and why there are two books beneath his front left food and what is their relevance? Which side is the before and which is after? It’s an important question and would change my interpretation if the clothed woman was the before and the woman en garde was after.

Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Venice via TheWanderfullTraveler.com

Despite having studied art history and the Venetian Renaissance in Veneto region including Venice I must again insist these are my own interpretations as we never covered these particular statues. But that is what an art historian does after all – collect as much context as possible and decipher art that was created within the political and historical atmosphere. Please let me know if you have a different interpretation, I’d love to hear about it!

{If you are interested in my sources please click on the links within each section.}

ArtSmartPosts

 Christina at Day Dream Tourist wrote: “The God of Mozia, Sicily”

Erin at A Sense of Place wrote: “The Arch of Constantine or Ancient Roman Upcycling”

Kelly at Travellious wrote: “London’s Sculpture in the City”

Jenna at This Is My Happiness wrote: “Sculpture in the Bargello Museum in Florence”

*ArtSmart is a group of bloggers who post monthly about a designated topic each interpreting it in their own way with their own interests & travels. Click on the links above to read what my colleagues wrote about Sculpture.

17 Comments

  • Leo

    I’m curious how it was that the 7th century Venetians chose the winged lion to depict St. Mark, when Daniel 7′s prophetic use of the winged lion is/was viewed as a depiction of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. Seems the Biblical usage would have had sway? Do you know what different historical reasoning Venice used at the time to select the winged lion for St. Mark?
    Thanks
    Leo

    • Wanderfull

      Thanks for your comment Leo – While I am not “up” on my bible studies I know that the winged lion was chosen for St Mark because St Mark described the voice of John the baptist as “crying out in the wilderness” and sounding like a roaring lion. Oddly enough the winged lion was then applied to St Mark and not John.

      The winged lion is also present in the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the four evangelists all with wings: Matthew a winged human, Mark a winged lion, Luke a winged bull and John as an eagle. Hope this helps!

  • Kadri

    Venice seems perfect place to go. Can’t wait my own trip in there next month.
    Kadri recently posted..Thai People – They Like to Do Everything for YouMy Profile

  • Rahman Mehraby

    It’ so amazing that this animal, lion, is such a symbolic figure all over the world. In Iran, where I live, they have been seen from ancient times until early 20th century. Winged lions were also very popular on rock relieves of Persian Empire and even before that. So, I’m talking about 550 BC.

    The ones in Italy seem quite elegant with interesting symbolic meaning you’ve explained. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate it. Well, some of them are really furious although artistically very beautiful.

    Rahman Mehraby
    Destination Iran
    Rahman Mehraby recently posted..Visit Pars Muesum of Shiraz While Traveling in IranMy Profile

    • Wanderfull

      Hi Rahman,

      Venice drew from all the areas and cultures that they traded with so you are very right to notice the connection between the two cultures and their admiration of winged lions.
      Venice especially borrowed stylistically from Persian architecture as you can see from some of the buildings’ windows within the city.
      Thanks so much for commenting!

      Murissa

  • Suzy

    That last lion statue is particularly intriguing. I definitely wouldn’t want to cross that one at night!
    Suzy recently posted..Summer Airplane Outfit Problems and SolutionsMy Profile

    • Wanderfull

      Hi Suzy,

      I know what you mean. I was a little worried to be spending nights alone in Venice. It’s such an old city and my imagination runs wild with ghosts and such lol.
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I love “Suzy Stumbles”!

      Murissa

  • Christina

    Talk about branding, there really are lions everywhere in Venice! You picked three great ones that I hadn’t even thought of! I don’t think I ever wandered across the Vittorio Emanuele II monument. (Next time…)

    I like the really worn down looking lion statues by the arsenal and any of the small ones you occasionally find that look cartoonist or not quite natural.

    Hope you get back to Venice soon! It really is a magical place!
    Christina recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable – The God of Mozia, SicilyMy Profile

    • Wanderfull

      Hi Christina,

      There are so many lion statues and representations to choose from!This was a really fun post to write but the choosing was the hard part.
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Murissa

  • ehalvey

    The Paper Gate is my favorite stylistically (damn you, Napoleon!), but I’m fascinated by the story of the last sculpture. That statue is far more interesting than the “Typewriter” in Rome.
    ehalvey recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable: The Arch of Constantine or How Ancient Rome UpcycledMy Profile

    • Wanderfull

      I agree. When I was in Rome I couldn’t even get a good look at the components due to the sheer size of the monument. However I did appreciate the chariots and women on top of the “Typewriter” Emanuele II Monument at sunset.
      But there’s just something about the Venice sculpture, especially since you can get so close and personal with it.

      Thanks for commenting Erin!

      Murissa

  • Lesley Peterson

    Great post and photos, Murissa, on one of my favorite cities. Those immense bronzes are truly spectacular. Thanks for the help in ‘reading’ them!
    Lesley Peterson recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable: Deciphering Dalí’s The Hallucinogenic ToreadorMy Profile

    • Wanderfull

      Thanks Lesley!
      Emanuele II is my favourite monument for sure – the way the females are portrayed – strong, forceful and in control – are so interesting when you think of the majority of the art that depicts female characters as either sexualized or in distress.

      Thank you for stopping by!
      Murissa

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