One of the probably most underestimated monuments in Venice is the official symbol of the Serenissima: the lion of St Mark.
The most recognized sources treating the origins of the lion of St Mark see in Jacopo da Varazze (XII century) THE man who convinced the Republic of Venice to choose the lion as its official state symbol in combination with the motto PAX TIBI MARCE, EVANGELISTA MEUS. Other experts believe that the lion made its first appearance much later in the XIV century.
Different presentations of the lion
Maybe you already realized that the presentation of the lion is not consistent? Experts actually distinguish the following kind of lions:
„rampante“ – profile view; sitting on his hind leg.
„in moleca“ – front view, sitting on his hind legs and with his wings disposed fan-like around his body (also called „in soldo“ or „in gazzetta“ due to the coin that he was embossed on).
„vessillifero“ – profile view, sitting on his hind legs and holding a ship in his forelegs (without wings and without book).
„passante“ – profile and entire view; standing on three paws, the fourth is touching the book (normally opened with the upper motto written on it).
It’s believed that an open book signified times of peace whilst a closed book and a drawn sword signified times of war.
In the middle of the 15th century the representation of the lion changed another time when Venice started to dedicate its interest to the mainland: the lion got amphibian – like, standing with his hind legs in the sea and with his forelegs on the mainland.
In Portobuffolè, Province of Treviso, you’ll find a lion with the following writing in his book:
„Diritti e doveri dell’uomo e del cittadino“ (“Rights and duties of men and citizens“)
It seems that the writing was changed during the Napoleonic occupation.
Lions in Venice
Being the official Symbol of Venice, the lion always fascinated the Venetian citizens and thus it’s not astonishing that lions could actually be found in the gardens of nobles or in public palaces: On St Mark’s Square, for example, a golden cage with a lion was set up and paid for by the Republic of Venice; in the end he died because of an intoxication due to the golden bars.
During the carnival of 1762 a lion was exhibited that in the end even got famous because of it’s representation in one of the paintings of Pietro Longhi „Il Casotto del Leone“, surrounded by trained and masked dogs. (cf. Brusegan, Scarsella, Victoria (2007): Guida insolita di Venezia)
Let’s see how many lions you’re going to find during your stay in Venice!
Have you already discovered the lion on the photo below: He has a pretty interesting story to tell you! (We’ll talk about him the next time …)