Only the winged Saint Mark’s lion represents the Serenissima Republic and is thus all around the city, right?

That’s actually not completely right. Venice was also represented as a young woman in her childbearing years. (Yes, this is a very important detail and I will tell you why.)

Have a look with me at the sculptural group of Giusto Le Court* that you can find in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute.

Source: Wikimedia – Giusto Le Court

In the centre you can see a woman with a baby boy . An angel supports him. This woman is the Holy Virgin Mary, a symbol for fertility (!). In front of Mary on her left, kneels a young woman of childbearing age that looks at Mary, putting her hand close to her heart and imploring her. What could this request be? As Mary is in the prime of life with a Jesus baby boy, this young lady is begging Mary for a child.

Who is this young woman?

Venice herself! Whilst normally the Saint Mark’s lion symbolizes Venice (have a good look, you can spot Saint Mark with his lion on the left), the state decided to represent itself as a woman in this sculpture.

Why did the symbolism change slowly?

On the one hand because of the foundation legend itself that tells how Venice was founded on the 25th March (the Annunciation). Thus we already find the connection between Venice and Mary in this myth.

On the other hand we find the reason in the artwork of Giusto Le Court: Have a look at the woman on the right. It is an old woman who flees in panic. An angel with a torch chases her. This woman is death, the plague from 1630. Don’t forget that this church was founded because of this last plague!

The plague decimated the population by 30%, about 46.000 people died. A demographic and economic disaster for the government as the citizens and their taxes filled the city’s treasure chests.

Giusto Le Court Sculpure and Mesopanditissa altar piece

How to solve this problem?

Before, Venice tried to attract skilled labour from other cities and countries favouring immigration. Like this the number of citizens grew, but also the economy. Now the state bet everything on their women, their fertility and tried to diminish the death toll of newborns.

For this reason Venice trained her midwives, prohibited baptism in cold winter months, … and made the women the symbol of life. Expression of this female triumph and the hope is the Basilica of the Salute and her female decoration on the inside and outside:

  • The sculpture of Giusto le Court
  • The altar piece of the Madonna Mesopanditissa (here since the 21st November 1670)
  • The side altars of the Basilica dedicated to Mary
  • The outside decoration with female (nude) figures
Altar with the Ascension of the Virgin Mary in the Basilica

*in reality Josse de Corte (from Flanders)

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    February 19, 2024
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