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Coat of arms of the House of Contarini
The Ca' d'Oro, built for the Contarini family in 1428-30
Doge Andrea Contarini returning victorious from the War of Choggia in 1380 (Palazzo Ducale)
A galley of Augustinus Contarini illustrated by Conrad Grünenberg after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1486 (Badische Landesbibliothek)
The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, built for the Contarini family in the 15th century
The Villa Contarini, commissioned by Paolo and Francesco Contarini in 1546

The House of Contarini is one of the founding families of Venice[1][2] and one of the oldest families of the Italian Nobility.[2] In total eight Doges to the Republic of Venice emerged from this family,[2][3][4] as well as 44 Procurators of San Marco,[3] numerous ambassadors, diplomats and other notables. Among the ruling families of the republic, they held the most seats in the Great Council of Venice from the period before the Serrata del Maggior Consiglio when Councillors were elected annually to the end of the republic in 1797.[5] The Contarini claimed to be of Roman origin through their patrilineal descendance of the Aurelii Cottae, a branch of the Roman family Aurelia, and traditionally trace their lineage back to Gaius Aurelius Cotta, consul of the Roman Republic in 252 BC and 248 BC.[2][3][4][6]


The House of Contarini is one of the twelve founding families of the Venetian Republic,[1] the apostolic families, and were and remain through extended family consanguinity present in the Veneto's population, represented in over twenty auxiliary and cadet noble branches[citation needed]that include ranks currently among European sovereign, royal and aristocratic descendants.[citation needed]

853 AD marks the first officially verified documentation of the Contarini in the Republic of Venice, with Andrea Contarini named in the testament of Orso Partecipazio, son of Giovanni I Participazio.[7] According to manuscripts[6][3] in the Biblioteca Marciana and the family archives[6] the Contarini claim direct descent of the Roman gens Aurelii Cottae through Publius Aurelius Cotta, son of Marcus Aurelius Cotta (consul in 74 BC and maternal uncle of Julius Caesar), who transferred his family to Padua. His grandson, Lucius Aurelius Cotta was elected prefect of the Reno; the area around the Reno near Bologna. His first and second son and his male grandchildren continued in this position and added the cognomen Reno, becoming Cotta Reno or Cottareno. The last person to register Cottareno was Marcus Aurelius Cottareno in Padua in 290 AD and subsequently the family name was written as Contareno, or Contarini in Venetian (both the Latin and Venetian denomination of the family name have been used interchangeably since).[6][3][4][2] In 338 AD Marcus Aurelius Contareno (or Marco Aurelio Contarini in Venetian), prefect of Concordia under Constantine I, was the first Contarini to permanently move his residence to the Venetian area.[2] In 425 another Marcus Aurelius Contarini took part in the third Consular Triumvirate[8][9] of Rialto, following the invasions of the Goths under Alaric I, who from 402 pillaged the rich provinces of Istria and Venetia and sacked Rome in 410. From the outset the affairs of the early exiles in the islands of the Venetian lagoon were managed by Roman Consuls elected at Padua, including the Contarini.[9] Following the invasion by the Huns of Attila in 452 and the destruction of the large Roman cities of Padua and Aquileia, the islands became a more permanent refuge for the swelling number of exiles.[9][10] In 466 the exiles decided upon a form of self-government through the annual election of Tribunes, who ultimately in 539 came under Byzantine rule through the Exarch of Ravenna, forming a loose association of islands with its capital in Eraclea. According to tradition, in 697 under the guidance of the Patriarch of Grado, twelve Tribunes ruling the Byzantine district of Venice elected the first Doge in Eraclea, forming the independent Republic of Venice.[11] One of these Tribunes was Marcus Aurelius Contarini.[3] Twentieth century studies, however, cast doubt on the historicity of the first Doge Paolo Luccio Anafesto and his successor Doge Marcello Tegalliano,[12] suggesting that only following the murder of the Byzantine viceroy Paul Exarch of Ravenna, did the inhabitants of the islands chose their first Doge, Orso Ipato from Eraclea.[10] Whoever was historically the first, the Contarini family has since the earliest Venetian chronicles been associated with the birth of the Republic and election of the first Doge. They formed part of the 'duodecim nobiliorum proles Venetiarum' (or the 'twelve noblest families of Venice') and the 12 apostolic families, the oldest of the 247 patrician families in the Great Council following the Serrata of 1297.[13] As the first inhabitants in the lagoon came from what were provinces of Rome in the 5th century, the Rialto initially being governed by a Consular Triumvirate elected at Padua and subsequently by Tribunes who were elected from among the most prominent members in their former Roman communes, it is not uncommon among the oldest Venetian patrician families to find Roman ancestry (e.g. Quirini [it] descended from gens Sulpicii Quirini, Marcello descended from gens Claudii Marcelli),[3][4][14] families who often kept their praenomina traditions and preserved their genealogy. The older branch Aurelli Cottae of the gens Aurelia came to prominence with the election of Gaius Aurelius Cotta as consul in 252 BC and again in 248 BC during the First Punic War and by the time Publius Aurelius Cotta moved to Padua four of his patrilineal ancestors, including his father, had achieved consulship in the Roman Republic.

In the Republic of Venice in 1043 Domenico I was elected and became the first Doge in the family Contarini. By 1797, when the last Doge was forced to abdicate, the family had produced eight Doges of their own - the greatest number of Doges in one family. The Contarini count as well 44 Procurators of San Marco, the second most prestigious life appointment after that of the Doge, plus various important ambassadors, diplomats, cardinals and navy commanders among them (in the famous Battle of Lepanto no less than 6 ships were commanded by Contarini). The Republic, in one form or another, lasted as a functioning independent state for over 1100 years until Napoleon's march into Venice sounded its demise.[10] Like Carthage, Athens and Rome, Venice overcame a territorial disadvantage, grew into a great city, and from a great city became a great empire. The power of Carthage was chiefly maritime, that of Athens chiefly military; but Rome and Venice obtained supremacy both by sea and land. Marvellously in advance of her contemporaries in all her institutions and ideas. The Contarini led the Venetian Republic forward through ever changing ages and commensurate with ample changes in trade, technology, trade, science, religion, art, banking and finance as well as in diplomacy and war.

Andrea Palladio, who was employed by the Contarini and their relatives, designed several of the most outstanding neo-classical structures in the Veneto's environs. Importantly, his works satisfied his clients, which, full-circle, he had helped to create. Many such works are found to have often favored a minimalist, if neo-classical, dialog among their design elements. A passion for purity of line, scale and proportion were fundamental to and codified in Palladio's I quattro libri dell'architettura, detailing vital points of design interest for architecture and decoration enthusiasts and professionals, and remains used by architecture students even today.[citation needed]

Bust of Doge Andrea Contarini (Palazzo Loredan di Campo Santo Stefano)

Surviving branch in Sicily[edit]

A branch remains in Sicily today.[15] With the arrival of Alvise Contarini in Syracuse at the invitation of Martin I of Sicily this branch of the family was established in Sicily in 1394, the year in which Alvise married Cesarea Modica of Baron Pietro di Modica.[15] Alvise Contarini was given the fiefdoms of San Giacomo Belmineo and Solarino as part of the dowry. In 1406 he was elected mayor of Syracuse,[16] followed by numerous other communal, ministerial and military official positions for his descendants[15][16] in the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Italy after the Risorgimento.[17] In Sicily the family carries the title Duke of Castrofilippo [it].[15]

Notable members[edit]

See also[edit]


This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)

  1. ^ a b FitzSimons, Anna Katelin (December 2013). "THE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND MILITARY DECLINE OF VENICE LEADING UP TO 1797" (PDF). UNT Theses and Dissertations: 42.
  2. ^ a b c d e f, Leone Tettoni. Teatro araldico ovvero raccolta generale delle armi ed insegne gentilizie delle piu illustri e nobili casate che esisterono un tempo e che tutora fioriscono in tutta l'italia, 1841. pagina 578 - 591
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch ci cj ck cl cm cn co cp cq cr cs Girolamo Alessandro Cappellari Vivaro. Il Campidoglio veneto.
  4. ^ a b c d e Antonio Longo. Dell'origine e provenienza in Venezia de cittadini originarj
  5. ^ Puga, Trefler, Diego, Daniel (7 March 2014). "International Trade and Institutional Change: Medieval Venice's Response to Globalization". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 129 (2): 801. doi:10.1093/qje/qju006.
  6. ^ a b c d Marco Barbaro. L'Origine e discendenza delle famiglie patrizie.
  7. ^, Andrea Castagnetti. Storia di Venezia. Vol. 1 - Origini, Età ducale - Famiglie e affermazione politica.
  8. ^ a b Zabarella, Giacomo (1664). Il Corelio.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hazlitt, W. Carew (1915). The Venetian Republic. London: Adam and Charles Black.
  10. ^ a b c Norwich, John Julius (1982). A History of Venice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  11. ^ John the Deacon. Chronicon Sagornini.
  12. ^ Giorgio Ravegnani (2014). "Paoluccio Anafesto". Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 81: Pansini–Pazienza (in Italian). Rome: Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana. ISBN 978-8-81200032-6.
  13. ^ Chojnacki, Stanley, La formazione della nobiltà dopo la Serrata, in Arnaldi, Girolamo; Cracco, Giorgio; Tenenti, Alberto (a cura di), Storia di Venezia dalle origini alla caduta della Serenissima, 3. La formazione dello stato patrizio, Roma, Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1997, pp. 641-725.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Coronelli, Vincenzo (1706). Blasone Veneto, o gentlizie insegne delle famiglie patrizie.
  15. ^ a b c d Mango di Casalgerardo, Antonino (1912). "NOBILIARIO DI SICILIA. Vol. 2 - Notizie e stemmi relativi alle famiglie nobili siciliane". A. Reber, Palermo.
  16. ^ a b Agnello, Giuseppe (2011). "Urbs fidelissima. Il governo di Siracusa durante la Camera reginale (1282-1536), actually the contarini family live in Brazil in district of Minas Gerais,known for Contarini afrantes" (PDF). UNIVERSITÀ DI CATANIA FACOLTÀ DI LETTERE E FILOSOFIA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-25.
  17. ^ "Senatori del Regno (1848-1943)". Senato della Repubblica. Retrieved 23 April 2018.