Description of the Piazzetta
Starting our perambulation at the corner near the campanile, where we left the Piazza, this (west) side is occupied entierely by the Libreria (Library) designed by Jacopo Sansovino to hold the Biblioteca Marciana (library of St Mark). Building staterd in 1537 and it was extended, after the death of Sansovino, by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1588/91. The building was said by Palladio to be "the most magnificent and ornate structure built since ancient times". The arcade continues to the end of the building with cafes and shops and also the entrances to the Archaeological Museum, the Biblioteca Marciana and the National Library, which occupy the floors above.
|The Piazzetta and its buildings and monuments|
|Pictures for the History section|
It was also at this time, in the later 13th century, that St Marks was being given its new west facade embellished with marble and mosaics and trophies from Constantinople, including the four horses.
The original 9th century Doges palace was soon found too small for the number of patricians sitting on the Great Council after the right to do so was made hereditary in 1297 and rebuilding started in 1340. Work was held up by the Black Death in 1348 but the first stage was completed by 1365. This comprised the front part of the palace facing the lagoon, but in the Piazzetta the new building only extended to the seventh pillar back from the front corner, now marked by a circular relief of Venice as Justice on the outside of the first floor arcade. Further back, the part of the old palace known as the Palace of Justice remained, much as it had stood for about 200 years.
Because of the great expense involved nothing more was done for many years, but in 1422 the Doge Tomaso Mocenigo insisted that for the honour of the city the remaining part of the old palace should be demolished and the new part extended. It was resolved that the existing facade should be continued in the same syle and work started in 1424 under the new Doge Francesco Foscari. The extended facade had reached the corner by 1438 and the point where the 15th century part joins the 14th century part can only be recognised by the circular relief of Justice above the seventh pillar from the front corner and the fact that that pillar is larger than the others, having held up the corner of the building for 80 years. The capitals on this facade are for the most part copies of the existing capitals on the front facade. The last pillar, at the north-western corner of the building, is a very large column and, continuing the theme of Justice, bears a large relief carving of the Judgment of Solomon, with the archangel Gabriel above it. The sculptor is not known,although various suggestions have been made including Bartolomeo Buon from Venice and Jacopo della Quercia from Siena and several art historians think that the sculpture of the Judgment of Solomon (which must have been made in the period 1424/38) shows influence from Tuscany. Eduardo Arslan, after reviewing all the theories in 1971, concluded that this sculpture "remains for us a great mystery".
In 1438 a contract was made with Giovanni and Bartolomeo Buon for the construction of a great ceremonial doorway into the palace. This was the Porta della Carta and connected the newly constructed wing of the Palace with the south wall of St Marks. Giovanni was nearing the end of his life and the gateway is mainly the work of Bartolomeo. It was completed by 1442 and included a sculpture of the Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the lion of St Mark. Originally the whole gateway was painted and gilded (just visible in the right background of Gentile Bellini's painting of 1496).
In 1493 an astronomical clock was commissioned by Venice and it was decided to install it in a new clocktower in the Piazza with a high archway beneath it leading into the street known as the Merceria, which leads to the Rialto. The building, which was probably designed by Codussi, was started in 1496, a section of the original Procuratie being demolished for the purpose.The building was completed with the clock installed by February 1499. It can be seen, flanked by the original Procuratie building, in De Barbari's woodcut of Venice in 1500. The Procuratie then were only two storeys high and the tower stood higher above them than it does today.
Buildings on either side to support the tower were added by 1506 and in 1512, when there was a fire in the old Procuratie, it became obvious that the whole range would have to be rebuilt.
Despite the fact that Venice was then at war with much of Europe (War of the League of Cambrai) the whole of the south side of the Piazza was rebuilt, starting in 1517. The new buildings, known today as the Procuratie Vecchie, were three storeys high instead of two. Lke the previous Procuratie they had an arcade on the ground level with two windows above each arch, but without the high Byzantine arches and with classical details.
In 1527 Jacopo Sansovino came to Venice, fleeing from the sack of Rome, and by 1529 he had been appointed as Proto (consultant architect and buildings manager) to the Procurators of St Mark. The Procurators wished to rebuild the old buildings on the south side of the Piazza, but Sansovino persuaded them that the opportunity should be taken to enlarge the Piazza and that these buildings should be demolished and the bulding line moved back clear of the campanile. He also convinced them that the old hostelries and shops on the west side of the Piazzetta opposite the Doges Palace should be replaced by a new building worthy of the site. It was decided that the library of books and manuscripts, which had been bequeathed to the city by Cardinal Bessarion but had stilll not found a permanent home, should be housed there and Sansovino intended that the facade of this buiding (the Libreria) should eventually be continued along the south side of the Piazza and round the south-west corner as far as the church of San Geminiano in the middle of the west side. These changes also made it necessary to rebuild the Loggetta and at the same time the government of Venice had commissioned Sansovino to rebuild the mint (the Zecca) on the west side of the Libreria. All these works were proceeding together for many years after 1537. The new Loggetta was complete by 1545 and the Zecca by 1547 (though a third storey was added by 1566), but work on the Libreria was held up by the difficulty of finding new premises for the businesses which were displaced as well as by shortage of funds and only sixteen bays had been finished before the death of Sansovino in 1570. By that date it had not yet been possible to start on the rebulding of the south side of the Piazza beyond the Libreria.
Sansovino also completed the rebuilding of the old church of San Geminiano at the west end of the Piazza, facing St Marks. Much work had been done before he took it over in 1557, but he was responsible for the facade in white Istrian stone.
After the death of Sansovino funds were at last made available for the rebuilding of the south side of the Piazza in its new position well clear of the campanile. His idea of a two storey building continuing the facade of the Libreria had to be abandoned, as the Procurators required three storeys. However Vincenzo Scamozzi based the design on the facade of the Libreria and completed ten bays between 1582 and 1586, The Procuratie Nuove (New Procuracies), as they are called, were not completed until 1640, when the final extension round to the church of San Geminiano was made by Baldassare Longhena.
Venice surrendered to Napoleon on 12 May 1797. By 4 June a "Tree of Liberty" had been placed in the Piazza. Soon afterwards stonemasons were sent out on the orders of the Municipality to destroy images of the winged lion, which was seen as a symbol of Venetian independence and aristocratic rule. On the Porta della Carta in the Piazzetta the head of Doge Francesco Foscari was removed as well as that of the lion before which he was kneeling. (They were replaced by copies later in the century). The French ordered the four horses of San Marco to be taken down and sent to Paris together with the bronze lion on the column in the Piazzetta. They were removed in December 1797.
In January 1798 under the Treaty of Campoformio the Austrans moved into Venice in place of the French. This first Austrian ascendancy lasted from 1798 to 19 January 1806, when the French moved back after Napoleon's victories at Austerlitz and Jena and his establishment of the kingdom of Italy in 1804. Napoleon appointed his stepson Eugene de Beauharnais as his viceroy and in 1807 it was ordered that the Procuratie Nuove were to become the royal palace for his occupation. Napoleon himself paid a ceremonial visit to Venice later in 1807, landing at the Piazzetta on his way to the new palace.
It was decided that the new palace should extend across the whole of the west end of the Piazza and this made it necessary to demolish the church of San Geminiano, rebuilt by Sansovino, and also the buldings on either side, Sansovino's extension of the Procuratie Vecchie to the north and part of the Procuratie Nuove to the south. The original architect was Gianni Antolini from Milan, but the new building caused much controversy and in 1810 he was replaced by Giovanni Soli from Modena. The present building, known as the Ala Napoleonica (the Napoleonic Wing) was buillt between 1810 and 1813. The facade of the two lower storeys is in the manner of the Procuratie Nuove, but the upper storey, containing the ceremonial entrance and the ballroom, has no windows or arches and is decorated with statues and sculpture in low relief. In the centre there was originally to have been a statue of Napoleon as Jupiter with the imperial arms above, but this was abandoned after the fall of Napoleon in 1814 and there is now no focal point on the west side of the Piazza.
- Arslan, Edoardo: Gothic Architecture in Venice (translated by Anne Engel). (Phaidon, London. 1971)
- The Lion of Venice. Studies & research on the bronze statue in the Piazzetta: edited by Bianca Maria Scarfi (Venice. 1990)
- Goy, Richard: Venice. The city & its architecture (London 1997)
- Honour, Hugh: The Companion Guide to Venice (2nd edition. London. 1977)
- Lorenzetti, Giulio: Venice and its Lagoon (1926. 2nd edn 1956) translated by John Guthrie (Lint, Trieste. 1975)
- Howard, Deborah: Jacopo Sansovino Architecture and Patronage in Renaissance Venice (Yale University.Press. 1975)
- Howard, Deborah: The Architectural History of Venice (Yale University Press. 2nd revised & enlarged edition. 2002)
- Norwich, John Julius: A History of Venice (Penguin Books, 1 vol edition, 1983)
- Perocco, Guido & Antonio Salvadori: Civiltà di Venezia. 3 volumes. (3rd edition, revised and corrected. Venice. 1987)
- Ruskin, John: The Stones of Venice (1st edition 1851. References are to the edition of 1873, 3 volumes)
- San Marco, Byzantium and the Myths of Venice edited by Henry Maguire & Robert S.Nelson (Dumbarton Oaks Research Library & Collection, Washington D.C. 2010)
- Sansovino, Francesco: Venetia Città Nobilissima. (Venice. Original edition 1581. Edition of 1663 with additions by Martinioni reprinted in facsimile - Gregg International Publishers Ltd, 1968)
- Sanudo Diary = Venice Cità Excelentissima - Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of Marin Sanudo. ed: Patricia H.Labalme & Laura Sanguineri White (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 2008)
- Tassini, Giuseppe: Curiosità Veneziane (9th edition, 1988)
- Boucher p.24, citing Palladio's Quattro Libri dell'Archiotettura (1570),
- Lorenzetti pp.164-5
- Howard pp.91-3
- Howard p.93. Lorenzetti p.235. See also Ruskin: Stones of Venice Volume 2 (The Sea Stories) Ch.8 para.xx (pp.297-309 in the 1874 edition)
- Arslan pp.246-252
- Howard p.123
- Howard pp.146-8 & see article onthe Clocktower
- Howard (1975) pp.1-2
- Howard (1975) pp.14-15
- Howard (1975) pp.8-38 on the Piazza, Libreria and the Loggetta and pp.38-47 on the Zecca
- Howard (1995) p.81-84
- Plant pp.9 & 29 and fig.14. Norwich pp.630-3
- Plant p.27
- Plant pp.36-7
- Plant pp.43 & 47
- Plant p.47
- Plant p.56
- Plant p.66
- Plant pp.65-71