The Doge - Venice
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE first duty of the Doge on rising was attendance at the service of Mass, which was performed every morning in his own private chapel; and he afterwards proceeded to apply his attention to his magisterial functions. Accompanied by his notary, he either presided over his own Court at the Palace, or, if no cases of importance happened to be pending there, he was present at the sittings of one of the other tribunals, or of the Common Pleas, which used to be held like that of the Romans and Lombards, under the open sky. We casually glean that, at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century, Friday was the day for presenting petitions and appeals. The Doge undoubtedly possessed the power of reversing all decisions, and it vested in him down to the Twelfth Century to pay as well as appoint the judges of his own Court, to each of whom his Serenity was expected to send annually four casks of wine as a free gift from the vineyards of Comanzo in Chioggia.
From time to time he was in the habit of paying a visit of inspection and inquiry to the several islands which lay around the capital, in order that he might be in a position to check abuses, and to prevent any arbitrary stretches of power on the part of the Tribunes and other subordinate members of the Government. Occasionally it was his practice to show himself formally in public, and to give his benediction to the assembled people; and when it happened that the fulfilment of his multifarious avocations admitted relaxation and mental repose, his Serenity sometimes took gondola and followed the chase in the woods of Loredo.
Even when the archaic Palace Court had given way to that of the Judges of the Commune, the Doge was held to be the Fountain and Mirror of Justice; and not only was any question, which a Judge might feel himself incompetent to decide, referable in the last resort to the Throne, but in all instances, where a suitor or a prisoner might have reasonable grounds for disputing a judicial award, a right of appeal lay in the same quarter.
Even in primitive times the ducal costume was not without some share of splendour. The Berretta (beretum) or Bonnet, of the original type of which we know nothing, but which seems at a tolerably early date to have borne some resemblance to the diadem of the kings of ancient Phrygia, was a high cap of conical form, set with pearls, not unsimilar to the Episcopal mitre and to the headdresses seen on Oriental coins and paintings.
The tradition, which ascribes to the munificence of the contemporary Abbess of San Zaccaria the presentation of a jewelled headdress to the Doge Tradonico (863-864), is suspected of being apocryphal; and assuredly it is so in respect to the details. The Lady Superior may have made an offering of some ornamental bonnet, manufactured in the house, more or less on the model of that then worn by the head of the State ; but the earliest tangible vestige of the corno is the mosaic at Saint Mark's attributed to the Eleventh or Twelfth Century, and the apparent prototype of the later berretta, which is mentioned in 1328 as supplied at the cost of the Commune, but does not present itself anterior to that date in any authentic document or passage. The spirit and tone of the Ducal attire strike us as half Lombardic or Frankish, half Oriental ; the oblation of the Abbess was in the taste of the age; and it was doubtless simpler even than that delineated on the sculpture above-mentioned. The strict regulations imposed on every department and member of the Executive extended to the ducal bonnet, for, according to the Coronation Oath of 1328, it was to be lodged under the care of the Procurators of Saint Mark, and only to be delivered to the Doge for use on special occasions; and the motive for this caution is to be found in the more sumptuous form and embellishments which the bonnet gradually received, and the apprehension of dishonest practices by minor officials or attendants.
On the exceedingly rare occasion when the Dogaressa was also crowned, a second berretta was provided ; but after the death of Silvestro Valier in 1700 there was a twofold provision that the consort was not again to receive this honour, and that it was not to be worn by the relict of a deceased Doge.Underneeath it, after a time the chief magistrate wore a white linen coif, in order that, as a mark of the peculiarly exalted dignity of his office, his head might remain covered when the bonnet itself was removed. When the Grand Council had been instituted, and the election of the Doge rested with it, it became a practice for the new Serenissimo to doff the berretta in returning thanks for the honour conferred, and on one occasion, when the Doge Morosini was in 1693 appointed captain-general in the Morea, he rose from his place and uncovered, while he signified his acceptance of the trust, and his resolution to serve his country to the best of his power. In the case of high official functionaries the Doge touched hands; but otherwise he at certain public receptions extended his hand to be kissed.
A doublet of red velvet, with straight sleeves tapering toward the wrist, and a high collar, was in part hidden by an outer mantle, sometimes curiously figured, which descended almost to the feet, with a border of gold fringe and a small circular clasp of gold. A sable cape, red stockings and shoes of a somewhat primitive pattern completed his attire; and it transpires in connection with a historical episode of 1071 that the Doge was accustomed out-of-doors to use sandals, probably as a protection against the mire in the public ways in wet weather. In the drawing, from which the present description is borrowed, the hands are not gloved.
The Bucentaur is cited, as if it were hardly then a novelty, in the Coronation Oath of 1328, and is there said to be one of the accessories furnished by the State as a means of augmenting the ducal dignity. No particulars are given, and possibly, if the vessel already existed, none were thought to be requisite. Nor is any help forthcoming toward a solution of the name, which some have connected with the Virgilian Centaurus, of which the figure of a centaur may be supposed to have adorned the prow. But in 1205, when the newly elected Doge was to be fetched from his official post at a distance, a feeling of the propriety of some special mark of respect showed itself in the embellishment of the sides of the galley despatched to the Serenissimo with silk taffeta hangings.
John Evelyn visited the Arsenal in 1646, and saw the Bucentaur, of which he speaks as having an ample deck so contrived that the galley slaves are not visible, and on the poop a throne for the Doge, when he went to espouse the Adriatic.
The last State-barge constructed for the use of the Doge was launched in 1729. It was loo feet in length, 21 in breadth, with an upper and a lower deck, of which the latter was reserved for the oarsmen. At the extremity towards the poop on the superior deck, which was covered, near the raised seat allotted to the Doge, was a small window, through which his Serenity threw the ring, when he wedded the Adriatic in the name of the Republic; and forty-eight others were placed along the sides to enable the company to enjoy the spectacle before and around them. The fittings and furniture of the vessel were luxurious, and it was adorned with symbolical figures, bas-reliefs, and other representations within and without, set off by elaborate gilding.
The lady who published the account of the religious and other festivals of the Republic, Giustina Renier Michiel, scion of two noble and ancient houses, beheld the last Bucentaur, before it was brutally destroyed by the French in con-junction with some Venetian adventurers for the sake of the gilt work.
" Alas! " she writes, " I myself saw Frenchmen and Venetians, full of derision and insult, combine to dismantle the Bucintoro and burn it for the gold upon it. . It was in the form of a galley, and two hundred feet long (sic) with two decks. The first of these was occupied by a hundred and sixty rowers, the handsomest and strongest of the fleet, who sat four men to each oar, and there awaited their orders; forty other sailors completed the crew, the upper deck was divided lengthwise by a partition, pierced with arched doorways, ornamented with gilded figures, and covered with a roof supported by caryatides—the whole surmounted by a canopy of crimson velvet embroidered with gold. Under this were ninety seats, and at the stern a still richer chamber for the Doge's throne, over which drooped the banner of Saint Mark, The prow was double-beaked, and the sides of the vessel were enriched with figures of Justice, Peace, Sea, Land, and other allegories and ornaments."'
The yearly marriage of the Adriatic was more immediately and palpably a pageant and a symbol; but it has been rendered apparent that the ceremony involved and denoted a political principle, on which the Republic was prepared, nearly down to the last, to insist at all hazards against all corners. Germany, France, Spain, England, were in turn reminded of the claim, which the unique wedding imported, in language which could not be misunderstood.