The Doge's Palace
( Originally Published 1915 )
" The Ducal Palace, the great work of Venice, was built successively in three styles." First, there was a Byzantine, then a Gothic, and then in part, a Renaissance palace. The present building is a combination of the last two styles. The earlier building which began with the beginning of Venice is nearly or quite destroyed by fire and time.
In the first year of the fourteenth century, the Gothic Ducal palace was begun. " It is the Parthenon of Venice," says Ruskin. One hundred and twenty-three years afterwards the first Grand Council sat in the finished Gothic building.
From that time on Renaissance features began to appear and the portion where that style reigns was finished about the middle of the sixteenth century (1550). A fire partly destroyed the building in 1574, and the extensive changes which were then made left the building in its present form. As it now stands the facade seen from St. Mark's Square, and standing as next neighbor to the Cathedral of St. Mark's, is Gothic or Venetian Gothic. But the interior court, which is of a much later date, is Renaissance or semi-Renaissance, although there are some pointed arches and Gothic features left from the earlier building.
Notice the giants' stairway, so-called from the figures at the top. These figures were colossal statues of Neptune and Mars typifying the strength of Venice by sea and in war. Over the arch at the top of the staircase is the Lion of St. Mark. On the top stairs the doges, or rulers of Venice, were crowned. In the court are two beautiful well-curbs, which should be noted, because they are a typical feature of the courtyards and squares of Venice. Connecting the palace with its prison is the wellknown Bridge of Sighs, celebrated in Byron's verses. It was built in 1590, and the dark dungeons to which it leads speak of the inhuman punishments of those and earlier times.
One thing which makes the Doges' Palace one of the few famous buildings of the world is its contents, especially the famous paintings of Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Titian, and others. We should remember that these were executed an age later than the building itself.
You will note the elaborateness of everything, the richness of the materials, and the wonderful carvings. When you visit it, with your guide-book in hand, you will learn what a wealth of allusion is contained in the sculptures alone. Some of these represent local stories and tradtion, but many refer to the Greek gods and goddesses. One might expect this from the fact that the whole movement, called the Renaissance, began in a study of the classical forms of art.
One singularity of the Doges' Palace is, that its front is built of marble of various colors arranged to produce a pattern. The best colors for a building are those of natural stone. Ruskin says that the front of the Doges' Palace at Venice is the purest and most chaste model of the fit application of color to a public building. The sculpture and moldings are all white; but the wall surface is checkered with marble blocks of pale rose, the checkers being in no wise fitted to the forms of the windows, but looking as if the wall had been completed first, and the windows cut out of it.
Ruskin also gives another bit of good description of the Doges' Palace :
" Sometimes when walking at evening on the Lido, whence the great chain of Alps, crested with silver clouds, might be seen rising above the front of the Ducal Palace, I used to feel as much awe in gazing on the building as upon the hills, and could believe that God had done a greater work in breathing into the narrowness of dust the mighty spirits by whom its haughty walls had been raised, and its burning legends written, than in lifting the rocks of granite higher than the clouds of heaven, and veiling them with their various mantle of purple flower and shadowy pine."
Theophile Gautier says: " Think how much the sea and sky have to do with the charm of the great buildings of Venice. Take away the red sails of the fishing boats and the gliding gondolas, and the building itself would have been less wonderful.
" The Grand Canal of Venice is one of the most marvelous things in the world. No other city can present so beautiful, so bizarre, and so fairy like a spectacle; perhaps you may find elsewhere remarkable specimens of architecture, but never placed in such picturesque conditions." Each stone of the walls has a story to tell; each house is a palace; each palace a masterpiece with a legend. It is an immense gallery in the open air, where one can study, from his gondola, the art of seven or eight centuries. What genius, talent, and money have been expended in this space that can be traversed in less than an hour!"
Before leaving Venice we may take a look at the Church of Sta. Maria della Salute, which is in sight across the Canal from the Doges' Palace. This church was built in 1632, and is of the period of the Baroque churches, or even later, but it is a majestic edifice in very excellent style, and is one of the most picturesque. as well as one of the most famous of buildings.