Winged Lion of St. Mark
Lions are scattered about Venice--if not in the flesh, then in countless paintings and sculptures. Mind you, there was a time when the cats of Venice weren't limited to tabbies, as Jan Morris tells us in A Venetian Bestiary:
Why a lion, and not a seagull?
So why does a maritime city like Venice have a lion as its mascot? Wouldn't a seagull, a fish, or a duck from the marshy Venetian Lagoon be a more appropriate symbol?
The answer to that question lies in the Ninth Century, when--according to legend--two or three ambitious Chamber of Commerce types from Venice stole the remains of St. Mark the Apostle from his tomb in Alexandria, Egypt. William Lithgow tells the story in his "Comments on Italy" from The Rare Adventures and Painfull Peregrinations, published in 1614 and quoted in Ian Littlewood's Venice: A Literary Companion:
After crossing the Mediterranean and cruising up the Adriatic, the graverobbers reached Venice and handed their cargo over to the Doge. The local religious and civic authorities quickly elected St. Mark as Venice's patron saint, and the apostle's traditional symbol--a winged lion--became the logo of the Venetian Republic.
Here a lion, there a lion, everywhere a lion lyin'.
One of the most famous winged lions in Venice is on the Torre dell'Orologio, the clock tower on the Piazza San Marco. Another stands atop a column in the Piazzetta, next to the Doge's Palace. The latter statue was hauled away to Paris by occupying Napoleonic troops in 1797, but it was returned to Venice in 1815.
If you visit the Doge's Palace, be sure to see Capaccio's painting of 1516 that shows a winged lion with a curiously humanoid face. The lion smiles at the observer while standing half on the mainland, half on the lagoon with the Doge's Palace and a fleet of sailing ships in the background.
There are plenty of other lions for leo leo lovers to enjoy. To quote A Venetian Bestiary again, "there are lions in the middle of dreadful meals, lions having their jaws wrenched open, lions with crowns on their heads, lions confronted by dragons, the lion that carries Minerva side-saddle in the public gardens, the eighteenth-century red marble lions of the Piazzetta dei Leoncini which seem specifically designed to let children ride them, the benignly simpering Byzantine lions that sustain the Tree of Life in the cathedral screen at Torcello."
Best of all, Venice's lions aren't real--so you can enjoy them without feeling guilty over the fact that the object of your attentions would be happier gnawing on a zebra in the African veldt.
Cats of Venice
Europe for Visitors (including
Venice for Visitors) with Cheryl
Imboden in 2001.
| About our site |
| Press clippings |
| Testimonials |
Copyright © 1996-2023 Durant and Cheryl Imboden. All rights reserved.