History Painting in the Palazzo Ducale

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Second Conquest of Constantinople, c.1580-1605, Great Council Hall, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

This painting by Jacopo Tintoretto exemplifies the type of glorious heroism the writers of the cycle’s iconographic program sought to inspire. The painting is part of a larger cycle devoted to the Fourth Crusade—an event that was instrumental in shaping Venice’s commercial and artistic hegemony. Tintoretto’s painting, executed in strict accordance with the prescriptions of the cycle’s authors, depicts the storming of the walls of the city of Constantinople by the forces of Venice. The painting posits a pervasive sense of epic heroism, victory and courage. The latter attributes are personified in the figure of the Doge, Enrico Dandolo, who, in spite of his age and infirmity, stands posed at the helm of one of the Venetian gallies, entreating his men to carry on. The fearless stability of the Doge amid the tumult and violence of the battle is meant to represent the unwavering virtue and integrity of the Venetian Republic. By emphasizing the heroic determination of Venice in relation to the foundation of the Republic’s potent commercial and military empires, the writers of the program sought to revive a strong sense of pride and confidence in the city’s political traditions.

Jacopo Palma IL Giovane, Allegory of the League of Cambrai, 1590-95, Hall of the Great Council, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Jacopo Palma IL Giovane, Allegory of the League of Cambrai, 1590-95, Hall of the Great Council, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

This painting by Jacopo Palma Il Giovane aptly illustrates the virtues that were believed to have been the source of Venice’s continued prosperity and prestige. The subject of the painting deals with one of the most perilous events in Venice’s long history, the war with the League of Cambrai in 1509. The authors of the painting express Venice’s miraculous survival and triumph over the forces of the League of Cambrai in allegorical terms. The figure of the Doge, Leonardo Loredan constitutes the main focal point of the painting. On the left of the Doge stands Venetia, flanked by the virtues of Peace and Abundance, as well as the Lion of St. Mark. The latter figures appear united in defiance of the figure of Europa, who brandishes a shield bearing the crests of the states and kingdoms that comprised the League of Cambrai. By establishing a link between Venice’s survival and victory over the League of Cambrai and the civic virtues of Peace, Abundance and Justice, the cycle’s authors sought to evoke a strong sense of determination and fortitude among the members of the Great Council.

Paolo Veronese, Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto, c.1573, Hall of the Great Council, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Paolo Veronese, Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto, c.1573, Hall of the Great Council, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

The last painting in the series of historic and allegorical subjects depicts the triumph of Venice’s navy over the Ottoman Turks at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. It is especially interesting to note how the authors of the painting’s content ascribe such an inordinate degree of value to a victory that was of such little strategic significance. At the time of the Battle of Lepanto, the Ottoman Turks had already established themselves as the dominant power in the Mediterranean. Venice’s position as the preeminent commercial and naval power had been almost completely eclipsed in the wake of the Ottoman Turk’s expansion into the Aegean and Mediterranean. By focusing on Venice’s recent victory over the forces that had precipitated the latter’s naval and commercial decline, the painting’s authors sought to revive the pride and esteem the Venetians once ascribed to its military forces. 

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