The Opera Museum
The Opera, also called fabbriceria or procuratoria, was in ancient times a kind of technical office in charge of the maintenance of the building and the management of the countless reform and renovation interventions suffered during its long history.
The Opera kept documents and vestiges of its business
One of the most important restoration plans of modern times was launched from 1875, and involved both the facades of the palace and the ancient capitals of the portico terreno and loggia: as many as 42 of these capitals, particularly ancient, precious or fragile, were then replaced by copies.
The originals, deposited in the palace, were later the subject, during the last decade of the 1900s, of careful restoration work, while the Opera Museum was designed and set up on the ground floor, intended to collect these and other important architectural vestiges of the Palace.
The Capitals of the Museum
The Capitals of the Opera Museum are a precious and important part of the extraordinary apparatus of sculptures and reliefs that enrich the medieval facades of palazzo Ducale. It is not a simple decoration, but an articulated allegorical, religious, moral, political “discourse” that certainly turned out to be easier to read and understand to the man of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than to us.
The meanings of the sculptures were then particularly important in the dozens and dozens of carved capitals, a real stone poem, populated with women, men, children, animals, plants, zodiac signs, myths, symbols, vices, virtues grouped in stories and fables, parables and demonstrations, allegories and moral underarance, in a path that united, according to a typically medieval, sacred and profane process, history and legend , astronomy and astrology.
The Opera Museum offers a poetic itinerary along this sort of encyclopedic treatment.The current set-up is spread over six rooms.
This room houses six capitals and related columns of the 14th-century porticato of the Palace, which overlooks the San Marco Basin. They are therefore part of the oldest carved decoration project of the building, which began in 1340.The first one you meet on the right represents Solomon and seven scholars.
Solomon and seven scholars
The capital depicts the liberal arts dominated by Solomon who subjects pagan cognition to the dominion of the Christian faith. Solomon is the figure on the side of the capital looking at the wall; he has a large-button tunic, represents divine wisdom and must be understood as the master of the seven scholars and advocate of a higher knowledge. Consult two books, cautious in comparing his sources. All the scholars represented here sit cross-legged, in a position inherited from the Eastern world, a sign of power and meditation.
Proceeding counterclockwise we meet Prisciano, who represents grammar among the arts, while writing in a book; Aristotle, the dialectic, indicates one, while Cicero, master of rhetoric, raises his right hand in the demonstrative gesture of the speaker. It is followed by arithmetic Pythagoras that aligns four objects, perhaps coins, on a tablet on which is engraved a number, 1344, perhaps the date of execution of the capital. Euclid, geometry, uses compass while Tubalkain, inventor of music, plays a stringed instrument.
The ptolemy group, father of astrology, closes, pointing to the sky with his finger.It follows, behind, a capital decorated with male heads of different races.
Male heads of different races
Rendered with great realism and skill by the anonymous sculptor, they represent the various peoples of the earth.The head of a bearded man is recognized and to his right that of a moor with a turban. On the left, an elderly man on whose cap are represented two small Marcian lions. He is therefore an inhabitant of a submissive land in Venice, perhaps Crete. Two more faces follow. The almond eyes and the snull nose of the second of them leave no doubt: it is certainly a tartar.
Unlike the capitals of the previous room, the four of this room, with their columns, were originally placed on the façade towards the Piazzetta.
The figurations, of great sculptural quality, are very rich in allegorical and moral meanings in which themes related to work, to the products of the earth, to astrological correspondences are treated.On the entrance wall is mounted the late-sixteenth-century infill of one of the archs of the porch towards the Ponte della Paglia.
After a great fire in 1577, in fact, the closure of the last arches had been ordered for static reasons.Of particular interest is the second capital on the right, depicting the Crafts.
If the capital of the previous hall had indicated the liberal arts, this shows the mechanical arts that take place inside and outside the city walls.The first job you meet, giving your back to the entrance, is that of the stonemake, a particularly important work in the construction of the palace.
Continuing counterclockwise we recognize the goldsmith, whose activity was ennobled by the richness of the raw materials, the cobbler, the carpenter, the meter of cereals and legumes, the farmer, the notary, whose act of writing was moved by the intellect, and finally the blacksmith.
A curiosity: the headdresses they wear allow us to distinguish the professional status to which they belonged. The masters therefore have a voluminous cap and pour backwards (the notary, the lapicide and the goldsmith), the salaried workers the cap (the carpenter and the blacksmith) while the apprentices are in the open head (the cobbler).
This room has three capitals with columns. The first on the left and the first on the right are thirteenth century while the one at the bottom is 15th century.The first capital on the right, defined by Ruskin as “the most beautiful in Europe”, was located in the corner between the Piazzetta and the Pier, under the sculptural group with Adam and Eve.
Creation of Adam, planets and their domiciles
Precisely from the position it occupied you can understand the importance it had in the great iconographic program of the Palace. It opens the history of the universe and of humanity that then develops in the two facades.The reading begins with the Creation of the first man, visible giving his back to the entrance, on the left, and continues with the depiction of the planets and the zodiac signs corresponding to them. The image of God who, sitting on the throne, has just finished shaping Adam and holds one arm and his head, follows in an anti-clockwise direction Saturn, old and bearded, sitting on the zodiac sign of Capricorn, while holding the precious pitchers of Aquarius.
His attribute, the sickle, is still visible, which makes him the protector of camp workers and reminds the government of his last age and death. On the third side Jupiter, with a cape fastened to his neck and a doctoral hat, touches the sign of the Pisces and sits on the Sagittarius, armed with a bow and arrow.
He follows Mars as a warrior in armor with a sword and shield, as he sits on Ram flanked by Scorpio. A beautiful young man with a belted head of rays occupies the fifth side. It’s the Sun, sitting on the Lion, holding the star with its left.
Venus, on the sixth side, elegant with a cintola fastened on her breasts, admires her beautifulness in a mirror as she sits on the Bull holding the Libra. Next door is Mercury, in toga and with an open book in his hand. It is placed between the Virgin and the Gemini.
The last side houses a maiden inside a boat that raises the moon’s falcon and touches a crab, a symbol of Cancer. The spacecraft and the wind-driven canopy recall the moon’s influence on tides and winds.At the bottom of the hall, the last capital depicts capital vices. Capital vices.
Giving his back to the entrance and proceeding counterclockwise they recognize each other: Pride, in the form of a warrior armed with a sword and shield with satan’s horned helmet on his head, the old Ira who rips his clothes swearing at the sky, greed, who closes two bags with his fists and Accidia, imprisoned among the branches in an indolent and passive attitude. The next side houses vanity, located here although not part of the 7 capital vices. It is represented in the form of a maiden, the head adorned with flowers. She aims herself in the mirror she holds in her lap by touching her breasts. The Envy that follows indicates her as she gnaws from anger, aware that she is no longer the object of other people’s desire. The snake that hands over its head and the dragon clutching at its breast underline its demonic appearance. Lust discovers a breast looking in the mirror and finally the Throat raises a glass and brings a thigh to the mouth.
In this room there are two column fusti of the porch and a mighty living stone wall with large, degreased and juxtaposed boulders that dates back to an ancient phase of the Palace.
Aligned along the wall of the entrance there are two other columns of the porch, while the one placed on the adjacent wall, with the foliage capital, belongs to the loggia of the façade towards the Piazzetta.A part of the tunnel of the loggia has also been mounted in this room, with its succession of capitals, on which rest the inflected sharp arches that give life to the quadrilobo, surmounted by the rosette frame. In the wedges of the arches, lion heads. Room VI. In this room are placed 29 capitals of the loggia.
Compared to the capitals of the porch, here you can see a greater interest in the decorative appearance: the foliage takes over, the figures flatten, get confused between the leaves and decrease in size. Although sculpted more crudely and poorly, images of the loggia also perform the function of illustrating the sphere of the universe and the machine of the world under the influence of the stars. On the walls are placed various stone fragments of the facades: pinnacles, arches, columns, removed because they are damaged or dangerous and replaced with copies.At the bottom of the room there is the lintel of the Porta della Carta bearing the inscription with the name of the designer-lapicida: Bartolomeo Bon.
Going back, along the right wall, you meet a bust. This is what remains of the group depicting the doge Cristoforo Moro with the Marcian Lion that was placed in the niche in front of the Scala dei Giganti, shot down at the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. The same end also made the group with the doge Francesco Foscari kneeling in front of the Lion made by Bartolomeo Bon above the Porta della Carta, of which we only have the head of the doge that can be admired on the same side, proceeding towards the exit. The group currently placed on the Paper Gate is a copy made in 1885.
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EPiazzetta San Marco
1Opened every day from 9.30 am to 6.00 pm (last admission at 5.00 pm)- Closed 1/1 and 25/12
Tel. 041 271 59 11
Linee Actv 1 -2-5.1-5.2 – S. Marco / S. Zaccaria