Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

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' =5- * I Si

g>anta Barbara >tate

Citft o



ntleman's Xibran?

o ce

Dog-es, ters

Men of l^^scfs





he ne afana,
veoe. :




Makers of Venice

Doges, Conquerors, Painters


Men of Letters


Author of ' Makers of Florence,' ' Royal Edinburgh,' etc.
Embellished with Etchings and Photogravures

Sia benedeta sta Venezia mia

E sto popolo quieto, alegro e san.

Me sento un vodo in cuor se stago via.

Sento el solito mal de 1'isolan
Benedeto Samarco e le putele

Che zira in piazza a ingelosir le stele,
Benedeto el sirocco che ne afana,

E la nostra fiacona veneziana.

Rime Veneziane-Sarfatti.

New York



The edition of this volume is limited to 450
numbered and 26 special lettered copies this one
being number ffr~)


































Panorama from Campanile of St. Mark . . . Frontispiece

Cathedral of San Marco ..... Page 6

Piazza of St. Mark . . . . . "31

Interior of San Marco, Entrance to the Choir . . "56

Bridge of the Rialto . . . . . . "82

Court of Ducal Palace, Giant's Staircase . . . " 102

A Canal Scene, Venice . . . . . " 122

Santa Maria della Salute . . . . . " 160

Molo of San Marco, Columns of Execution . . . " 206

Campanile of Si. Mark . . . . . " 228

Bridge of Sighs . . . . , . " 274

The Piazetta, Ducal Palace, San Marco . . . " 336


VENICE has long borne in the imagination of the world
a distinctive position, something of the character of a
great enchantress, a magician of the seas. Her growth
between the water and the sky; her great palaces, solid
and splendid, built, so to speak, on nothing; the wonder-
ful glory of light and reflection about her; the glimmer
of incessant brightness and movement; the absence of
all those harsh, artificial sounds which vex the air in
other towns, but which in her are replaced by harmonies
of human voices, and by the liquid tinkle of the waves
all these unusual characteristics combine to make her a
wonder and a prodigy. While there are scarcely any who
are unmoved by her special charm, there are some who
are entirely subdued by it, to whom the sight of her is a
continual enchantment, and who never get beyond the
sense of something miraculous, the rapture of the first
vision. Not only does she "shine where she stands,"
which even the poorest clusters of human habitations
will do in the light of love; but all those walls, with the
mist of ages like a bloom of eternal youth upon them
all those delicate pinnacles and carven stones, the arches
and the pillars and the balconies, the fretted outlines
that strike against the sky shine, too, as with a light
within that radiates into the clear sea air; and every
ripple on the great water-way, and every wave on the
lagoon, and each little rivulet of a canal, like a line of
light between the piles of masonry, which are themselves
built of pearl and tints of ocean shells, shines, too, with
an ever-varied, fantastic, enchanting glimmer of respon-
sive brightness. In the light of summer mornings, in
the glow of winter sunsets, Venice stands out upon the
blue background, the sea that brims upward to her very
doors, the sky that sweeps in widening circles all around,
radiant with an answering tone of light. She is all
wonder, enchantment, the brightness and the glory of a
dream. Her own children cannot enough paint her,


praise her, celebrate her splendors; and to outdo, if pos-
sible, that patriotic enthusiasm has been the effort of many
a stranger from afar.

When the present writer ventured to put upon record
some of the impressions which mediaeval Florence has
left upon history, in the lives and deeds of great men,
the work was comparatively an easy one for Florence
is a city full of shadows of the great figures of the past.
The traveler cannot pass along her streets without tread-
ing in the very traces of Dante, without stepping upon
soil made memorable by footprints never to be effaced.
We meet them in the crowded ways the cheerful painters
singing at their work, the prophet-monk going to torture
and execution, the wild gallants with their Carnival
ditties, the crafty and splendid statesman who subjugated
the fierce republic. Faces start out from the crowd
wherever we turn our eyes. The greatness of the sur-
roundings, the palaces, churches, frowning mediaeval
castles in the midst of the city, are all thrown into the
background by the greatness, the individuality, the liv-
ing power and vigor of the men who are their originators,
and, at the same time, their inspiring soul.

But when we turn to Venice the effect is very different.
After the bewitchment of the first vision, a chill falls
upon the inquirer. Where is the poet, where the
prophet, the princes, the scholars, the men whom, could
we see, we should recognize wherever we met them,
with whom the whole world is acquainted? They are
not here. In the sunshine of the Piazza, in the glorious
gloom of San Marco, in the great council chambers and
offices of state, once so full of busy statesmen and
great interests, there is scarcely a figure recognizable
of all, to be met with in the spirit no one whom we
look for as we walk, whose individual footsteps are
traceable wherever we turn. Instead of the men who
made her what she is, who ruled her with so high a hand,
who filled her archives with the most detailed narratives,
and gleaned throughout the world every particular of
universal history which could enlighten and guide her,
we find everywhere the great image an idealization
more wonderful than any in poetry of Venice herself,
the crowned and reigning city, the center of all their
aspirations, the mistress of their affections, for whom


those haughty patricians of an older day, with a proud
self-abnegation which has no humility or sacrifice in it,
effaced themselves, thinking of nothing but her glory.
It is a singular tribute to pay to any race, especially to a
race so strong, so full of life and energy, loving power,
luxury, and pleasantness as few other races have done;
yet it is true. When Byron swept with superficial, yet
brilliant eyes, the roll of Venetian history, what did he
find for the uses of his verse? Nothing but two old men,
one condemned for his own fault, the other for his son's,
remarkable chiefly for their misfortunes symbols of the
wrath and the feebleness of age, and of ingratitude and
bitter fate. This was all which the rapid observer could
find in the story of a power which was once supreme
in the seas, the arbiter of peace and war through all
the difficult and dangerous East, the first defender of
Christendom against the Turk, the first merchant, banker,
carrier, whose emissaries were busy in all the councils
and all the markets of the world. In her records the
city is everything the republic, the worshiped ideal
of a community in which every man for the common
glory seems to have been willing to sink his own. Her
sons toiled for her, each in his vocation, not without
personal glory, far from indifferent to personal gain, yet
determined above all that Venice should be great, that
she should be beautiful above all the thoughts of other
races, that her power and her splendor should outdo
every rival. The impression grows upon the student,
whether he penetrates no further than the doorways of
those endless collections of historic documents which
make the archives of Venice important to all the world,
and in which lie the records of immeasurable toil, the
investigations of a succession of the keenest observers,
the most subtle politicians and statesmen; or whether he
endeavors to trace more closely the growth and develop-
ment of the republic, the extension of her rule, the per-
fection of her economy. In all of these, men of the
noblest talents, the most intense vigor and energy, have
labored. The records give forth the very hum of a
crowd; they glow with life, with ambition, with strength,
with every virile and potent quality; but all directed to
one aim. Venice is the outcome not great names of
individual men.


The Tuscans also loved their great and beautiful city,
but they loved her after a different sort. Perhaps the
absence of all those outlets to the seas and traffic with
the wider world which molded Venetian character gave
the strain of a more violent personality and fiercer pas-
sions to their blood. They loved their Florence for
themselves, desiring an absolute sway over her, and to
make her their own unable to tolerate any rivalry in
respect to her, turning out upon the world every com-
petitor, fighting to be first in the city, whatever might
happen. The Venetians, with what seems a finer pur-
pose in a race less grave, put Venice first in everything.
Few were the fuori-usciti, the political exiles, sent out
from the city of the sea. Now and then a general who
had lost a battle in order that all generals might be
thus sharply reminded that the republic tolerated no
failures would be thrust forth into the wilderness of
that dark world which was not Venice, but no feud so
great as that which banished Dante ever tore the city
asunder, no such vicissitudes of sway ever tormented
her peace. A grand and steady aim, never abandoned,
never even lost sight of, runs through every page of her
story as long as it remains the story of a living and
independent power.

Perhaps the comparative equality of the great houses
which figure on the pages of the Golden Book of Venice
may have had something to do with this result. Their
continual poise and balance of power, and all the wonder-
ful system of checks and restraints so skillfully combined
to prevent all possibility of the predominance of one
family over the other, would thus have attained a success
which suspicion and jealousy have seldom secured, and
which, perhaps, may be allowed to obliterate the memory
of such sentiments, and make us think of them as wisdom
and honorable care. As in most human affairs, no doubt
both the greater and the lesser motives were present,
and the determination of each man that his neighbor
should have no chance of stepping on to a higher level
than himself, combined with, and gave a keen edge of
personal feeling to, his conviction of the advantages of
the oligarchical-democratic government which suited the
genius of the people and made the republic so great.
Among the Contarinis, Morosinis, Tiepolos, Dandolos,


the Cornars and Loredans, and a host of others whose
names recur with endless persistency from first to last
through all the vicissitudes of the national career, alter-
nating in all the highest offices of state, there was none
which was ever permitted to elevate itself permanently,
or come within sight of a supreme position. They kept
each other down, even while raising each other to the
fullness of an aristocratic sway which has never been
equaled in Christendom. And the ambition which could
never hope for such predominance as the Medici, the
Visconti, the Scaligeri attained in their respective cities,
was thus entirely devoted to the advancement of the com-
munity, the greater power and glory of the state. What
no man could secure for himself or his own house, all
men could do, securing their share in the benefit, for
Venice. And in generous minds this ambition, taking a
finer flight than is possible when personal aggrandize-
ment lies at the heart of the effort, became a passion
the inspiring principle of the race. For this they coursed
the seas, quenching the pirate tribes that threatened
their trade, less laudably seizing the towns of the coast,
the islands of the sea which interfered with their access
to their markets in the East. For this they carried fire
and flame to the mainland, and snatched from amid the
fertile fields the supremacy of Padua and Treviso, and
many a landward city, making their seaborn nest into the
governing head of a great province; an object which was
impersonal, giving license as well as force to their pur-
pose, and relieving their consciences from the guilt of
turning Crusades and missionary enterprises alike into
wars of conquest. Whatever their tyrannies, as whatever
their hard-won glories might be, they were all for Venice,
and only in a secondary and subsidiary sense for them-

The same principle has checked, in other ways, that
flow of individual story with which Florence has enriched
the records of the world. Nature at first, no doubt, must
bear the blame, who gave no Dante to the state which
perhaps might have prized him more highly than his own;
but the same paramount attraction of the idealized and
sovereign city, in which lay all their pride, turned the
early writers of Venice into chroniclers, historians,
diarists, occupied in collecting and recording everything


that concerned their city, and indifferent to individuals,
devoted only to the glory and the story of the state. In
later days this peculiarity indeed gave way, and a hundred
piping voices rise to celebrate the decadence of the great
republic; but by that time she has ceased to be a noble
spectacle, and luxury and vice have come in to degrade
the tale into one of endless pageantry deprived of all
meaning no longer the proud occasional triumphs of
a conquering race, but the perpetual occupation of a
debased and corrupted people. To the everlasting loss
of the city and mankind there was no Vasari in Venice.
Messer Giorgio, with his kindly, humorous eyes, peered
across the peninsula, through clouds of battle and conflict
always going on, and perhaps not without a mist of
neighborly depreciation in themselves, perceived far off
the Venetian men, and their works, who were thought
great painters a rival school in competition with his
own. He was not near enough to discover what manner
of men the two long-lived brothers Bellini, or the silent
Carpaccio, with his beautiful thoughts, or the rest of the
busy citizens who filled churches and chambers with a
splendor as of their own resplendent air and glowing
suns, might be. An infinite loss to us and to the state,
yet completing the sentiment of the consistent story,
which demands all for Venice; but for the individual
whose works are left behind him to her glory, his name
inscribed upon her records as a faithful servant, and no

Yet when we enter more closely into the often-repeated
narrative, transmitted from one hand to another till each
chronicler, with sharp, incisive touches, or rambling in
garrulous details, has brought it down to his own time
and personal knowledge, this severity relaxes somewhat.
The actors in the drama break into groups, and with
more or less difficulty it becomes possible to discover
here and there how a change came about, how a great
conquest was made, how the people gathered to listen,
and how a doge, an orator, a suppliant stood up and
spoke. We begin to discern, after long gazing, how a
popular tumult would spring up, and all Venice dart into
fire and flame; and how the laws and institutions grew
which controlled that possibility, and gradually, with the
enforced assent of the populace, bound them more


securely than ever democracy was bound before, in the
name of freedom. And among the fire and smoke, and
through the mists, we come to perceive here and there a
noble figure a blind old doge, with white locks stream-
ing, with sightless eyes aflame, running his galley ashore,
a mark for all the arrows; or another standing, a gentler,
less prominent image between the Pope and the Emperor;
or with deep eyes, all hollowed with age and thought, and
close-shut mouth, as in that portrait Bellini has made for
us, facing a league of monarchs undaunted, for Venice
against the world. And though there is no record of
that time when Dante stood within the red walls of the
arsenal, and saw the galleys making and mending, and
the pitch fuming up to heaven, as all the world may still
see them through his eyes, yet a milder, scholarly image,
a round, smooth face, with cowl and garland, looks down
upon us from the gallery, all blazing with crimson and
gold, between the horses of San Marco, a friendly visitor,
the best we could have, since Dante left no sign behind
him, and probably was never heard of by the magnificent
Signoria. Petrarch stands there, to be seen by the side
of the historian doge, as long as Venice lasts; but not
much of him, only a glimpse, as is the Venetian way, lest
in contemplation of the poet we should for a moment
forget the republic, his hostess and protector Venice,
the all-glorious mistress of the seas, the first object,
the unrivaled sovereign of her children's thoughts and





THE names of the doges, though so important in the
old chronicles of the republic, which are in many cases
little more than a succession of Vita Ducum, possess
individually few associations and little significance to the
minds of the strangers who gaze upon the long line of
portraits under the cornice of the Hall of the Great
Council, without pausing with special interest on any of
them, save perhaps on that corner where, conspicuous by
its absence, the head of Marino Faliero ought to be. The
easy adoption of one figure, by no means particularly
striking or characteristic, but which served the occasion
of the poet without giving him too much trouble, has
helped to throw the genuine historical importance of
a very remarkable succession of rulers into obscurity.
But this long line of sovereigns, sometimes the guides,
often the victims, of the popular will, stretching back
with a clearer title and more comprehensible history than
that of most dynasties into the vague distances of old
time, is full of interest; and contains many a tragic epi-
sode as striking and more significant than that of the
aged prince whose picturesque story is the one most
generally known. There are, indeed, few among them
who have been publicly branded with the name of traitor;
but, at least in the earlier chapters of the great civic
history, there are many examples of a popular struggle
and a violent death as there are of the quiet ending and
serene magnificence which seem fitted to the age and
services of most of those who have risen to that dignity.


They have been in many cases old men, already worn in
the service of their country, most of them tried by land
and sea mariners, generals, legislators, fully equipped
for all the various needs of a sovereignty whose dominion
was the sea, yet which was at the same time weighted
with all the vexations and dangers of a continental rule.
Their elevation was, in later times, a crowning honor, a
sort of dignified retirement from the ruder labors of civic
use; but in the earlier ages of the republic this was not
so, and at all times it was a most dangerous post, and one
whose occupant was most likely to pay for popular dis-
appointments, to run the risk of all the conspiracies, and
to be hampered and hindered by jealous counselors and
the continual inspection of suspicious spectators. To
change the doge was always an expedient by which Venice
could propititate fate and turn the course of fortune;
and the greatest misfortunes recorded in her chronicles
are those of her princes, whose names were to-day
acclaimed to all the echoes, their paths strewed with
flowers and carpeted with cloth of gold, but to-morrow
insulted and reviled, and themselves exiled or mur-
dered, all services to the state notwithstanding. Some-
times, no doubt, the overthrow was well deserved, but in
other instances it can be set down to nothing but popular
caprice. To the latter category belongs the story of
the family of the Orseoli, which, at the very outset of
authentic history, sets before us at a touch the early
economy of Venice, the relations of the princes and the
people, the enthusiasms, the tumults, the gusts of popular
caprice, as well as the already evident predominance of a
vigorous aristocracy, natural leaders of the people. The
history of this noble family has the advantage of being
set before us by the first distinct contemporary narrative,
that of Giovanni Sagornino John the Deacon, John of
Venice, as he is fondly termed by a recent historian.
The incidents of this period of power, or at least of that
of the two first princes of the name, incidents full of im-
portance in the history of the rising republic, are the first
that stand forth, out of the mist of nameless chronicles,
as facts which were seen and recorded by a trustworthy

The first Orseolo came into power after a popular
tumult of the most violent description, which took the


throne and his life from the previous doge, Pietro Can-
diano. This event occurred in the year 976, when such
scenes were not unusual, even in regions less excitable.
Candiano was the fourth doge of his name, and had been
in his youth associated with his father in the supreme
authority but in consequence of his rebellion and evil
behavior had been displaced and exiled, his life saved
only at the prayer of the old doge. On the death of his
father, however, the young prodigal had been acclaimed
doge by the rabble. In this capacity he had done much
to disgust and alarm the sensitive and proud republic.
Chief among his offenses was the fact that he had
acquired, through his wife, continental domains which
required to be kept in subjection by means of a body of
armed retainers, dangerous for Venice : and he was super-
bissimo from his youth up, and had given frequent offense
by his arrogance and exactions. Upon what occasion it
was that the popular patience failed at last we are not
told but only that a sudden tumult arose against him, a
rush of general fury. When the enraged mob hurried to
the ducal palace they found that the doge had fortified
himself there; upon which they adopted the primitive
method of setting fire to the surrounding buildings.
Tradition asserts that it was from the house of Pietro
Orseolo that the fire was kindled, and some say by his
suggestion. It would seem that the crowd intended only
to burn some of the surrounding houses to frighten or
smoke out the doge; but the wind was high, and the
ducal palace, with the greater part of San Marco, which
was then merely the ducal chapel, was consumed, along
with all the houses stretching upward along the course
of the Grand Canal as far as Santa Maria Zobenigo.
This sudden conflagration lights up, in the darkness of
that distant age, a savage scene. The doge seized in his
arms his young child, whether with the hope of saving it
or of saving himself by means of that shield of innocence,
and made his way out of his burning house through the
church, which was also burning, though better able, prob-
ably, to resist the flames. But when he emerged from
the secret passages of San Marco he found that the crowd
had anticipated him, and that his way was barred on
every side by armed men. The desperate fugitive con-
fronted the multitude, and resorted to that method so


often, and sometimes so unexpectedly, successful with the
masses. In the midst of the fire and smoke, surrounded
by those threatening, fierce countenances, with red reflec-
tions glittering in every sword and lance-point, reflected
over again in the sullen water, he made a last appeal.
They had banished him in his youth, yet had relented
and recalled him and made him doge. Would they burn
him out now, drive him into a corner, kill him like a wild

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 1 of 35)