Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

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

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advancing more slowly into the intervals and lowering a drawbridge,
opened a way through the air from their masts to the rampart. In the
midst of the conflict the doge's venerable and conspicuous form stood
aloft in complete armor on the prow of his galley. The great standard
of St. Mark was displayed before him ; his threats, promises, and exhor-
tations urged the diligence of the rowers ; his vessel was the first that
struck ; and Dandolo was the first warrior on shore. The nations
admired the magnanimity of the blind old man, without reflecting that
his age and infirmities diminished the price of life and enhanced the value
of immortal glory. On a sudden, by an invisible hand (for the standard
bearer was probably slain), the banner of the republic was fixed on the
rampart, twenty-five towers were rapidly occupied, and, by the cruel
expedient of fire, the Greeks were driven from the adjacent quarter.

A finer battle-picture than this of the galleys fiercely
driven in shore, the aged prince high on the prow, the
Venetians rushing on the dizzy bridge from the rigging to
the ramparts, and suddenly, miraculously, the lion of St.
Mark unfolding in the darkened air full of smoke and fire,
and bristling showers of arrows could scarcely be. The
chroniclers of Venice say nothing of it all. For once they
fail to see the pictorial effect, the force of the dramatic
situation. Andrea Dandolo's moderate description of his
ancestor's great deed is all we have to replace the glowing


narrative in which the Venetians have recorded other
facts in their history. " While they [the French] were,"
he says, " pressed hard, on account of their small num-
bers, the doge with the Venetians burst into the city, and
he, though old and infirm of vision, yet being brave and
eager of spirit, joined himself to the French warriors,
and all of them together, fighting with great bravery,
their strength reviving and their courage rising, forced
the enemy to retire, and at last, the Greeks yielding on
every side, the city was taken."

The results of the victory were decisive, if not lasting.
The old blind emperor Isaac was taken from his dun-
geon his usurping brother having fled and replaced
upon his throne; and the young wanderer Alexius, the
favorite and plaything of the crusading nobles, the
fanciullo, as the Venetians persist in calling him, was
crowned in St. Sophia as his father's coadjutor with great
pomp and rejoicing. But this moment of glory was
short-lived. As soon as the work was done, when there
began to be talk of the payment, and of all the wonder-
ful things which had been promised, these brilliant skies
were clouded over. It appeared that Alexius had neither
authority to make such promises nor any power of ful-
filling them. Not even the money could be paid without
provoking new rebellions; and as for placing the Greek
Church under the power of Rome, that was more than
any emperor could do. Nor was this all; for it very soon
appeared that the throne set up by foreign arms was any-
thing but secure. The Crusaders, who had intended to
push on at once to their destination, the Holy Land, were
again arrested, partly by a desire to secure the recom-
pense promised for their exertions, partly because the
young prince, whom his own countrymen disliked for his
close alliance with the strangers, implored them to
remain till his throne should be more firmly established.
But that throne was not worth a year's purchase to its
young and unfortunate tenant. Notwithstanding the
great camp of the invaders at Galata, and the Venetian
galleys in the Bosphorus, another sudden revolution
undid everything that had been done. The first assault
had been made in June, 1203. So early as March of the
next year, the barons and the doge were taking grim
counsel together as to what was to be done with the


spoil such spoil as was not to be found in any town in
Europe when they should have seized the city, in which
young Alexius lay murdered, and his old father dead of
misery and grief.

The second siege was longer and more difficult than the
first, for the new emperor, Marzoufle, he of the shaggy
eyebrows, was bolder and more determined than the
former usurper. But at last the unhappy city was taken,
and sacked with every circumstance of horror that be-
longs to such an event. The chivalrous Crusaders, the
brave Venetians, the best men of their age, either did not
think it necessary, or were unable to restrain the lowest
instincts of an excited army. And what was terrible
everywhere was worse in Constantinople, the richest of all
existing cities, full of everything that was most exquisite
in art and able in invention. "The Venetians only, who
were of gentler soul," says Romanin, "took thought for
the preservation of those marvelous works of human
genius, transporting them afterward to Venice, as they
did the four famous horses which now stand on the facade
of the great Basilica, along with many columns, jewels, and
precious stones, with which they decorated the Pala d'oro
and the treasury of San Marco." This proof of gentler
soul was equally demonstrated by Napoleon when he
carried off those same bronze horses to Paris in the
beginning of the century, but it was not appreciated either
by Italy or the world. Altogether this chapter in the
history of the Venetian armaments, as in that of the
Crusaders and Western Christendom in general, is a
terrible and painful one. The pilgrims had got into
a false and miserable vortex, from which they could not
clear their feet. All that followed is like some feverish
and horrible dream, through which the wild attempts to
bring some kind of order, and to establish a new rule, and
to convince themselves that they were doing right and
not wrong, make the ruinous complications only more
apparent. During the whole period of their lingering, of
their besieging, of their elections of Latin emperors and
archbishops, futile and short-lived attempts to make
something of their conquest, letters from Pope Innocent
were raining upon them, full of indignant remonstrances,
appeals, and reproaches; and little groups of knights were
wandering off toward their proper destination sick at


heart, while the rest appointed themselves lords and
suzerains, marshals and constables of a country which
they neither understood nor could rule.

In less than a year there followed the disastrous defeat
of Adrianople, in which the ranks of the Crusaders were
broken, and the unfortunate newly elected emperor, Bald-
win, disappeared, and was heard of no more. The old
doge, Enrico Dandolo, died shortly after, having both in
success and defeat performed prodigies of valor, which
his great age (ninety-seven, according to the chroniclers)
makes almost incredible, and keeping to the last a keen
eye upon the interests of Venice, which alone were for-
warded by all that had happened. But he never saw Venice
again. He died in June, 1205, two years after the first
attack upon Constantinople, three years after his departure
from Venice, and was buried in St. Sophia. Notwith-
standing the royal honors that we are told attended his
funeral, one cannot but feel that the dim eyes of the old
warrior must have turned with longing to the rest that
ought to have been his in his own San Marco, and that
there must have echoed in his aged heart something of
a pang that went through that of a later pilgrim whose
last fear it was that he should lay his bones far from the

We read, with a keen perception of the rapidity with
which comedy dogs the steps of tragedy everywhere, that
one Marino Zeno, hastily appointed after Dandolo as the
head of the Venetians, assumed at once as marks of his
dignity " a rose-colored silk stocking on his right foot and
a white silk stocking on his left, along with the imperial
boots and purse." This was one outcome of all the blood
and misery, the dethronements, the sack, the general ruin.
The doges of Venice added another to their long list of
titles they were now lords of Croatia, Dalmatia, and of
the fourth part and the half of the Roman (or Romanian)
empire. Dominus quartce partis cum dimidio totius Imperi
Romanics. And all the Isles, those dangerous and vexa-
tious little communities that had been wont to harbor
pirates and interrupt traders, fell really or nominally into
the hands of Venice. They were a troublesome posses-
sion, constantly in rebellion, difficult to secure, still more
difficult to keep, as the Venetian conquest in Dalmatia
had already proved; but they were no less splendid pos-


sessions. Candia alone was a jewel for any emperor.
The republic could not hold these islands, putting gar-
risons into them at her own expense and risk. She took
the wiser way of granting them to colonists on a feudal
tenure, so that any noble Venetian who had the courage
and the means might set himself up with a little seaborne
principality in due subjection to his native state, but with
the privilege of hunting out its pirates and subduing its
rebellions for himself. "To divide," says Sabellico, "the
public forces of Venice into so many parts would have
been very unsafe. The best thing, therefore, seemed
that those who were rich should fit out, according to
their capabilities, one or more galleys, and other ships of
the kind required. And there being no doubt that many
would find it to their private advantage to do this, it fol-
lowed that the republic in time of need would secure the
aid of these armed vessels, and that each place acquired
could be defended by them with the aid of the State a
thing which by itself the republic could not have accom-
plished except with much expense and trouble. It was
therefore ordained that they [who undertook this], with
their wives and children and all they possessed, might
settle in these islands, and that, as colonists sent by the
city, their safety would be under the care and guarantee
of the republic." Many private persons, he adds, armed
for this undertaking.

The rambling chronicle of Sanudo gives us here a
romantic story of the conquest of Candia by his own
ancestor Marco Sanudo, who, according to this narrative,
having swept from the seas a certain corsair called Arrigo
or Enrico of Malta, became master of the island. The
inhabitants, as a matter of course, resisted and rebelled,
but not in the usual way. "Accept the kingdom as our
sovereign," their envoys said, "or in three hours you
must leave Candia." This flattering but embarrassing
alternative confounded the Venetian leader. But he
accepted the honor thrust upon him, writing at once,
however, to the doge, telling the choice that had been
given him, and how he had accepted it from necessity
and devotion to the republic, in whose name he meant to
hold the island. The Venetians at once sent twelve ships
of war, on pretense of congratulating him, whom he
received with a royal welcome; then, handing over his


government to the commander of the squadron, took to
his ships and left the dangerous glory of the insecure
throne behind him. It is a pity that the documents do
not bear out this pleasant story. But if a man's own
descendant does not know the rights of his ancestor's
actions, who should? Sanudo goes on to relate how, as
a reward for this magnanimous renunciation, his fore-
father was allowed the command of the fleet for a year,
and with this scoured the sea and secured island after
island, placing his own kinsmen in possession; but at
last, being outnumbered, was taken prisoner in a naval
engagement by the admirals of the Emperor of Constan-
tinople (which emperor is not specified). "But," says
his descendant, "when the said emperor saw his valor-
osity and beauty, he set him free, and gave him one of
his sisters in marriage, from which lady are descended
almost all the members of the Ca' Sanudo." The his-
torian allows with dignified candor that this story is not
mentioned by Marc Antonio Sabellico, but it is to be
found, he says, in the other chroniclers. We regret to
add that the austere Romanin gives a quite different
account of the exploits of Marco Sanudo, the lord of
Naxos. It would have been pleasant to have associated
so magnanimous a seaman with the name of the chronicler
of the Crusades and the indefatigable diarist to whom
later Venetian history is so deeply indebted.

These splendid conquests brought enormous increase
of wealth, of trade, of care, and endless occupation to
the republic. Gained and lost, and regained and lost
again; fairly fought for, strenuously held; a source per-
haps at all times of more weakness than strength, they
had all faded out of the tiara of the republic long before
she was herself discrowned. But there still remains in
Venice one striking evidence of the splendid, disastrous
expedition, the unexampled conquests and victories, yet
dismal end, of what is called the Fourth Crusade. And
that is the four great bronze horses curious, inappro-
priate, bizarre ornaments that stand above the doorways
of San Marco. This was the blind doge's lasting piece
of spoil.

The four doges of the Dandolo family who appear at
intervals in the list of princes of the republic are too far


apart to be followed here. Francesco Dandolo, 1328-39,
the third of the name, was called Cane, according to tra-
dition, because when ambassador to Pope Clement V.,
this noble Venetian, for the love of Venice, humbled
himself, and with a chain round his neck and on his knees,
approached the Pontiff, imploring that the interdict might
be raised and Venice delivered from the pains of excom-
munication. If this had been to show that men of his
race thought nothing too much for the service of their
city, whether it were pride or humility, defiance or sub-
mission, the circle which included blind Enrico and
Francesco the Dog could scarcely be more complete.
The last of the Dandolo doges was Andrea, 1342-54,
a man of letters as well as of practical genius, and the
historian of his predecessors and of the city; whom at a
later period and in gentler company we shall find again.



WE have endeavored up to this time to trace the
development of the Venetian government and territory,
not continuously, but from point to point, according to
the great conquests which increased the latter, and the
growth of system and political order in the former, which
became necessary as the community increased and the
primitive rule was outgrown. But at the end of the
thirteenth century a great revolution took place in the
republic which had risen to such prosperity, and had
extended its enterprises to every quarter of the known
world. It was under the Doge Gradenigo, a new type
among the rulers of the state, neither a soldier nor a
conqueror but a politician, that this change took place
a change antagonistic to the entire sentiment of the early
Venetian institutions, but embodying all with which the
world is familiar in the later forms of that great oligarchy,
the proudest type of republic known to history. The
election of Pietro Gradenigo was not a popular one. It
is evident that a new feeling of class antagonism had
been gathering during the last reign, that of Giovanni
Dandolo; and that both sides were on the alert to seize
an advantage. Whether the proposals for the limitation
of the Consiglio Maggiore which were already in the air,
and the sensation of an approaching attack upon their
rights, were sufficiently clear to the populace to stimulate
them to an attempt to regain the ancient privilege of
electing the doge by acclamation: or whether it was this
attempt which drove the other party to more determined
action, it is impossible to judge. But at the death of
Gradenigo's predecessor there was a rush of the people
to the Piazza, with Voci e parole pungentissime in a wild
and sudden endeavor to push off the yoke of the regular
(and most elaborate) laws, which had now been in opera-
tion for many generations, and to reclaim their ancient
custom. The crowd coming together from all quarters



of the city proclaimed the name of Jacopo Tiepolo, the
son or nephew of a former doge and a man of great
popularity, while still the solemn officers of state were
busy in arranging the obsequies of the dead doge and
preparing the multitudinous ballot-boxes for the election
of his successor. Had Tiepolo been a less excellent
citizen, Romanin says, civil war would almost certainly
have been the issue, but he was "a man of prudence and
singular goodness," a huomo da bene, who, "despising the
madness of the crowd," and to avoid the discord which
must have followed, left the town secretly, in the midst
of the tumult, and took refuge in his villa on the Brenta,
the favorite retreat of Venetian nobles. The people were
apparently not ripe for anything greater than this sudden
and easily baffled effort, and, when their favorite stole
away, permitted the usual wire-pullers, the class which
had so long originated and regulated everything, to pro-
ceed to the new election in the usual way.

No more elaborate machinery than that employed in
this solemn transaction could be imagined. The almost
ludicrous multiplicity of its appeals to Providence or fate,
developed and increasing from age to age, the continually
repeated drawing of lots, and double and triple elections,
seem to evidence the most jealous determination to
secure impartiality and unbiased judgment. The order
of the proceedings is recorded at length by Martin da
Canale in his chronicle, which is of undoubted authority,
and repeated by later writers. The six counselors (aug-
mented from the two of the early reigns) of the doge,
according to this historian, called a meeting of the Con-
siglio Maggiore, having first provided a number of balls
of wax, the same number as the members of the council,
in thirty of which was inclosed a little label of parchment
inscribed with the word LECTOR. The thirty who drew
these balls were separated from the assembly in another
chamber of the palace, first being made to swear to per-
form their office justly and impartially. There were then
produced thirty more waxen balls, in nine of which was
the same inscription. The chosen, who were thus re-
duced to nine, the number of completeness, varied the
process by electing forty citizens, whether members or
not of the Consiglio Maggiore being left to their discre-
tion. Each of these, however, required to secure the


suffrages of seven electors. The reader will hope that
by this time at last he has come to the electors of the
doge; but not so. The forty thus chosen were sent for
from their houses by the six original counselors, who
had the management of the election; and forty waxen
pellets with the mystic word LECTOR, this time inclosed
in twelve of them, were again provided. These were put
into a hat, and, apparently for the first time, a child of
eleven was called in to act as the instrument of fate.
Another writer describes how one of the permanent coun-
selors, going out at this point, probably in the interval
while the forty new electors were being sent for from
their houses, heard Mass in San Marco, and taking hold
of the first boy he met on coming out, led him into the
palace to draw the balls. The twelve thus drawn were
once more sworn, and elected twenty-five, each of whom
required eight votes to make his election valid. The
twenty-five were reduced once more, by the operation of
the ballot, to nine, who were taken into another room
and again sworn, after which they elected forty-five, re-
duced by ballot to eleven, who finally elected forty-one,
who, at the end of all things, elected the doge. The
childish elaboration of this mode of procedure is scarcely
more strange than the absolute absence of novelty in the
result produced. No plebeian tribune ever stole into
power by these means, no new man, mounted on the
shoulders of the people, or of some theorist or partisan,
ever surprised the reigning families with a new name.
The elections ran in the established lines without a break
or misadventure. If any popular interference disturbed
the serenity and self-importance of the endless series of
electors it was only to turn the current in the direction
of one powerful race instead of another. Even the popu-
lace in the Piazza proclaimed no Lanifizio or Tintorio,
wool-worker or dyer, but a Tiepolo, when they attempted
to take the election into their own hands. Neither from
without nor within was there a suggestion of any new

The doge elected on this occasion was Pietro, called
Perazzo (a corruption of the name not given in a compli-
mentary sense) Gradenigo, who was at the time Governor
of Capo d'Istria, an ambitious man of strongly aristo-
cratic views, and no favorite with the people. It can


scarcely be supposed that he was individually responsible
for the change worked by his agency in the constitution
of the Consiglio Maggiore. It was a period of constitu-
tional development when new officers, new agencies, an
entire civil service were coming into being, and the Great
Council had not only all the affairs of the State passing
through its hands, but a large amount of patronage, in-
creasing every day. Although, as has been pointed out
repeatedly, the sovereignty of Venice, under whatever
system carried on, had always been in the hands of a cer-
tain number of families, who kept their place with almost
dynastic regularity, undisturbed by any intruders from
below the system of the Consiglio Maggiore was still
professedly a representative system of the widest kind;
and it would seem at the first glance as if every honest
man, all who were da bene and respected by their fellows,
must one time or other have been secure of gaining ad-
mission to that popular parliament. Romanin, strongly
partisan, like all Venetians, of the institution under which
Venice flourished, takes pains to point out here and there
one or two exceptional names which show that at long
intervals such elections did happen; but they were very
rare, and the exceptional persons thus elevated never
seem to have made themselves notable. However, as
the city grew and developed, it is evident that the fami-
lies who had always ruled over her began to feel that the
danger of having her courts invaded by the democracy
was becoming a real one. The mode of electing the
Great Council was very informal and variable, and it had
recently fallen more and more into the hands of the in-
triguers of the Broglio, the lobbyists, as the Americans
would say, which doubtless gave a pretext for the rad-
ical change which was to alter its character altogether.
Sometimes its members were chosen by delegates from
each sestiere or district of the city, sometimes, which was
the original idea, by four individuals, "two from this
side of the canal, two from that"; sometimes they were
elected for six months, sometimes for a year. The whole
system was uncertain and wanted regulation. But this
curious combination of chances, which was something like
putting into a lottery for their rulers, pleased the imagi-
nation of the people in their primitive state, and perhaps
flattered the minds of the masses with a continual possi-


bility that upon some of their own order the happy lot
might fall. It had been proposed in the previous reign
not only that these irregularities should be remedied,
which was highly expedient, but also that a certain hered-
itary principle should be adopted, which was, in theory,
a new thing and strange to the constitution of Venice;
the suggestion being that those whose fathers had sat in
the council should have a right to election, though with-
out altogether excluding others whom the doge or his
counselors should consider worthy of being added to it.
When Gradenigo came to power he was probably, like
a new prime minister, pledged to carry out this policy;
and within a few years of his accession the experiment
was tried, but very cautiously, in a tentative way.
Venice was profoundly occupied at the time with one of
her great wars with her rival Genoa, a war in which she
had much the worst, though certain victories from time
to time in Eastern waters encouraged her to pursue the
struggle; and it was under cover of this conflict, which
engaged men's thoughts, that the new experiment was
made. Instead of the ordinary periodical election of the
council, nominally open to all, the four chosen electors,

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 8 of 35)