For some reason, history over-looks certain tyrannical kingdoms. I guess Russia, Cuba, and other infamous nations make for a better bad-guy story. Regardless, Venice of the last millennia deserves it’s place in history as one of the most tyrannical, secretive, and devious kingdoms in history.
The History of the Doge’s Palace
The Palace has an extensive history, so let’s examine some of the different periods and how they affected one of the most amazing republics of Italy throughout the centuries. The style on the outside is Gothic with beautiful and ornate columns and typically Gothic pointed arches.
The current structure you look at is made up of three large blocks, incorporating previous structures built here. From the 14th to the 16th centuries the main construction was happening and that is what we will take a look at.
The Earliest Doges
Legend has it that the first settlements took place in this lagoon after the fall of the Western Roman Empire ( 476 AD). Once the Roman Empire fell, the Byzantine empire filled the vacuum in the ensuing centuries and since Venice is located on the Adriatic, it was much closer to the Byzantine realm of influence as opposed to Rome or other southern settlements.
Venice enjoyed in the 9th century a certain level of independence from the Byzantines and in 810 AD Doge, Angelo Partecipazio decided to move the seat of government from Malamocco which was an island, over to the present-day Rialto area. They decided to build the Ducal Palace there, however, no remains of the 9th-century building remain today.
The 14th century palace
After 1296 more people had the right to take part in legislative assembly meetings. This meant that they needed to enlarge the government areas. The result of those works is the beginning of the building that we can see today. The work started around 1340 under Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1339-1343) and was mostly the side of the palace facing the lagoon.
Guariento, the Paduan artist, decorated the east wall of the Great Council Chamber with a large fresco in 1365. The windows were decorated by the Delle Masegne family. In 1419 the Great Council met in this chamber for the first time.
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Doge Francesco Foscari’s Renovations and the 15th century
In 1424, renovation works continued on the side of the building which faces the San Marco Square. A new wing was designed which went hand in hand with the design that overlooked the lagoon. The vast Sala dello Scrutinio, formerly the Library, was built at the same floor as the Great Council Chamber, and its large windows and the pinnacled parapet took up the same decorative motifs as had been used previously.
The facade that faces the square was completed with the construction of the Porta della Carta which was designed by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon. They finished these works with the Foscari entrance and the Foscari arch which wasn’t completed until the time of Doge Giovanni Mocenigo’s time (1478-1485).
The other wings of the Palace and the various fires in the building (1483-1574)
A raging fire destroyed the canal side of the Palace which included the Doge’s apartments in 1483. At this time Antonio Rizzo introduced the new Renaissance style to the building. They finished the works in 1510 and replaced Rizzo with Maestro Pietro Lombardo. The new architect began the design of the facade and the Giant’s staircase in the internal courtyard.
During this period Sansovino’s created two large marble statues of Mars and Neptune at the top of the Giant’s staircase. While another fire broke out in 1574, it didn’t cause any serious damage, but mostly the wood furnishings. Hard to believe, but in 1577 another fire damaged the Sala dello Scrutinio and the Grand Council Chamber which destroyed masterpieces by Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone, and Titian. By 1580 they had restored the area to its original appearance.
The palace after the fall of the Venetian Republic
The Venetian Republic fell in 1797 first to the French, then to Austria, and finally became part of a unified Italy in 1866. The Palace had been the heart of political and public administration when it had independence so it ceased to hold those functions once occupied and lost relevance.
In a state of disrepair, major renovation works began at the end of the 19th century to spruce it up. Many of the original 14th-century capitals were removed to the Museo dell’ Opera for safekeeping. All the public offices were moved elsewhere except the State Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments which is still housed here. It became a museum in 1923 and in 1996 became a part of the Civic Museums of Venice network