Remembering Heroes of Venice

The broad expanse of Venice and its neighboring islands has amassed a small but vital collection of “public monuments” that are not ponti, palazzi, chiesi, or fondamenti – or even physically attached to them. 

Each monumental representation (notice that they are seldom, if ever, life-sized”) speaks to a key event in the history of Venice that involved the honoree.  The relationship of the monument to the always nearby ponte, palazzo, chiesa or fondamente is also… 


In other words, don’t just walk by or around them as if they were obstacles in your path! Instead, stop and consider the “who, what, why, where and when” of each in relation to the space they “inhabit” – even the direction in which they gaze, and whether they are centered in the space or in tension with the axis of another key element there.

Nicolò Tommaseo - Critics Approve! (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

Nicolò Tommaseo - Critics Approve! (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

 Check out the ultimate critics of public statuary – the pigeons

Does the man have their “stamp of approval”? 

Nicolo Tommaseo in Campo San Stefano may be the winner!

Others have gainfully attempted to tabulate the totality of “public art” in Venice.  I have no intention of trying to improve upon their exhaustive endeavors, but appreciate them as a guide to further enlightenment.  Such listings are usually heavily weighted (no pun intended?) by static objects mortared onto the exteriors of buildings or non-representational works of art on the ground, not upon architecture or locational context.  Many entries are for decorative or mythical story-telling purposes, yet another subject.

Our “age” has almost abandoned the practice of creating public statues memorializing very important people in the history of a “place”, but often unknown to current residents and almost all visitors.  There are no statues celebrating me, although my name appears on an inordinate number of bronze plaques bolted to (locally) important buildings. 

The sad exception is found in active oligarchies and dictatorships.  When successors usurp the sponsors of such works of self-adulation, or the people arise, those works usually rapidly reach the scrapyard for meltdown and recasting into the new hero du jour.  

My prompt to inquire into “who, what, why, when and where”, is to encourage an antidote to just accepting the presence of such iconic representations because they exist.  “Where” is a comprehension parameter not relative to, for example, Venice, but to the precise location of the memorial. 

Coincidence seldom features in location decisions — unless something fell out of the sky (“ZOT” per the BC comic strip) or collapsed upon the “honored” personage.  Of course, one rebellion in Venice did collapse when the leading protagonist of the revolt DID receive a “ZOT” out of the sky in the form of a roof tile precisely aimed by an unconvinced woman on her roof above the calle upon which he led the advancing mob.  No monument is to be found at that spot or for that shooting star.

As a general rule, the purpose for a location in church is easily identified.  The prominent figure’s remains (if found in whole or in part) are buried there, perhaps it is his parish or is the result of a magnificent donation, and the resultant monument – as monumental as it might be – still appears most often as if it is “glued to the wall”. 

Those located in outdoor public places are more intriguing, in the sense of “where”.  One illustrative example is Daniele Manin’s statue in the now-named Campo Manin because the house of his birth is there (well, Campo San Paternian, at the time…Really grand heroes generate statues and changes to a calle or campo name, obscuring earlier history!).

Apparently, there are no public statues of women (and possibly no grand church burial monuments other than for veneration of remains) in the very patriarchal Republic of Venice – other than goddess figures occasionally carved into or pasted on facade friezes.  I believe, but may be proven in error, that display atop spires and gables was of course limited to apostles, other saints, orbs, a few male muses, crosses or the Lion of St. Mark.  

I have encountered a few of the current on the ground monuments to real people when I paid attention or ran into them traversing the calli and campi of Venice. I do not consider the hopefully soon-to-depart naked boy with frog that has stood on the tip of the Punta de la Dogana for far too long as worthy of consideration. 

My “list” may appear someday, but I am trying to tone down a professional liability prevention but obsessive compulsion to create lists (“How is that working for you Randy, with that ‘T is for Traghetto’ post, and such?”).

Perhaps you have a list of public statues of real people that you would like to share, or a reference to someone else’s catalog to help us all add another layer of understanding of Venice.  Someone may have the “Heroes of Venice Statues” equivalent of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Birds of North America” (Tommaseo could have contributed!), and…good for them – it would benefit all of us!

At one time, I had a truly wonderful client (possessed of a formidable ego) who expressed a desire for (well, dictated) a life-size bust of himself to be centrally displayed in an appropriate niche at the main entrance of the large edifice I was designing for his organization (well, for Him). As he was indeed a bona-fide “legend in his own mind”, and in recognition of the demonstrated value of such things for the education of future generations in places such as Venice, I suggested that a fitting representation needed to be appropriately scaled.  The dictat was quietly withdrawn (without repercussions upon future commissions) through an intermediary after I proposed that the only accurate life-size bust of him would be…

Forty feet tall


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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