Monday, October 24, 2016

The Lion of Saint Mark

Ezekiel 1:5-28New King James Version (NKJV)

"Also from within it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings.  Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.  The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward.
As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.  Thus were their faces. Their wings stretched upward; two wings of each one touched one another, and two covered their bodies.  And each one went straight forward; they went wherever the spirit wanted to go, and they did not turn when they went."

I have been reading various translations of Dante's Comedy for many years as well as works and courses about it, so I developed an interest in Christian imagery and iconography. We saw these four figures, an angel, eagle, winged lion, and winged bull in painting and sculpture in many places, these examples are from the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a stunning church a few blocks from our hotel. Some googling indicated they represent the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Since Venice is reputed to be the final resting place of the body of St. Mark a winged lion became a symbol of the city, and a favourite of my wife.

"St Mark, represented as a lion, is a typical Christian iconography derived from the prophetic visions contained in the verse of the Apocalypse of St John 4:7. The lion is one of the four living creatures described in the book as a place around the throne of the Almighty and they are chosen as symbols of the four evangelists. These "beings" were previously described by the prophet Ezekiel."
from Wikipedia

The Lion of St. Mark is depicted everywhere in Venice, in painting, sculptures and of course tourist fare like T-shirts, flags and busts, we came home with all three. 

Lions abound around St. Mark's Square and Basilica

Doge Francesco Foscari and the Lion

The Giant's Staircase at the Doge's Palace

The Doge's Palace

At the Arsenal of Venice

At a fish farm in the Venice Lagoon

At the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

The lion below adorns the monument to Titian

This rather melancholy lion occupies the memorial to the 
sculptor Canova

             Doge's Palace Vittore Carpaccio, The Lion of St Mark, 1516 

and detail

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"O'er all the sand-waste, with a gradual fall,
Were raining down dilated flakes of fire,
As of the snow on Alp without a wind. 

As Alexander, in those torrid parts 
of India, beheld upon his host 
Flames fall unbroken till they reached the ground,"

Dante Inferno XIV, Longfellow trans. 

And the winter weather, skiffs of snow regularly 
since our return from Venice 
continues apace.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"As in the Arsenal of the Venetians 

Boils in the winter the tenacious pitch 
To smear their unsound vessels o’er again,

 For sail they cannot; and instead thereof 
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks 
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made; 

One hammers at the prow, one at the stern, 
This one makes oars, and that one cordage twists, 
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen; 

Thus, not by fire, but by the art divine, 
Was boiling down below there a dense pitch 
Which upon every side the bank belimed."

Dante Inferno Canto XXI, Longfellow trans.

Our trip to Venice offered the opportunity to experience a number of things. Great art, wonderful food, spectacular buildings and a palpable sense of history.

I have two individuals whose work and life I have been keenly interested in Charles Darwin and Dante, okay a bit of a contrast but whatever. So I was really ecstatic one foggy morning to see the Venetian Arsenal the site of so much of the naval power of the Venetian Republic at the height of it's power. It was also the subject of a metaphor in Dante's Inferno, so for me to see it was to experience both history and literature.

"The image of the busy shipyard with its activity revolving around a vat of viscous pitch establishes the tone for this canto (and the next) as one of tense and excited movement. Also we once again see Dante imitating the action with his language: the busy syntax reflects the activity of the shipyard" 

from the notes to Mark Musa's translation of the Inferno (probably my favourite)

"The Arsenal at Venice ( built in 1104 and greatly enlarged in 1303-4 and 1325 ) was one of the most important shipyards in Europe in Dante's time. About two miles in perimeter, it was enclosed within high walls surmounted by battlements and flanked by towers. See F.C. Lane (1934) ,pp. 129-31" 

from the Charles S. Singleton's  Commentary to the Inferno. p. 365

Friday, October 14, 2016


“Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

from Invisible Cites 
By Italio Calvino

My wife and I spent 8 days at the beginning of Oct. in Venice a trip she has been planning for years. It exceeded our expectations and will be the subject of many posts. To start, we saw

Grand Canals

lovely but less grand canals

Winged Lions, Helen loves winged lions.

Venice from the tower at San Giorgio Maggiore.

The Doge's Palace, truly amazing.

The last evening of this trip, The Campo San Polo.

 And Polo said: 'Every time I describe a city I am saying 
something about Venice.” 

from Invisible Cites 
By Italio Calvino