Personifications of the Sacred and the Sovereign Represented in the Art of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale
Date of Award
Master of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture
Steven J. Cody
The aim of this research is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of why the Venetian Republic incorporated specific personifications in the art of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Chamber of the Great Council) (fig. 1) in Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) (fig. 2) created after 1577 (when a fire destroyed most of the existing artwork in the room) to promulgate the sacredness and sovereignty of the Venetian Empire. In addition, the research seeks to connect the personifications to events in Venetian history that influenced the use of specific figurative images within the artwork and to the message the Venetian Republic was attempting to communicate to the viewer, including Venetian citizens and foreign visitors, at the time in which the paintings were created. No other building in Venice exemplifies the unification of the political and religious ideologies of the Venetian Republic as much as the Palazzo Ducale, which served as the historic seat of power for the Venetian Empire from the tenth century (although the structure as we see it today dates to the 1400s) until it fell to Napoleon on May 12th, 1797, during the French Revolutionary Wars.
The research methodologies utilized in the analysis will include the more traditional qualitative approaches of structuralism, iconography, and iconology. In addition, the innovative methodology of new historicism is employed to allow for a more contextualized interpretation of the personifications as it examines the polysemic historical narratives of Venice that existed in the sixteenth century and influenced the artwork and the images included in the paintings. It is important to note that the incorporation of the methodological approach of new historicism in the analysis of the artwork of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale is lacking in existing scholarship on the topic and in the field of art history, and by using this approach, this research will further the understanding of the intended meaning of the imagery (including personifications) of the room and the Palazzo Ducale.
It was in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio that the Venetian Senate (also referred to as the Council) met to make critical political decisions and hold elections for the doge and other elected officials. The Venetian Republic proclaimed that its political system was under the guidance of Christ and the Virgin Mary because Venice had been founded as a Christian city with ties to the Christian Byzantine Empire. Venice believed that it had received investiture from God to rule the Adriatic Sea and viewed itself as the protector of the independence of the Veneto region and the liberty of its citizens. These are contributing factors to the decisions to include specific personifications as representations of the righteousness and divinity of the Venetian Empire in the artwork of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio.
The four paintings discussed in the analysis include the ceiling paintings Venice Crowned by Victory Welcomes the Subject Provinces (1582-1584) (fig. 14) by Palma il Giovane, Voluntary Submission of Cities and Regions (1584) (fig. 11) by Jacopo Tintoretto, Apotheosis of Venice (1582) (fig. 13) by Paolo Veronese, and the tribunal wall mural Il Paradiso (1592) (fig. 12) by Tintoretto, his sons, and assistants from his workshop. These four paintings exemplify the use of personifications as representations of the political, religious, and cultural ideologies of the Venetian Republic and symbolize a triumphant and divine Venetian Empire. Wolfgang Wolters (2010) stated that “it was the professed aim of the Venetian Republic to enhance its reputation through the painting and sculpture of the Doge’s Palace, and to do this, allegories and history paintings were used.”1 It is important to note that the wall paintings (excluding the tribunal wall and doge votive paintings) of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio depict the historiography of the Venetian Republic, and the paintings located on the ceiling and the tribunal wall are intended to be a triumphant display of its sacredness and sovereignty. Through its civic artwork, the Venetian Republic intended to demonstrate to the world that it had become powerful because of its military and maritime successes, virtuous as evident by the conduct of its citizens, and was righteous and moral from its very inception because of its Christian birth. It is the examination of the deliberate iconographical and iconological choices made by the Venetian government to include specific personifications in the paintings of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale after 1577 to communicate their political and religious ideologies that is the central aim and purpose of this research.
Hanny, Susan Sholar, "Personifications of the Sacred and the Sovereign Represented in the Art of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale" (2022). Theses. 74.
Copyright 2022, Susan Sholar Hanny.