The stern building at the corner of this bridge is the prison, with accommodation for over two hundred prisoners. Leaning one day over the Ponte di Paglia I saw one being brought in, in a barca with a green box—as we should say, a Black and Green Maria. I cannot resist quoting Coryat’s lyrical passage in praise of what to most of us is as sinister a building as could be imagined. “There is near unto the Dukes Palace a very faire prison, the fairest absolutely that ever I saw, being divided from the Palace by a little channell of water, and againe joyned unto it by a merveilous faire little gallery that is inserted aloft into the middest of the Palace wall East-ward. [He means the Bridge of Sighs.] I thinke there is not a fairer prison in all Christendome: it is built with very faire white ashler stone, having a little walke without the roomes of the prison which is forty paces long and seven broad.... It is altogether impossible for the prisoners to get forth.”
The next important building is the famous hotel known as Danieli’s, once a palace, which has its place in literature as having afforded a shelter to those feverish and capricious lovers, George Sand and Alfred de Musset. Every one else has stayed there too, but these are the classic guests. If you want to see what Danieli’s was like before it became a hotel you have only to look at No. 940 in the National Gallery by Canaletto. This picture tells us also that the arches of the Doges’ Palace on the canal side were used by stall-holders. To-day they are merely a shelter from sun or rain and a resting-place, and often you may see a gondolier eating his lunch there. In this picture of Canaletto’s, by the way, the loafers have gathered at the foot of the Lion’s column exactly as now they do, while the balcony of the great south window of the palace has just such a little knot of people enjoying the prospect; but whether they were there naturally or at the invitation of a custodian eager for a tip (as now) we shall not know.
The first calle after Danieli’s brings us to S. Zaccaria, one of the few Venetian churches with any marble on its facade. S. Zaccaria has no longer the importance it had when the Doge visited it in state every Easter. It is now chiefly famous for its very beautiful Bellini altar-piece, of which I give a reproduction on the opposite page. The picture in its grouping is typical of its painter, and nothing from his hand has a more pervading sweetness. The musical angel at the foot of the throne is among his best and the bland old men are more righteous than rectitude itself. To see this altar-piece aright one must go in the early morning: as I did on my first visit, only to find the central aisle given up to a funeral mass.