The Baptistery is notable for its mosaic biography of the Baptist, its noble font, and the beautiful mural tomb of Doge Andrea Dandolo. Andrea, the last Doge to be buried within S. Mark’s, was one of the greatest of them all. His short reign of but ten years, 1343 to 1354, when he died aged only forty-six, was much troubled by war with the Genoese; but he succeeded in completing an alliance against the Turks and in finally suppressing Zara, and he wrote a history of Venice and revised its code of laws. Petrarch, who was his intimate friend, described Andrea as “just, upright, full of zeal and of love for his country ... erudite ... wise, affable, and humane.” His successor was the traitor Marino Faliero. The tomb of the Doge is one of the most beautiful things in Venice, all black bronze.
It was the good Andrea, not to be confused with old Henry Dandolo, the scourge of the Greeks, to whom we are indebted for the charming story of the origin of certain Venetian churches. It runs thus in the translation in St. Mark’s Rest:—
“As head and bishop of the islands, the Bishop Magnus of Altinum went from place to place to give them comfort, saying that they ought to thank God for having escaped from these barbarian cruelties. And there appeared to him S. Peter, ordering him that in the head of Venice, or truly of the city of Rivoalto, where he should find oxen and sheep feeding, he was to build a church under his (S. Peter’s) name. And thus he did; building S. Peter’s Church in the island of Olivolo [now Castello], where at present is the seat and cathedral church of Venice.
[Illustration: THE CAMPANILE AND THE PIAZZA FROM COOK’S CORNER]
“Afterwards appeared to him the angel Raphael, committing it to him, that at another place, where he should find a number of birds together, he should build him a church: and so he did, which is the church of the Angel Raphael in Dorsoduro.
“Afterwards appeared to him Messer Jesus Christ our Lord, and committed to him that in the midst of the city he should build a church, in the place above which he should see a red cloud rest: and so he did, and it is San Salvador.
“Afterwards appeared to him the most holy Mary the Virgin, very beautiful, and commanded him that where he should see a white cloud rest, he should build a church: which is the church of S. Mary the Beautiful.
“Yet still appeared to him S. John the Baptist, commanding that he should build two churches, one near the other,—the one to be in his name, and the other in the name of his father. Which he did, and they are San Giovanni in Bragora, and San Zaccaria.
“Then appeared to him the apostles of Christ, wishing, they also, to have a church in this new city: and they committed it to him that where he should see twelve cranes in a company, there he should build it.”
Of the Baptistery mosaics the most scanned will always be that in which Salome bears in the head. In another the decapitated saint bends down and touches his own head. The scene of Christ’s baptism is very quaint, Christ being half-submerged in Jordan’s waves, and fish swimming past during the sacred ceremony. Behind the altar, on which is a block of stone from Mount Tabor, is a very spirited relief of S. George killing the dragon.