The two columns—An ingenious engineer—S. Mark’s lion—S. Theodore of Heraclea—The Old Library—Jacopo Sansovino—The Venetian Brunelleschi—Vasari’s life—A Venetian library—Early printed books—The Grimani breviary—A pageant of the Seasons—The Loggetta—Coryat again—The view from the Molo—The gondolier—Alessandro and Ferdinando—The danger of the traghetto—Indomitable talkers—The fair and the fare—A proud father—The rampino.
The Piazzetta is more remarkable in its architectural riches than the Piazza. S. Mark’s main facade is of course beyond words wonderful; but after this the Piazza has only the Merceria clock and the Old and the New Procuratie, whereas the Piazzetta has S. Mark’s small facade, the Porta della Carta and lovely west facade of the Doges’ Palace, the columns bearing S. Mark’s lion and S. Theodore, Sansovino’s Old Library and Loggetta; while the Campanile is common to both. The Piazzetta has a cafe too, although it is not on an equality either with Florian’s or the Quadri, and on three nights a week a band plays.
The famous Piazzetta columns, with S. Theodore and his crocodile (or dragon) on one and the lion of S. Mark on the other, which have become as much a symbol of Venice as the facade of S. Mark’s itself, were brought from Syria after the conquest of Tyre. Three were brought in all, but one fell into the water and was never recovered. The others lay on the quay here for half a century waiting to be set up, a task beyond human skill until an engineer from Lombardy volunteered to do it on condition that he was to have any request granted. His request was to be allowed the right of establishing a gaming-table between the columns; and the authorities had to comply, although gambling was hateful to them. A few centuries later the gallows were placed here too. Now there is neither gambling nor hanging; but all day long loafers sit on the steps of the columns and discuss pronto and subito and cinque and all the other topics of Venetian conversation.
I wonder how many visitors to Venice, asked whether S. Theodore on his column and the Lion of S. Mark on his, face the lagoon or the Merceria clock, would give the right answer. The faces of both are turned towards the clock; their backs to the lagoon. The lion, which is of bronze with white agates for his eyes, has known many vicissitudes. Where he came from originally, no one knows, but it is extremely probable that he began as a pagan and was pressed into the service of the Evangelist much later. Napoleon took him to Paris, together with the bronze horses, and while there he was broken. He came back in 1815 and was restored, and twenty years ago he was restored again. S. Theodore was also strengthened at the same time, being moved into the Doges’ Palace courtyard for that purpose.