In the Great Council Chamber of the Doge’s palace, a long series of portraits proudly shows the features of the old doges of Venice. The doges, with their authoritative look, observe the visitor from the top of the four walls of the room.
Yet, at a certain point on the frieze, on the left corner of the room, this series of portraits is interrupted. One portrait is missing, and there is a black veil painted on the wall instead. It looks like this veil was painted to wipe out something behind. A shameful event must have occurred long time ago. This feeling of bad omen is confirmed as the visitor goes closer to the wall, looks upwards and strains his eyes to read the sentence written on the veil: “Hic est locus Marini Faletro decapitati pro criminibus”, or “Here is the place for Marini Faletro, beheaded for his crimes.”
Who was Marin Falier?
He was a member of one of the oldest noble families of Venice, and at seventy-six was still leading an active public life as Venetian ambassador at the papal court in Avignon. Until the messengers arrived to announce he had been elected as doge, this post must have been generally regarded as the culmination of a lifetime spent in service to the Venetian Republic.
His arrival in Venice was not promising at all. Exceptionally for the first week of October, the city was shrouded in such a thick fog that the Bucintoro could not approach the official quay, and the new doge was put ashore on the Piazzetta between the two columns, the traditional place where public executions were made.
The last ruinous defeat the Venetian fleet had during the exhausting war against Genoa was the mainspring that would led to the conspiracy planned by the doge with the help of workers of the Arsenal.
The plot was set down as follows: on the night of 15 April 1354, the doge would have deliberately spread the rumour that the Genoese war fleet was approaching. Therefore, the nobility would have crowded in the Doge’s palace, where a body of armed men, presumably the Arsenalotti, on the pretext of protecting the person of the Doge, would have killed all the young noble men. Marin Falier would then be proclaimed Prince of Venice.
Something went wrong, though. The Council of Ten received information that an uprising was taking place, and it acted with the usual speed. All the conspirators were condemned to be hanged in a row from the palace windows overlooking Saint Mark’s Piazzetta. Marin Falier had not a better fate and was condemned with the supreme penalty. His head was severed with a single stroke on the top of the staircase which descended from the loggia on the first floor down to the courtyard of the Doge’s palace.
That staircase was demolished and then rebuilt in 1491, whereas the muscular statues of Mars and Neptune were sculpted by Jacopo Sansovino in 1566. It’s the so called Giants’ staircase, which still stands out today in all its splendour.
Then, the government declared that a black veil should be painted on the portrait of the doge to black his memory out forever. That was the right “place for Marini Faletro, beheaded for his crimes”.
The story of Marin Falier is still wrapped in mystery. The records which came to us do not present a single note about the sentence inflicted on the doge. The Ten wrote just two words, non scribatur, “let it not be written”. Why?
When Marin Falier was elected he had already held all the most important public posts in his life. He owed everything to the State. Why should he have run such a risk? He was seventy-six years old, and was almost at the end of his life. Which other ambition may he have had?
We will never find out if Marin Falier was a real betrayer or if he was deliberately taken out for reasons will never know. However, somebody swore to have seen his ghost, damned for eternity, roaming restlessly through the rooms of the palace.