Rosanna Vianello
Article by Rosanna Vianello

Adam, Eve and Mars: the three Statues by Antonio Rizzo in the Doge’s Palace

Andito Foscari in the Doge's palace
Andito Foscari in the Doge’s palace

This is the story about the glorification of Venice and the art of restauration thanks to the VENETIAN HERITAGE and Peter Marino.

Venice is very rich in works of art; because of the special site where it was founded, these works have to be restored and cleaned accurately, most of all if they are made of Carrara marble, the marble of the best quality, used by Michelangelo for his masterpieces. Such a marble has an extraordinary composition, but it is also very fragile and can be damaged very soon by pollution and humidity, like in Venice.

Three statues made by an important artist of the Renaissance period, Antonio Rizzo from Verona,  have just been restored thanks to VENETIAN HERITAGE, a very important committee for the safeguard of Venice, and by the support of the very famous archistar Peter Marino, under the patronage of UNESCO and the Soprintendenza belle arti e paesaggio of Venice.

The master for such a restoration work is Jonathan Hoyte, who used special techniques by which he managed to remove the dirty patina covering the surface and to reconstruct some small elements which were broken during the past.

These three statues were made by Rizzo for the courtyard of the Doges’ Palace, which was the seat of the Doge, the President of the Venetian Republic, and the seat of the Venetian Government and justice. A large part of it dates back to the late 15th century.

At the extreme western part of the courtyard you can see an amazing staircase: the Giants’ staircase, called in such a way because of the two big statues on the top, representing Neptune and Mars.
The staircase was made after 1485, by Antonio Rizzo.

Before arriving in Venice he worked in Padua where he saw Donatello’s works of art in the Saint Anthony’s Basilica and Mantegna’s frescoes in the Scrovegni’s chapel.

He visited  Florence where he learnt a lot about the Renaissance artistic language.

The two big statues on the top of the staircase were made one century later by Sansovino, a Tuscan artist who arrived in Venice after the lot of Rome in 1527.

Foscari's Arch in the Doge's palace
Foscari’s Arch in the Doge’s palace

Such an amazing staircase is meant to create a visual and theatrical apex of the Venetian Empire and of the symbol of it: the Doge and the Signoria. In fact, on such a ceremonial staircase the Doge was invested after his election, and it was used by him with all the dignitaries as the starting point of the public processions.

This staircase is just in front of the so called Andito Foscari, a passage six bays long with an arch, the Foscari Arch, looking like a sort of a triumphal arch, called in such a way because wanted by the Doge Francesco Foscari. Even if the Doge had to be just a symbol of the Venetian Government, some new concepts of leadership’s glorification spread out in Venice.
Francesco Foscari, whose dogeship lasted for 34 years (1423-57) was the first one to express these concepts by a visual and triumphal form, thanks to a building program undertaken by Bartolomeo Bon, sculptor and architect.
You can see the Doge Foscari represented kneeling just in front of the lion of saint Mark, above what used to be the main entrance to the Doge’s Palace, the so-called Porta della Carta.
The decoration you can see on this spectacular doorway is composed of four statues representing the four Virtues of the Good Government.

We are told that the all doorway was originally gilded and painted, looking like a Golden Gate, a sort of entry to Paradise. That’s the reason why, after the passage through this entrance, at the end of the Andito Foscari, there were the two life-size statues of Adam and Eve made by Antonio Rizzo in 1485.

The Doge Cristoforo Moro played a strong role in establishing new ideas in sculpture, thanks to his commissioning works to Antonio Rizzo.

The two superb statues representing Adam and Eve were recognized by contemporaries as superlative works of art.

Rizzo's statue of Adam
Rizzo’s statue of Adam

Antonio Rizzo was a master in representing the psychological interpretation of the characters’ feeling.

Adam is represented with the open mouth and his right hand clutching his chest as if he is almost breathless: actually he has already eaten the forbidden fruit. His body can remind us the one depicted by Mantegna on the canvas representing Saint Sebastian, in the Ca d’Oro Gallery in Venice. Antonio Rizzo didn’t idealize such a body. It is represented in all its natural and realistic pose.

Rizzo's statues of Mars and Eve
Rizzo’s statues of Mars and Eve

Eve is represented following the model of a very well-known statue: the Medici Venus.
Her body is not deriving from a classical ideal of the female figure, in fact the hips are too wide and the shoulders too narrow. Her enigmatic face doesn’t express any emotion or feeling.

The third statue represents Mars, the god for wars, or a squire. This statue, at first, was on the southern side of the courtyard, probably helding Doge Moro’s coat of arms. This would complete the scene of the doge’s investiture. The squire is wearing an antique armour and his clothes cling in ridged layers to his body. His young face is framed by unruly curls and his mouth is half open, reminding us Mantegna’s painting, once more.

Stories of the past times, glorification and the art of restauration are mixed up in Venice.

Ask a Best Venice Guide, you will discover all this and even more.

Rosanna Vianello