In St. Mark’s Square among astrological, alchemical and mythological references in order to depict the history of the Serenissima

4 January 2022

Stars, zodiac signs, horoscope: just by observing the sky has always raised curiosity and fascination in the human being. Especially, great interest was raised in Venetian citizens and professional sailors, who has always dealt with the effect of the stars upon the tide. St. Mark’s Square was the political and religious centre of Venice over its 1600 years. The stones and bronzes hide numerous astrological, alchemical, and mythological references. The Doges Palace, the Basilica and the Clock Tower tell histories of divinities and zodiac signs. Besides, they hide the old faith in stars, which survived the end of the paganism and became part of the medieval culture, condemned by Christianity though.

As the tour guide Manuel Meneghel tells, the most important place of the portico of the Doges Palace is the column on the corner. Her capital is dedicated to astrology. The Tetrabiblos by Tolomeo is a transposition made of marble of the masterpiece of the classical astrology telling the influence of the planets upon each zodiac sign they are governing. “Every zodiac sign has two locations: one dedicated to daytime and one to night. The capital helps us understand the importance of classical astrology during the Middle Age and the next centuries – Meneghel explains – Planets are represented like ancient pagan gods, but contextualised in the era in which they have been realised, the Middle Age. Jupiter was represented as the god of the sky (or “sky father”) in the classical iconography and, later, he turned into a Medieval Lord. Jupiter becomes a warrior who has just came back from a Crusade, and so on”. 

However, the capital in the corner is not the only one. There are 36 capitals dedicated to astrological charts. One of them describes the influences of the planets on human age and is located again in the portico of the Doges Palace. Indeed, planets have been influencing both every single Zodiac sign and the entire humanity, over historical eras. Here, seven are the planets represented, despite the sides of the bas relief are eight: “The latter represents death due to sins – Meneghel underlines  – it was the balance between the astrological concept of predestination and the concept of free will belonging to the Christian culture: the influence of the planets over human life exists, but what really matters is the importance of the universal judgment in the moment of death”. 

Close to Piazza San Marco, the facade of the Chruch of San Giuliano, “San Zulian” in Venetian, tells us about astrology through the representation by the philologist Tommaso Rangone: he is represented by holding his astrological chart on one hand, while a globe appears behind him by showing the constellations and a Greek inscription celebrating his merits as a researcher of the cosmos. 

Astrology is also present in the facade of the St. Mark’s Basilica: on the second arch, the representations of the months appear by decorating the central door, in the intrados. In between the months the Zodiac signs are inserted by marking the pass of the year. They are also placed in the clock face of the Clock in the Square. The Clock Tower is an incredible engineering masterpiece: the clock face results more simplified in comparison with the one belonging to 1499, because it has been telling the position of the five planets known at that time, beyond of the Sun in the Zodiac. “Today, the Clock tells the Sun’s and Moon’s passage in the Zodiac – Meneghel goes on – instead, in the moment of its realisation, five planets more were present in it, in order to see the overall astrological chart and to make it useful to calculate all the possible influences. For instance, there was a tradition: when a Pope was born, its astrological theme was used to be studied so as to predict the development of his his papacy and of the kingdom”.

Even today, as then, the Clock continues to mark punctually life and time of Venice passing inexorably in one direction: the progress of the most advanced city in the world.