“Stelle e viaggi”: Venetian astronomical knowledge in the 13th century

27 October 2021

Venice, October 26, 2021- A celestial navigation between the illustration of St. Mark’s Basilica, and their astronomical references, such as the four “Moors”, this time designed in a unique new way, or the main doorway revealing the presence of Venetian merchants in Indonesia. In the “most beautiful drawing room of the world”, as we say, stars and constellations, are represented not just according to the Western usage, but in a new fascinating blend of elements and languages coming from different places, as a reminder of Venice special location in the Mediterranean, recalling the long trips from the North of Europe to Asia, India, and China.

On Thursday, October 28, the exhibition “Stelle e viaggi 2. Esplorazioni, iconografia, astronomia a San Marco nel 1200” (Stars and trips. Searches, iconography, astronomy at St. Mark in 1200), opens at “Magazzino del Sale 3”, organized by the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, on the occasion of the celebrations for the 1600 years of the city.

The exhibition, curated by the art historian and professor Gloria Valais, thanks to the high-definition close-up photographs, sculptures, 3D models, video reconstruction and holograms- created by students and professors specialized in the old and new techniques of the Academy- reveals amazing new discoveries that tells a tale of Venetians’ astronomical knowledge in the 13th century. A language of celestial navigation, so common at the time not only among travelers, but among the entire population, essential in journeys, even if short, as well as in fishing, hunting and agriculture.

“Stelle e viaggi 2”, comes in the aftermath of the first exhibition, which took place five years ago, dedicated to the archway depicting the sky, adorning the main doorway of St. Mark’s Basilica, created by an unknown artist, in 1240. This second date offers the visitor surprising new discoveries, concerning the well-known illustration “Ciclo dei Mesi” (Cycle of Month), on the main portal of the Basilica, and the Cappella di Sant'Isidoro (Chapel of St. Isidore), within. Thanks to new technologies, the Cycle of Month turns out to be a surprising representation of the night sky, where stars and constellations follow each other, marking the hours and times of the year.

The art installations “polychromy and possible metallic applications” (Policromia e possibili applicazioni metalliche”, “Sunrise and sunset: light effects” (L’alba e il tramonto: effetti di luce), and “the seasons” (Il corso delle stagioni), highlight other details present on the main doorway, such as the precious polychrome, now-lost, and the metallic applications supports, that traced a celestial map, creating a lavish scenic effect. The public will be able to admire, thanks to specifically designed holograms, the constellations in the sky over seasons and, through animated films, the sculptures will turn into astronomic reproductions of the sky, while two natural size reproductions, created by students by 3D printings, depict the precious polychrome, erased by time.

St. Mark’s Basilica also speaks us of Indonesia, thanks to a low relief dating back to the first half of 1200: the “Arcosolio Sant’Alipio” within the Sant’Isidoro Chapel. In a fragment of it, a depiction of the Gemini constellation appears, not in separate figures, but in a pair of Siamese twins with a fish tail, together with two small unicorn-dragons. An extremely interesting illustration, considering the period to which it dates back, which places Venetian’s travelers on the edge of the Pacific, farther than we had ever imagined.

On display also a new version of the “Four Moors” (Quattro Mori), depicted in a different way, with original astronomical references.

The exhibition will be open until January 15, from Thursday to Saturday, 11AM to 5 PM.