Second Itinerary: The Evolution of Venetian Sculpture

This itinerary traces the development of sculpture in Venice from the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century.

Venetian Renaissance sculpture was primarily developed by non-Venetian artists, many of whom established large family firms in Venice. The leading sculptors, beginning with Bartolomeo Bon, came from Lombardy and introduced elements of a new Renaissance style into the traditional Gothic vocabulary of fourteenth-century Venice. Bon’s ceremonial portal for the Doge’s Palace, the Porta della Carta, commissioned in 1439 by Doge Francesco Foscari (who appears kneeling before the monumental winged lion of St. Mark), echoes the form of a Roman triumphal arch, while incorporating an abundance of florid Gothic ornamentation. Constructed over a thirty-year period, the entryway terminates on the interior side of the Doge’s Palace with the Arco Foscari, which employs a more recognisable classicizing syntax, with an arched portal decorated with columns and shell-topped niches for sculpture. Antonio Rizzo’s Adam and Eve (now replaced by copies) decorated this arch. The first free-standing nudes in Venetian art, these works still exhibit sinewy, elongated anatomies, typical of the Gothic style. Opposite the arch, Rizzo’s monumental staircase is a triumphant expression of the Venetian state’s self-glorification through the arts. Later in the sixteenth century this was enhanced with giant sculptures of Mars and Neptune, symbols of Venice’s military and maritime power, executed by the Florentine sculptor Jacopo Sansovino, who settled in the city in 1527 and became the leading sculptor and architect until his death in 1570.

Antonio Rizzo’s rival, Pietro Lombardo, set up a very successful workshop run by him and his two sons, Tullio and Antonio. At the church of the Miracoli and Santi Giovanni e Paolo, there are abundant examples of this workshop’s refined all’antica (in the antique manner) style, which exhibits the Venetian preference for rich and varied materials. Outside Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice’s first equestrian monument was designed by the Florentine sculptor Andrea del Verrochio. Opposite the façade of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, with illusionistic reliefs by the Lombardo workshop, was originally painted in blue, gold, and red and must have had a much more exuberant appearance.

At the Ca’ d’Oro are examples of early sixteenth century marbles and small bronzes that would have originally decorated the bedrooms and studies of Venice’s elite collectors, as well as larger reliefs that once decorated some of Venice’s suppressed churches. Later in the sixteenth-century, Sansovino and his younger contemporaries, the sculptor Alessandro Vittoria and the architect Andrea Palladio, worked in a classical style that was informed by the scientific investigation of ancient monuments and the study of ancient texts like the architectural treatise of Vitruvius. Their work had a lasting impact on Venetian Baroque artists and ultimately the Neoclassical Venetian sculptor, Antonio Canova.


Palazzo Ducale

Bartolomeo Bon (1438 - 1443), Porta della Carta

Bartolomeo Bon (1439 - 1464), Niccolò di Giovanni Fiorentino (1464 - 1467) and Antonio Rizzo (1468 - 1498), Arco Foscari (interior entryway)

Antonio Rizzo (ca. 1486 - 1497), Scala dei Giganti with statues of Mars and Neptune by Jacopo Sansovino (1554 - 1567)


Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Decorated by the Lombardo workshop (1481 - 1489)


Chiesa di San Giovanni e Paolo and Campo Zanipolo

Pietro Lombardo, Tomb Monument of Doge Pasquale Malipiero

Pietro and Tullio Lombardo, Tomb Monument of Doge Nicolò Marcello (originally in Santa Marina)

Pietro, Tullio, and Antonio Lombardo, Tomb Monument of Doge Pietro Mocenigo

Tullio Lombardo, Tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin (originally in S. Maria dei Servi in campo)

Andrea del Verrochio, Bronze Equestrian Monument of Bartolomeo Colleoni

Façade of the Scuola Grande di San Marco with reliefs depicting the lion of Saint Mark, and stories from the life of Saint Mark (on the left, Saint Mark Heals the cobbler Anianus Injured by his Awl, and on the right, Saint Mark Baptizes Anianus).

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Antonio Rizzo, Tomb Monument of Niccoló Tron

Ca’ d’Oro

Tullio Lombardo, Relief Portrait of a Couple

Andrea Riccio, Saint Martin and the Beggar and Stories of the True Cross,

Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi (Antico), Apollo Belvedere

Jacopo Sansovino, Madonna and Child

Santa Maria della Salute

Venetian Baroque church by Baldassare Longhena (1596- 1682)

Gallerie dell’Accademia

Canova, plaster models including those of the two lions for St Peter Basilica in Rome commissioned by Pope Clemente XIII

Museo Correr

Antonio Canova, Daedalus and Icarus, Eurydice and Orpheus

San Zaccaria

Tomb of Alessandro Vittoria (1528 - 1608)


Antonio Canova’s birthplace, Possagno

Gypsotheca e Museo Antonio Canova