The splendor of the tombs of the doges has always amazed visitors of Venice. Already in 1484, the German pilgrim Felix Faber noted: “Never have I seen more costly and extravagant tombs. Even the graves of the popes in Rome cannot compare with these.” Indeed, designed by the greatest artists of the Serenissima, these often gigantic monuments belong to the most impressive and beautiful in the entire history of art. This is all the more surprising as the Venetian Republic was opposed to the cult of personality and the doge officially was only the primus inter pares, deprived of many privileges usually reserved for leaders of State.
The tombs pursued multiple purposes, however. They not only commemorated the deceased ruler and facilitated the salvation of his soul. But they also served the doge’s relatives who hoped to profit from his reputation and, moreover, they propagated the political system of the Serenissima. The tombs of the doges, thus, were always also monuments to the State and had to negotiate the tension between private and public concerns. It is the complex interaction between these conflicting interests that accounts for the tombs’ central role in the political system of the Serenissima and explains why the monuments are of greatest importance not only for art historians but also for students of Venetian history and society in general.
This interdisciplinary collection of essays penned by an international group of historians and art historians for the first time traces the tombs of the doges from the beginning of the Republic to long after her demise in 1797. It investigates the tombs from a variety of new and innovative point of views, which facilitate a more complex understanding not only of these monuments but ultimately also of the history of Venice and Italy up until the beginning of the twentieth century.