The Winged Lion Of Venice

The mosaics in the five lunettes on the facade of Saint Mark’s Basilica show the journey of the body and how the merchants were able to leave the East with Mark, smuggling him in a box covered with pork so that the Muslim custom officials wouldn’t want to look closely at their load. Like the crumbs in Hansel and Gretel, the winged lion tracks Venice’s journey in territorial expansion.

He can be found in cities such as Hvar on the Dalmatian coast, and in Verona and Padua, as testimony to the Republic’s domination. He holds his Evangelist’s book, shown open, with the angel’s first words of his announcement to Mark. Often, paintings of the winged lion from the 1400s onwards showed the lion’s front paws on land and the hind ones in the sea, symbolic of Venice’s prowess both in the Mediterranean and on the Italian peninsula.

The wily Venetians knew how to tell a tale and launch a national branding that would leave today’s multinationals in awe. They went straight to the top for their testimonial: Saint Mark, to whom they very astutely didn’t even have to offer a large contract. Au contraire, it seems that the heavens chose Venice over all other contenders as the safe haven for one of Christianity’s greatest stars, just because she was so special.

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