Venice – St. Mark’s – Cappella Zen

This beautiful little chapel, otherwise known as that of the Madonna della Scarpa, ” Our Lady of the Slipper,” (so called from her having given her bronze slipper to a poor votary, on which it was miraculously turned into gold,) contains a series of very early mosaics, (12th century.) It was afterwards, in the 16th century, converted into a mausoleum for Cardinal Zen or Zeno (see below). I will begin by de-scribing the original building with its decorations, and pass on later to the obtrusive Renaissance additions.

In the half-dome, towards the outer Atrium, is a (restored) figure of Our Lady with her Greek monogram, and at the sides two (original) sombre and morose-faced Byzantine angels. Below, in niches, are the youthful beardless Christ, blessing, and four prophets in mosaic, alternating with four statues of prophets (13th century). The beautiful Byzantine architecture should be carefully noted.

On the vaulted roof, in the centre, is an early mosaic figure of the beardless Christ. Beneath, on either side, is the **legend of St. Mark, whose body rested first in this chapel after its arrival in Venice. The series begins, above, on the wall of access from the Baptistery. (I) St. Mark writes his Gospel at the request of the brethren ; (2) he presents it to St. Peter, who orders it to be read in the church ; (3) he baptises at Aquileia, one of the chief mother-cities of Venice ; below, (4) as St. Mark is sailing from Aquileia to Rome, and passes this island, (symbolised by water-plants to the R. below,) an angel, flying from a very material blue heaven announces to him that his Basilica shall be erected on this spot ; (5) St. Peter appoints St. Hermagoras to the Bishopric of Aquileia; (6) St. Mark enters Egypt, (symbolised by a gate,) preaches there, and expels demons. Opposite, on the wall towards the Piazza : above—(I) an angel orders St. Mark in a dream at Pentapolis (so named to the L.) to sail to Alexandria ; (2) St. Mark in the ship on his way to Alexandria, symbolised by its celebrated Pharos or lighthouse ; (3) St. Mark heals the cobbler St. Anianus of a wound made by his awl ; below—(4) St. Mark is arrested by the pagans (called “Saracens” in the inscription) while celebrating mass at the altar ; (5) he is dragged through Alexandria and beaten ; (6) he is buried by his disciples in a sarcophagus. In all these mosaics the symbolical character of the buildings (exterior or interior) should be noticed ; they are full of meaning. This most interesting series is a good epitome of the Venetian legend of St. Mark. I have said nothing of the exquisite decorative work, which the reader must of course notice for himself.

In the arch beneath the mosaics last described is an old, much-damaged relief, with, below, the Nativity, Joseph, Our Lady, the Child in the manger, ox and ass, and shepherds ; above, the Flight into Egypt. Two beautiful reliefs are also let into the wall near the altar; L., Byzantine Madonna and Child, with a Greek inscription, referring to the opening of an aqueduct at Constantinople by the Emperor Michael Palaeologus and his Empress Irene ; no doubt loot of Doge Enrico Dandolo’s : R., an Archangel (one-half of an old Annunciation). Beneath them, two fine red marble lions, with a calf and child, like the griffons on the exterior; probably they once stood at the doorway.

Passing on to the Renaissance additions, notice first in the centre the fine bronze *tomb of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Zen, or Zeno, nephew of Pope Paul II., who died in 150I, and left the ,greater part of his immense fortune to the Republic of Venice. The Signory in gratitude erected this monument. The Cardinal, in bronze, in full pontificals, lies on a bronze sarcophagus, supported by figures said to represent Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Pity, and Munificence ; in the absence of any recognisable symbols, I do not pretend to decide which is which. The monument is the work of several artists, among them the Lombardi, Leopardi, and Canponato.

The *altar stands under a bronze and marble Renaissance canopy, covering figures of Our Lady (with a gilded shoe in memory of the miracle) flanked by St. Peter (to represent the Cardinal’s double connection with the see of Rome) and St. John the Baptist, his name-saint and personal patron. These figures are by P. G. Camponato ; dated, 15o5. At the base, a relief of the Resurrection. On either side, poor decorative mosaics, with the Cardinal’s hat and shield. (It is the ugly back of this altar which forms the discordant Renaissance pediment between the griffons on the S. façade.) Notice the Gothic arcade in the style of the Doge’s Palace, let into the Byzantine arch to the L. of the altar.

Give the Sacristan half a franc on leaving.

I have only called attention to the most salient objects in these two beautiful and noble chapels, which the visitor should revisit more than once and examine at greater length for himself.