According to my cousin Mirna, the Trevisan side of our family was actually related to a 16th century Venetian Doge (pronounced do jay.) Doge, as in the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, Queen of the Adriatic, City of Light whose noble families ruled Venice for over a thousand years. Doge, who held office for life and was regarded as the ecclesiastical, civil and military leader of the Venetian republic which in those days extended into Dalmatia, further into Italy and across the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Doge, as in Duke of Venice whose Palazzo Ducale contains magnificent state rooms, a staircase of Giants and exqusite paintings including Tintoretto’s massive “Paradise” said to be the largest oil painting on earth. Yes, descended from the Doges of Venice. I know it was hard for me to believe it too.
Our Nonna alluded to this relationship but only in the most secretive way and now it was confirmed but was being descended from the Doge such a good thing. I wondered. So I did a little research on the man behind the funny hat. The hat I am referring to is the corno ducale, the ducal hat. A stiff conical hat made of brocade encrusted with gems and worn over a linen cap called a camauro. It is said that an early abbess from the convent of San Zaccaria not far from St. Mark’s Square created the now famous Doge hat. Every Easter Monday the Doge in procession from the Basilica of San Marco traveled to the Church of San Zaccaria where he was presented with a new camauro made by the nuns. This led me to wonder if the Doge was expected to wear the same linen cap all year long until the following year when he ceremoniously received another. The Doge was expected to display the magnificence of Venice. His handlers made sure that his long sleeved gown known as a vesta and cape, companoni, were of the finest and most luxurious fabrics. Style, color and fabric were important to the political status of a Venetian Doge and he was expected to dress for success as was his wife. The Doge and Dogaressa would dazzle the citizens of the Republic with gowns of silk brocade, belts of gold, capes of ermine and necklaces of large pearls. Other members of the Doge’s entourage would have dressed equally well although somewhat less ostentatiously wearing silk lined coats with silk bows and tassels, gold threaded fabrics and smaller pearls. That would have been easy in the Doge’s Venice. Then as now Venice is known for exquisite silk and textiles and the blue of the Adriatic must have made the fabrics shimmer in the sunlight and dazzle in the moonlight. As Venetians have been known to don masks to mingle without fear of recognition, one can only imagine scenes of Venetian life at the time of the Doge when opulence and intrigue combined to heighten every moment. You might meet Casanova walking along the fondamenta or hear a whisper from the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) that connected the Doge’s Palace to the prison. People who were sentenced to death crossed this bridge (supposedly sighing) as they were brought to the Piazzetta San Marco for their execution. Today it is said that lovers will be granted everlasting love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge.
So was it good to be the Doge? In some ways yes. Venice was one of the most important cultural and intellectual centers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It has been described as one of the most beautiful cities built by man and one of the most romantic cities in the world. The light reflected off the waters of the lagoon, the small lanes or calle that lead you to nowhere and everywhere and the exotic architecture all create a dreamlike atmosphere. During the Renaissance Venice was a prosperous empire, a major port of trade and a market for craftsmen, glassmakers, painters, lace makers and all manner of decorative arts. Living in Venice during the time of the Doge certainly meant living large. But the Doge was under constant surveillance, his mail was censored and he was restricted as to where he could go. He was not allowed to own property or foreign land. When he was selected as Doge he was presented to the people with the following caveat “This is your Doge, if it pleases you”. There were times when it did not . Three Doges were assassinated in the streets around San Zaccaria. Over the years Venetian Doges became little more than figure heads with a ruling Council designed to limit their power.
So how did our Doge fare in all this. I really don’t know, not much has been written about him. His name was Marcantonio Trevisan and he was Doge of Venice from 1553-1554, his reign was short. His name comes up on the internet every so often in role playing fantasy games about 16th century Venice where he is described as “a religious firebrand who was decently well liked but went largely unmourned for his extremism”. Whether or not this is based on fact is unknown although there is an account of his life before he became the Doge when it was said that an angel came to him while sleeping, asking, “Why are you sleeping so soundly in your warm bed, while in the square there is a holy man, a poor pilgrim who needs your help?” Trevisan rushed downstairs to find Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit order, who became his house guest. Trevisan then helped to arrange funds that would allow Ignatius to continue his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I imagined what our Doge would look like. Few pictures were found. There is an oil on canvas in the Palazzo Ducale of The Dead Christ Adored by Doges Pietro Lando and Marcantonio Trevisan. It’s a little hard to tell who is who in the painting as there is a lot going on. I assume Trevisan is the one of the two wearing the funny hat. There is an official portrait of Doge Marcantonio Trevisan painted by Titian that bears a slight resemblance to our Nonna mostly around the nose. The family’s physical resemblance is lost in the genetic recombant mix of hundreds of years but what remains is Trevisan’s legendary kindness to strangers and desire to help in whatever way he could to assist a pilgrim on their way. Nonna was like that, our legacy from a 16th century Venetian Doge.