According to my cousin Mirna, the Trevisan side of our family was actually related to a 16th century Venetian Doge. Doge (pronounced do jay), 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 exquisite paintings including Tintoretto’s massive “Paradise” said to be the largest oil painting in the world. 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 corno ducale, a stiff conical hat made of brocade encrusted with gems and worn over a linen cap called a camauro.
The Doge’s signature hat and his long sleeved gown (vesta) were meant to display the magnificence of Venice. Style, color and fabric were important to the political status of a Venetian Doge and he was expected to dress for success. The Doge and Dogaressa would dazzle the citizens of the Republic with gowns of silk, belts of gold, capes of ermine and necklaces of pearls. Venice was known for exquisite silks and textiles and the blue of the Adriatic must have made the fabrics shimmer in the sunlight and dazzle in the moonlight. 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 that connected the Doge’s Palace to the prison.
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. Then as now it is 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 of Venice and over the years Venetian Doges became little more than figure heads with a ruling Council designed to limit their power. 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.
Traveling in Venice, the atmospheric mystique of the rule of the Doge still remains in the architecture and art of the city. In the Council Chamber of the imposing Ducal Palace (Palazzo Ducale) there is a huge painting of The Dead Christ Adored by Doges Pietro Lando and Marcantonio Trevisan by Tintoretto. Trevisan is the Doge on the right. We all seem to think he bears a slight resemblance to our Nonna mostly around the nose.