Each day thousands of tourists crowd onto one bridge in order to photograph another. The object of their attention is 'a work of no merit...owing the interest chiefly to its pretty name, and to the ignorant sentimentalism of Byron'. That was John Ruskin's caustic opinion of the world-famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs).
However, a few feet away from the Ponte della Paglia (the bridge on which the snappers stand) is a work of supreme merit. The medieval sculpture of the Drunkenness of Noah forms part of the south-eastern corner of the Palazzo Ducale and may be the work of Filippo Calendario (d. 1355), who was one of its architects. The placing of almost life-size figures (Adam and Eve are depicted on the south-western corner) on the corners of a building was without precedent, either in Venice or elsewhere.
The story of Noah is told in the book of Genesis. After the waters of the great flood had subsided, Noah tilled the ground and planted a vineyard. Turning his vines into wine, he drank a glass too many and ended up drunk and naked. Noah was observed in this state by his son Ham, who told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. The latter approached their father, walking backwards so that they would not see him naked, and laid a cloak over him.
The sculpture cleverly uses the two sides of the corner to dramatise (with a little license) this aspect of the story. Noah is depicted drunk on one side, while two of his sons are depicted on the other. We see a hand slipping surreptitiously round the corner to cover up the father's nakedness.
Blogging about Venice:
its art, history & culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England.
Since 200I I have been living in Italy, where I run private tours of Florence, Rome &