(b. 1472, Venezia, d. 1526, Capodistria)
The Lion of St Mark1516
Tempera on canvas, 130 x 368 cm
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
The quality of Carpaccio's use of colour and his power of expression and invention decreased in his last religious paintings, for the most part executed by his assistants. But in at least two of his late works, where the subject matter stimulated his imagination, Carpaccio returned to the creative levels of his earlier periods.
The Lion of St Mark, painted in 1516 for the Magistrato dei Camerlenghi in Rialto and today in the Doges' Palace, is an imposing creation, standing with its hind legs in the water and its forelegs on dry land, one firmly resting on a rocky shore and the other holding up the book with the traditional inscription PAX/TIBI/MAR/CE/E/VANGELI/STA/MEUS. This image symbolizing the power on land and sea of the Venetian Republic is particularly significant if we consider that it was painted just after the Serenissima had run the risk of losing its independence when it was attacked by the League of Cambrai, the coalition of great powers formed in 1509.
Behind the symbol of St Mark, portrayed in splendid and triumphant isolation, Carpaccio has given us a view of some of the places where the fortunes of the Serenissima had prospered and grown for more than five centuries. In this extraordinary wide-angled view the artist gives us a perfectly detailed depiction of the basin of St Mark's towards San Nicolo di Lido, all the way to the heart of Venice: the Doges' Palace, St Mark's Basilica, the columns of St Theodore and St Mark, the Piazzetta, the bell-tower and the Clock Tower.