One of the things that makes Venice so magical for me are all of the “right place, right time” and “kindness of strangers” experiences I have when I’m there.
I spent the first three days of my trip roaming around Castello, a sestiere I’d spent little time in on previous trips. I'd read about this Angel of Benediction sculpture and managed to find it with only a normal amount of difficulty (in other words, I was very lost and then all of a sudden, I saw the angel!). It’s in a residential area north of the Arsenale on a calle that’s named for it.
So I was standing there looking at it, and an elderly Venetian gentleman came along. He began talking to me and when I told him that I was American, he switched to excellent English.
“I’m glad you found our angel,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story. The Venetians stole the angel from Anatolia in Eastern Turkey, he said, and a family named Rizzo put in on the archway above the entrance to a sotoportego, along with the reliefs on either side. They don’t show up well in my photos, but the reliefs are porcupines (or maybe hedgehogs?), which was the insignia of this family. The man showed me the family’s palazzo which is one of the oldest in Venice (13th c.) and told me that the way to identify the oldest buildings is to look at the chimneys (the round ones are older than the more common tulip-shaped ones).
The man also told me that when Napoleon conquered the Venetian Republic and began taking art away, many Venetians began hiding their art, and the Rizzo family bricked up their porcupines. Then the family left or forgot, and the porcupines weren’t unearthed until about a hundred years later when some repair work was done on the sotoportego. He told me that there’s probably other street art in Venice that’s bricked over and hasn’t been re-discovered yet. I love the thought of that!
I spent a very pleasant 10 minutes or so with this very nice man who took the time to give me a little tour of his neighborhood. You can’t plan stuff like this, you can only be grateful when it happens.
Porcupine or hedgehog?
The World Heritage website has an article about the 1999 restoration of this angel.