There are thousands of pieces of art on the streets of Venice (“scultura esterna” means “outdoor sculpture"), and this emperor is one of the most interesting and also most mysterious. Everyone agrees that he’s a Byzantine emperor but which one? When and how did he end up in Venice? And were there once two of them, now separated?
Some sources believe that this marble medallion shows Emperor Leo VI the Wise, who ruled the Byzantine empire from 886-911 AD. Others think that the relief shows Emperor Isaac II Angelus (1185-1195) or perhaps his brother, Alexis.
There’s a similar piece in the Byzantine collection at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. This other medallion came from Venice and might have been a companion piece to the one still there, leading to the possibility that the emperors depicted were father and son team, Alexios I and John II, who reigned jointly (1092-1118).
Most sources think that the sculpture was brought to Venice from Constantinople along with so much other loot the Venetians stole from that city during the Crusades. But there’s another story that a Venetian general sent the medallion home to Venice from the Holy Land as a spoil of war in 1256.
What’s amazing to me is that it’s still outside, exposed to the elements, and not in a museum. Evidently museums have tried to acquire it, but the owners of the house where it resides won’t give it up (though they have allowed it to be removed and exhibited at times).
The photos below show the entrance to the house (in Campiello Angaran close to the church of San Pantalon) and there’s another mystery, the four scallop shells flanking the emperor. The scallop shell is a symbol of St. James but why are they there? And something I just noticed last night. The first photo was taken in 2008, the second in 2010, and you can see that some pink stucco was added but only to the right side. Why only half?
Many unanswered questions!
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