The Doge's Palace has been restructured and modified several times over its centuries long existence. In fact, before 1876, there was barely any moment when there was no work underway in the building, mostly due to structural failures, new organizational requirements, fire and other reasons. During the Middle Ages, a 'technical office' was put in charge of all the renovation work and management of workers and their sites. Due to excessive decay, a major renovation plan was launched in 1876 and involved the two facades and the capitals in the ground floor arcade and the upper loggia. During this renovation, 42 Venetian sculptures, which were in an extremely dilapidated state, were replaced by copies. The originals, many of which were masterpieces of Venetian sculpture of the 14th and 15th century were placed in an area designed for this specific purpose; the Museo dell'Opera. The present version of the Museo dell'Opera underwent thorough restoration work and now exhibits the sculptures on their original columns in six different rooms of the museum. Apart from the sculptures, the museum also features fragments of statues and significant architectural and decorative elements in stone, which were a part of the Palace's original facade.
Highlights of the Museum
The Museo dell'Opera has six rooms, each housing a different number of capitals. Here's a detailed look at each room and what you can expect to see there.
The first room in the Museo dell'Opera showcases 6 capitals together, along with their columns, from the 14th century arcade of the Doge's Palace, on the lagoon-front. Given their original location, the capitals houses in room I form part of the earliest built decorative sculptures for the palace. The capitals from the lagoon-front represent an encyclopedic manifestation of the universe, the world and the various creatures that call it home. Specifically, the capitals showcase historical characters, faces of different races, plants and animals. The scaffolding with supports which was created in 1876 now forms a wooden model in Room I.
The next room in your Museo dell'Opera tour is room II which houses three capitals with columns from the arcade on the Piazzetta side, from the 14th century version of the sculptures. The mesmerizing carvings of the capitals featured in this room are rich in their moral and allegorical importance, beautifully put together themes connected with work, their astrological correspondence, and the products of the earth. The 16th century fillings of one of the arches of the arcade towards the Ponte della Paglia is featured on the entrance wall.
The third room in Museo dell'Opera has three capitals with columns. The first two capitals are from the 14th century while the third capital is from the 15th century. The highlight of this room is without a doubt the large and renowned corner capital with the Creation of Adam, the Zodiac and the Planets. This capital happens to be the support of the cornice and the feet of Adam and Eve in the sculptural group at the corner of the Doge's Palace.
The fourth room of the Museo dell'Opera is a little different from the rest. Apart from the two shafts of columns from the arcade, room IV also showcases a massive wall in large rough blocks of living rock. The wall dates from a past version of what's used in the Doge's Palace currently and provides plausible evidence, even if it's not clear in all respects, about the character and location of the ancient building. Visit this room to get your biggest look at the Doge's Palace of the past.
The second last room in the Museo dell'Opera is home to three shafts of columns taken from the arcade. The left wall features a column and a foliated capital of the upper loggia on the Piazzetta side. You'll also find pieces of stonework from the tracery of the upper loggia with the capitals, ogival arches and beautifully complicated quatrefoils. Amongst the arches, in the spandrels, you can see the lion heads that run all the way along the Gothic sides of the palace. Room V is one of the most important parts of the Museo dell'Opera and a trip here to truly worth your time.
The final room of the Museo dell'Opera is also the biggest, with 26 capitals from the arches of the loggias on the first floor of the palace. These capitals were carved by various masons in the 14th and 15th centuries. Given the extensive number of capitals on display, the room can be split into homogeneous groups where a certain set of capitals showcase humans emerging from leaves, figures of children and musicians while other capitals highlight protective patinas and polychromy. The walls of room VI feature various stone fragments arranged in different shapes, pinnacles and arches of the coping and much more!