The lost foot

I’m used not to be noticed. Sometimes tourists use me to rest their back for a while, in line to visit Palazzo Ducale. Last time, as you can see in the picture, I was the background of a shooting. The model didn’t seem to appreciate much the artistic value of the work of art. But I got accustomed to worse: insolent brave pigeons sometimes even walk on me. A bit of a paradox, considering I am a foot. And a really grumpy one.

The man with the big eyes I’m attached to is part of a small group of four red porphyry men embracing themselves in couples. They look at the tourists but they don’t look at each other. Stupid late-ancient art. Loads of legends and rumours circulate around these two embraces; however, honestly, I am the most intriguing mystery to solve. Not only Venetian people were unsure, until the last decade, of where this group came from, but the statue was also originally incomplete. They had to add a part. And the replaced part, well, it’s me. I’m not made of red porphyry, I’m made of pink porphyry. Which seems, to say the truth, very similar to white marble. A different material was used to complete the statue not only to make the restoration recognisable, but also due to the fact that red porphyry was and is extremely difficult to carve and to find, since it’s usually extracted in Egypt.

I like to call the missing part “the double me”, and I’m quite touchy when they make me notice it’s exactly the opposite. I am unique, not a double! The red foot was eventually discovered in 1965, during an excavation campaign in Constantinople, in the Philadelphion ruins. Yes, you heard it right: the group was seemingly sculpted in Constantinople in the III or IV century and then brought to Venice during the fourth Crusade (1204). So, I also am a symbol of piracy, which Venetians were pretty good at in the Mediterranean sea. Furthermore, the fourth crusade didn’t originally aim to Bosporus channel. On the contrary, it aimed to the Holy Land and It was deflected due to a last minute decision, leading not only to a fierce raid, but also to the foundation of the ephemeral so-called Latin Empire (1204-1261).

So, apparently, this mythical lost foot was probably damaged and split from the body it belonged to during the violence of the raping. Now it is displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul. I like to think it wouldn’t like this salty-sweet Laguna air I’m quite fond of. Besides, the foot accidentally missing isn’t the only lost part of the work of art: the heads and the gowns of the characters were originally embellished with precious coloured stones, likely to have been stolen by the Venetian soldiers.

Let’s shift to whom the statues represent. As you know, Venice still wasn’t inhabited at the time of the Roman empire, but the fame of Rome was so strong that Venetians decided to place against S. Marco’s Church the symbol of the unity of its Empire: remind that they had just funded their Latin Empire. The four men, in fact, represents four tetrarchs. Still, there’s uncertainty about whom the statues actually represent: the most accredited theory is that they are exactly the first tetrarchs, named Diocleziano, Massimiano, Galerio and Costanzo Cloro. It is also unexpected that there is no symbolic representation of the hierarchy that characterised their power – two Augusti and two Cesari. The similarity of the colour of porphyry with intense red is a generic symbol of political power. So, as far as I know, these mysterious figures could also feature wealthy Mesopotamian or Egyptian noblemen. The four men had originally a different function and position from the ones they have today: they were organised in two separate groups and they stood as basis of two different honorary columns.

Since the hypothesis of the tetrarchy was guessed only recently, Venetians still use to call my men “the four thieves” (I Quattro Ladroni), because the legend says that four Moor men attempted to steal S. Marco’s treasure: they were caught, stuck with lightning and petrified instantly by the Saint himself! (I would like you to notice that feet are the crucial element in escaping. The missing foot might have been a problem for them). The statues, by the way, are leaning exactly on the chapel storing S.Marco’s Treasure. Now the emperors are a warning to thieves. And if I were a thief, I would think it twice to try and steal in S. Marco’s church. Their eyes really are disquieting. I haven’t got used to them yet. Some even say that these statues stopped a thief from robbing because he stumbled on them when they arrived in Venice: an oxymoron, considering that they were robbed of their decorations and they were stolen from their original place. Still, stolen statues are protecting something from theft.

After this short didactic pause, I think I’ll go back to rest. The vigilant eternally wide open eyes will keep doing their work.

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