Flagpoles of Piazza San Marco
Given the legendary hostility of the Most Serene Republic of Venice to so much as a whiff of the cult of personality, it is, perhaps, surprising to find a portrait of one of its doges in such a prominent place as Piazza San Marco.
The portraits (there are, in fact, three) grace one of the bronze bases of the three flagpoles that stand in front of the basilica. The bases were designed and cast, circa 1505, by the Venetian sculptor Alessandro Leopardi (1466-1512). The central base sports three medallions, each containing a portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan (r. 1501-21).
When the flagpoles were first unveiled there was an outcry from the public at such shameless self-promotion on the part of Venice's head of state. To make matters worse, the medallions were originally gilded, which made the portraits even more conspicuous.
Leonardo Loredan was not the first doge to have his image displayed in the piazza. His predecessor, Agostino Barbarigo (r. 1486-1501), was portrayed kneeling before the image of the Leone Marciano (Winged lion of St Mark), which adorns the Torre dell' Orologio (Clock Tower). This explains why the lion stands slightly off-centre. Both lion and doge were destroyed by Napoleon's henchman, following the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. However, under Austrian rule (1815-66), the lion was replaced, but not the doge.