SANTA MARIA DEL GIGLIO, or ‘Santa Maria Zobenigo’ as it is commonly named in Venice, is a baroque church with a magnificent façade. It was built between 1678 and 1681. The edifice was constructed by Giuseppe Sardi for Admiral Antonio Barbaro, who died in 1679. Amongst his many achievements he was Provveditore Generale (Governor General) of Venetian Dalmatia and Venetian Albania in 1670-71.
During my many visits to Venice, most of which were made annually with my parents during the 1960s, I have passed the church and noted an interesting feature of its façade. The base of this is decorated with six carved stone bas-relief maps. These have always fascinated me, but it was only after our recent trip to Venice in September 2022 that I finally got around to investigating them.
The maps are of Spalato (Split in Croatia); Corfu; Roma (Rome); Padoa (Padua); Candia (Haraklion in Crete); and Zara (Zadar in Croatia). Except for Rome, these are all places that were once governed by Venice. The maps depict places where Antonio Barbaro served in one capacity or another.
Wnen James (later Jan) Morris wrote “Venice” (published 1960), which is I believe the best book written about Venice, he/she noted of the façade of Santa Maria Zobenigo that:
“… it is notorious because not one item of its convoluted design has any religious significance whatsoever.”
Morris also pointed out something I have never noticed on that façade. Namely, that it bears a crest with a double-headed eagle, the crest of the Barbaro family. As this symbol interests me, I checked it out. The Barbaro family might have used it because of their connection to the Vlasto family, who were prominent in Rome by the end of 2nd century AD (see; www.christopherlong.co.uk/per/vlasto.byzantium.html). By the end of the 11th century, the Vlasto family was members of important families including the Barbaro’s. The Vlasto family crest includes the double-headed eagle, which amongst other things, was a Byzantine symbol. Interestingly, the Vlasto’s had already begun using it in the early 1st century AD, while the Byzantines only began using it in the 12th – 13th centuries. Maybe I never noticed the double-headed eagle because whenever I have passed the church, my eyes have been drawn to the maps on its fine façade. They fascinated me so much that I never bothered to look upwards.