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Monday, 23 October 2017

Francesco Foscari – Doge of Venice

Ignominious ending to a long and glorious reign


Lazzaro Bastiani's profile portrait of the  65th Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari
Lazzaro Bastiani's profile portrait of the
65th Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari
After 34 years as Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari was abruptly forced to leave office on this day in 1457.

Stripped of his honours, he insisted on descending the same staircase from the Doge’s Palace that he had climbed up in triumph more than a third of a century before, rather than leave through a rear entrance. Eight days later the former Doge was dead.

The story behind the downfall of Foscari and his son, Jacopo, fascinated the poet Lord Byron so much during his visit to Venice in 1816 that he later wrote a five-act play about it.

This play, The Two Foscari: An Historical Tragedy, formed the basis of Verdi’s opera, I Due Foscari, and ensured that the sad story of the father and son was never forgotten.

Francesco Foscari, who was born in 1373, was the 65th Doge of the Republic of Venice. He had previously served the Republic in many roles, including as a member of the Council of Forty and the Council of Ten, Venice’s ruling bodies, and as Procurator of St Mark’s. He was elected Doge in 1423, after defeating the other candidate, Pietro Loredan.

As Doge he led Venice in a long series of wars against Milan, which was then governed by the Visconti, who were attempting to dominate northern Italy.

An 1872 representation of the two Foscaris - Francesco and  Jacopo - by the Spanish painter Ricardo Maria Navarette Fos
An 1872 representation of the two Foscaris - Francesco and
Jacopo - by the Spanish painter Ricardo Maria Navarette Fos
The war was extremely costly for Venice, whose real source of wealth and power was at sea. Under Foscari’s leadership, Venice was eventually overcome by the forces of Milan under the leadership of Francesco Sforza, but meanwhile some of Venice’s eastern territories had been lost to the Turks.

In 1445, Foscari’s only surviving son, Jacopo, was tried by the Council of Ten on charges of bribery and corruption and exiled from the city. After two further trials, in 1450 and 1456, Jacopo was imprisoned on Crete, where he died.

After receiving the news of Jacopo’s death, Foscari withdrew from his Government duties. His enemies conspired to depose him and the Doge was forced to abdicate by the Council of Ten on October 23, 1457.

Foscari’s death, just over a week later at the age of 84, provoked such a public outcry that the former Doge was given a state funeral in Venice.

As well as being the subject of Byron’s play, Foscari’s life features as an episode in Italy, a long poem written by Samuel Rogers.

Byron’s play was the basis for the libretto written by Francesco Maria Piave for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I Due Foscari, which premiered on November 3, 1844 in Rome. Mary Mitford also wrote a play about Foscari’s life, which opened in 1826 at Covent Garden, with the celebrated actor, Charles Kemble, playing the lead role.

The Doge's Palace has been the seat of the Venetian government since the early days of the republic
The Doge's Palace has been the seat of the Venetian
government since the early days of the republic
Travel tip:

The Doge’s Palace, where Francesco Foscari lived for 34 years, was the seat of the Government of Venice and the home of the Doge from the early days of the republic. For centuries this was the only building in Venice entitled to the name palazzo. The others were merely called Cà, short for Casa. The current palazzo was built in the 12th century in Venetian Gothic style, one side looking out over the lagoon, the other side looking out over the piazzetta that links St Mark’s Square with the waterfront. It opened as a museum in 1923 and is now run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
The church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Travel tip:

Francesco Foscari’s tomb is in the chancel of the magnificent church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. This huge, plain Gothic church in Campo dei Frari in San Polo is known simply to Venetians as the Frari. The church also houses the tombs of Monteverdi, Rossini, Titian and Doge Nicolo Tron. It has works of art by Titian, Bellini, Sansovino and Donatello. The church is open daily from 9.00 to 5.30 pm and on Sundays from 1.00 to 5.30 pm.




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