At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Sebastiano Venier – Doge of Venice


Victorious naval commander briefly ruled La Serenissima


Jacopo Tintoretto's portrait of Sebastiano Venier at the Battle of Lepanto
Jacopo Tintoretto's portrait of Sebastiano
Venier at the Battle of Lepanto
Sebastiano Venier, who successfully commanded the Venetian contingent at the Battle of Lepanto, died on this day in 1578 in Venice.

He had been Doge of Venice for less than a year when fire badly damaged the Doge’s Palace. He died soon afterwards, supposedly as a result of the distress it had caused him.

Venier was born in Venice around 1496, the son of Moisè Venier and Elena Donà. He was descended from Pietro Venier, who governed Cerigo, one of the main Ionian islands off the coast of Greece, which was also known as Kythira.

Venier worked as a lawyer, although he had no formal qualifications, and he went on to become an administrator for the Government of the Republic of Venice. He was married to Cecilia Contarini, who bore him two sons and a daughter.

Venier was listed as procurator of St Mark’s in 1570, but by December of the same year, he was capitano generale da mar, the Admiral of the Venetian fleet, in the new war against the Ottoman Turks.

As the commander of the Venetian contingent at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, he helped the Christian League decisively defeat the Turks.

The plaque to Sebastiano Venier at his house in Campo Santa Maria Formosa in Venice
The plaque to Sebastiano Venier at his house in Campo
Santa Maria Formosa in Venice
The battle took place in the Gulf of Patras when Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto encountered the fleet of the Holy League sailing east from Messina in Sicily. The Holy League was a coalition of European Catholic maritime states, largely financed by Phillip II of Spain.

The Battle of Lepanto was the last major naval engagement to be fought almost entirely by rowing vessels and the victory of the Holy League was of great importance in the future defence of Europe against Ottoman military expansion.

Venier returned to Venice a hero and, as a popular figure, was unanimously elected Doge in 1577 at the age of 81.

The Doge’s Palace was in the process of being refurbished in the aftermath of a fire in 1547 when another fire broke out, damaging the Great Council Chamber and many works of art.

A heartbroken Venier died a few weeks later on March 3, 1578 and was interred in the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a traditional burial place of the doges.

There is a plaque commemorating his memory on the wall of the Palazzetto Venier in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, not far from St Mark’s.


The monument to Sebastiano Venier outside the Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice
The monument to Sebastiano Venier outside the
Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice
Travel tip:

The Doge’s Palace, where Sebastiano Venier lived during his brief reign, 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 Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where Sebastiano Venier is buried, is referred to by Venetians as San Zanipolo. The church, in Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the Castello district, is one of the largest in Venice. It has the status of a minor basilica and a total of 25 of Venice’s Doges are buried there.


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