14 May 2021

Ludovico Manin - the last Doge of Venice

Surrender to Napoleon ended La Serenissima’s independence 

Ludovico Manin was Doge of Venice from 1789 until its fall in 1797
Ludovico Manin was Doge of Venice
from 1789 until its fall in 1797 
The man who would become the last of Venice’s 120 Doges, Ludovico Giovanni Manin, was born on this day in 1725.

The Doge was the highest political office in Venice, its history going back to the seventh century, when the Venetian Lagoon was a province of the Byzantine (Eastern) Roman Empire and, in common with other provinces, was governed by a Dux (leader).

By the 11th century, when Venice had become an independent republic, the Doge was more of a figurehead, the head of a ruling council, and the title tended to be given to one of the oldest and most respected members of Venetian nobility.

Manin was 64 by the time he was elected but his eight years in post were significant in that they ended with the fall of La Serenissima - as the Venetian Republic was grandly known -its 1,100 years of independence ending with surrender to the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte, who subsequently handed control of the city to Austria.

The eldest of five sons of Lodovico III Alvise and Lucrezia Maria Basadonna, the great-granddaughter of cardinal Pietro Basadonna, Ludovico went straight into public life after completing his studies at the University of Bologna.

At 26 he was elected captain of Vicenza, then of Verona and finally Brescia, before being appointed procurator de ultra of Saint Mark's Basilica in 1764. 

Noted for his generosity, honesty and kindness as a governor, he married Elisabetta Grimani in 1748 but the marriage produced no children. 

The conclave of the Venetian Grand Council at which Ludovico Manin formally abdicated
The conclave of the Venetian Grand Council at
which Ludovico Manin formally abdicated
Despite his own failing health, he was elected Doge in March, 1789, a few months before the start of the French Revolution. Although Venice was even then regarded as a playground for the rich, its own wealth had been in decline for some years, and Manin had to oversee policies designed to reduce the republic’s financial obligations.

These included cutting the size of Venice’s merchant and military fleets to the degree that when Napoleon’s series of empire-building wars reached Italy, it was clear that Venice would be unable to defend itself.  Manin declined to enter the coalition of Italian states formed to counter Napoleon’s advance in 1795 and Venice declared itself neutral.

However, Napoleon had signed a secret deal with Austria, his most powerful rival for European dominance, to cede control of Venice to Austria in exchange for territories in the Netherlands, which meant he ignored Venice’s neutrality and came after the city anyway.

Manin refused an ultimatum from the French to surrender and on 25 April, 1797, the French fleet arrived at the Lido. Venice responded by sinking one of the French vessels but with only seven warships of their own to call on, the prospects for defending the city were remote and the French needed no second bidding to launch an attack.

The reaction of Manin and the Venetian Grand Council was to pass a motion to dissolve the republic and put the city under French rule.  After all the formalities of the surrender were completed, 4,000 French soldiers entered the city on 16 May and staged a parade in Piazza San Marco - St Mark's Square.

The Manin Chapel at the church of the Scalzi in Venice
The Manin Chapel at the church
of the Scalzi in Venice
It was a humiliation for Venice, the first time that foreign troops had set foot in the city, but worse was to come. Despite having agreed to hand Venice to the Austrians, Napoleon first wanted to help himself to its treasures and triggered a large-scale looting operation by his troops, who also destroyed what remained of the Venetian fleet and the Venice Arsenal.

Manin, meanwhile, was offered the chance to become interim head of the new Venice but refused, returning the ducal insignia and withdrawing to Palazzo Dolfin Manin, his residence on the Grand Canal.

It was a lonely life. He refused to answer the door even to friends and his meek surrender to the French did not go down well with Venetians, who jeered and insulted him when he ventured out.

Manin died of heart problems in October, 1802. His remains were interred in the family tomb, in a chapel designed by Jacopo Antonio Pozzo, in the Church of the Scalzi in Venice, near the present railway station of Venice Santa Lucia.

The Palazzo Dolfin Manin is now an office of the Banca d'Italia
The Palazzo Dolfin Manin is now
an office of the Banca d'Italia
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Dolfin Manin, the home of Ludovico Manin, is a 16th century palace on the Grand Canal, a short distance from the Rialto Bridge in the sestiere San Marco. It was built in 1536 for the Dolfin family by the great Florentine architect Jacopo Sansovino, whose work in Venice includes the Biblioteca Marciana, opposite the Doge’s Palace in Piazzetta San Marco, which connects St Mark’s Square with the waterfront. Sansovino created the palace by merging two existing structures and adding a facade in white Istrian stone with a portico of six arches. Inside are works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who decorated the palace for the wedding of Ludovico Manin and Elisabetta Grimani. The palace remained in the possession of the Manin family until 1867, when it was bought by the Banca Nazionale del Regno, forerunner of the Banca d’Italia, which still has its Venice headquarters in the building.

The Chiesa degli Scalzi fronts on to the Grand Canal near the railway station
The Chiesa degli Scalzi fronts on to
the Grand Canal near the railway station
Travel tip:

The Chiesa degli Scalzi, site of the Manin family tomb and Ludovico’s final resting place, can be found immediately next to Venice’s Santa Lucia railway station, at the foot of the bridge of the same name. Formally known as the church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, it takes its other name from the Carmelite religious order of which it was the seat, the Discalced, which means ‘without shoes’ or ‘scalzi’ in Italian. Designed by Baldassare Longhena, best known for the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the end of the Grand Canal where it meets the Lagoon, its sumptuous interior includes paintings by Tiepolo and sculptures by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter. The Venetian Late Baroque facade is the work of Giuseppe Sardi, while the statues mounted at various points on the facade were sculpted by Bernardo Falconi.

Also on this day:

1509: The Battle of Agnadello 

1916: The birth of designer Marco Zanuso

1934: The birth of footballer Aurelio Milani


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