Palazzo Ducale & the meaning behind this popular image
So many travellers take this very picture without ever knowing what the function, symbolism and importance may have been.
This particular plaque depicts a hideous woman with her mouth gaping open. Within the hole of her mouth the Venetians were encouraged to write notes about those who may be breaking social rules within the city. For example, if a woman was wearing extravagant jewels another woman could act as a spy. Despite the extravagance of the city excess was not always valued. The witness would then write down the time, place, who and what she saw then place the note within the hole to be read by authorities.
(as explained to me by Art Historian Professor Bronwen Wilson in 2010)
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The Paper Gate of the Palazzo Ducale
The Porta della Carta, or Paper Gate, along with the entire Palazzo Ducale, is an example of Venetian Gothic architecture. The gate links the Basilica di San Marco, with the Palazzo Ducale demonstrating the important working relationship between church and state. The Paper Gate is also adorned with the winged lion—in this case it is San Marco and Venice in one—holding an open book, which represents the sovereignty of the state.
The Doge kneeling before it is Doge Francesco Foscari, who reigned between 1423-1457, during a costly war with Milan—a city vying for regional supremacy with Venice in Northern Italy at that time. The Doge was not a king, but more like a president, who ruled in service to the Venetian people, state, and church. The fact that the Doge is kneeling shows that he is a humble man, equal to all those in God’s kingdom, rather than being equal to God in the style of the absolutist monarchs of France. Along with allegorical figures, saints, and cherubs is San Marco at the top of the gate, within the shell-like inset. This gate once again represents the connection between church and state.
Unfortunately, what you see today of this gate is a copy of the original, which was destroyed in 1797, when Napoleon conquered Venice.