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"My Venetian Mystery / solved" Venice Local Custom Tip by christine.j

Venice Local Customs: 335 reviews and 612 photos


In Venice I saw round plates with two animals carved into them , once on a church and another time on a house in Burano. I have no idea what they symbolize.

Update from May 2007:
With a lot of help from VT member Trekki, and after looking in many books about Venice, I think I found the answer.
There are three types of plates, called "tondo","patere" and "formelle", depending on their shape, a full circle or a combination of a circle and a rectangle.From 13th century on they were used as ornaments.

They're showing various subjects, ranging from simple ornaments like flowers for example to
meaningful messages. Since most people couldn't read or write, a sort of picture language was used.

The "Physiologus", a book written in 2nd century explained animals,real ones and mythical ones, talked about their special characteristics and then used these animals in an allegory for the early christian church.
This book was very influential in the European culture up to the end of the Middle Ages.(To a certain extent even now, think of Disney's" Lion King". It's not called "Elefant King" or "Warthog King".)

For example:
the phoenix - resurrection
the eagle and the lion - courage, empire, kingdom
the fox - paganism, also voluptuousness
the snake - evil, lying
the pelican - willingness to make sacrifices

In some of the plates in Venice a fight between good and evil is symbolized.
In others two evil creatures are fighting each other, which was to indicate to evil spirits that some of their kind have already arrived at this house, so, please stay away, no need for any other bad spirits.Two good animals in a plate were considered extra protection for the house and its inhabitants.

The plates I saw at a church were put up there later, after they had been taken down from a private home.

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  • Updated May 24, 2007
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