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  • Writer's pictureJack Dykstra, PhD

A Brief History of the Procuratie in Venice

What is the Procuratie?

The Procuratie is a complex of three connected buildings surrounding St Mark’s Square in Venice, which are named after the former second-highest government officials.

aerial view of the three Procuratie buildings around St Mark's Square

Procuratie History

Elected for life, the procurators of Saint Mark were once the second most senior patrician officers after the doge. At first, a sole procurator oversaw the administration of the ducal chapel, the church of St Mark; over the centuries the position multiplied to two, four, nine and, in the 16th century, up to 40. Their responsibilities increased, too, to include the management of vast sums of money to organise the city’s districts and charities, and the improvement of the public buildings around the Piazza San Marco. By the 12th century, this square – Venice’s centre of gravity – had reached its present shape and size. The buildings around its edge, called the Procuratie (or Procuracies), are three separate complexes – the Procuratie Vecchie (the old), the Procuratie Nuove (the new), and the Procuratie Nouvissime (the newest) – originally designed to house the procurators’ apartments and offices.

The Procuratie Vecchie was built along the entire north side of the square in the early 16th century, replacing an older structure damaged by a fire in 1512. Shops occupied the ground floor and apartments the storey above. It’s unclear who the architect was, but the structure seems to follow the designs of Mauro Codussi, and construction was probably carried out under Bartolomeo Bon. The famed architect Jacopo Sansovino took on the work from 1529, completing the final eight bays and adding the upper storey with its hundred arches. Looking at the dramatic crenelations along the roofline and the double arches over the ground floor’s single arches calls to mind the well-known medieval Veneto-Byzantine style. Yet the Procuratie Vecchie was one of the first major buildings to incorporate classical forms, such as the Doric columns at the bottom and the Corinthian columns successively above, as well as the wide ground-floor semi-circular arches.

The Procuratie Nuove, located on the south side of the square, took this even further as the culmination of Doge Andrea Gritti’s renovatio urbis, his grand regeneration of the city. The project was necessary to replace the antiquated apartments that the procurators tried to avoid living in and an old hospice. It was also thought worthwhile to regain the dignity of Venice after their devasting defeat at the Battle of Agnadello in 1509, an event that Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli acidly described in The Prince as costing the Venetians in one day ‘what it had taken them eight hundred years’ exertion to conquer’. After a competition, Vincenzo Scamozzi’s design was accepted in 1582. He followed Sansovino’s plan of the square, setting the building in a recessed position so that the Campanile (or Bell Tower) became freestanding and the Piazza San Marco was turned into a trapezoid, providing the present visual drama to St Mark’s Basilica. The Procuratie Nuove, however, was not completed until 1660 under Baldassare Longhena, when the arcade was joined with the church of San Geminiano at the west of the square.

San Geminiano, dating back to the 12th century, can no longer be seen. Its beautiful façade of Istrian stone (another of Sansovino’s masterworks in the 16th century) was pulled down by Napoleon in 1807, following his successful takeover of Venice. It was replaced by the Procuratie Nuovissime, also known as the Napoleonic Wing, a grand Neoclassical entrance with a high-vaulted ceiling for a ballroom. Under Napoleonic and later Austrian rule, the Nuove and the Nouvissime were transformed into an imperial palace. The two lower floors, created by Giuseppe Soli, extend the style of the Procuratie Nuove; the attic and statues, meanwhile, inspired by antiquity to embody Napoleonic ideals, reveal their wing’s unique history.

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