The rooms in which the Doge lived were always located in this area of the Palace, between the Rio della Canonica – the water entrance to the building – the present-day Golden Staircase and the apse of St. Mark’s Basilica, which was the ducal chapel. There was a disastrous fire in this part of the building in 1483 and important reconstruction work was necessary, with the Doge’s apartments being completed by 1510. The core of these apartments forms a prestigious, though not particularly large, residence, given that the rooms nearest the Golden Staircase had a mixed private and public function. In the private apartments proper, the Doge could set aside the trappings of office to retire at the end of the day and dine with members of his family amidst furnishings that he had brought from his own house (and which, at his death, would be promptly removed by his heirs, to make way for the property of the Doge elect). In these apartments, the head of the Venetian Republic passed his evenings attended upon by just a few servants, and the new day would once again returned him to his institutional role as a symbol of the State.
Scarlet Chamber. The Scarlet Chamber possibly takes its name from the color of the robes worn by the Ducal advisors and counselors for whom it was the antechamber. The carved ceiling, adorned with the armorial bearings of Doge Andrea Gritti, is part of the original décor, probably designed by Biagio and Pietro da Faenza. The fireplace decorated with fine carvings of cornucopia, acanthus leaves and angel heads, as well as the two marble bas-reliefs over the doors, were designed by Antonio and Tullio Lombardo. Amongst the wall decoration, two frescoed lunettes are particular worthy of attention: one by Giuseppe Salviati, the other by Titian.
The “Scudo” Room. The name of this hall comes from the fact that the coat-of-arms (scudo) of the reigning Doge was exhibited here while he granted audiences and received guests. The coat-of-arms currently on display is that of Ludovico Manin, the Doge reigning when the Republic of St. Mark came to an end in 1797.This is the largest room in the Doge’s apartments, and runs the entire width of this wing of the Palace, from the canal to the courtyard. The hall was used as a reception chamber and its decoration with large geographical maps was designed to underline the glorious tradition that was at the very basis of Venetian power. The original versions of these maps were produced after the 1483 fire by the geographer and humanist Giovan Battista Ramusio (who drew up the map showing Italy and the Mediterranean), the Greek Giovanni Domenico Zorzi (Asia Minor) and the Piedmontese cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi (Turkey, Egypt and the Asia of Marco Polo). Adorning the two main walls of the hall, these four geographical maps were reworked in 1762 by the Francesco Grisellini, commissioned Marco Foscarini, to add other paintings that described the voyages of the most famous Venetian explorers: Nicolò and Antonio Zen, who traveled as far as Greenland; Pietro Querini, who was shipwrecked in the fjords of Norway; and Alvise da Mosto, who discovered the Cape Verde Islands. The two revolving globes in the centre of the hall date from the same period: one shows the sphere of heavens, the other the surface of Earth.
The Grimani Room. This room takes its name from the Grimani armorial bearings to be seen in the centre of the ceiling. This powerful family supplied the Republic with 3 Doges: Antonio (1521-1523), an authentic self-made man who had acquired a fortune through trade with the Orient; Marino (1595-1605), a cultured man who was not only a patron of the arts but a generous giver of alms to the poor; Pietro (1741-1752), a friend of Newton, from whom he learnt a profitable lesson in the application of the English economic model. The doge who had the magnificent ceiling created in this chamber was certainly Marino. This room marks the begining of the strictly private part of the Doge’s Apartments. Note the fireplace, which can be attributed to the workshop of the Lombardo family and is decorated with the armorial bearings of Doge Agostino Barbarigo (1486-1501). The elegant decorative band shows the Lion of St. Mark joyously encircled with gods and goddesses and marine figures; the stucco-work over the coping dates from the period of Doge Pasquale Cicogna (1585-1595). The paintings in the frieze are all the work of Andrea Vicentino, who produced them towards the end of the 16th century; the allegorical figures are rather difficult to identify, with the exception of St. Mark with the Lion; Geography; Agriculture; Law, Architecture; a female embodiment of Venice; Astronomy, Reward and the Virgin. On the walls hang other important paintings showing the Lion of St. Mark, including Vittore Carpaccio’s famous andante Lion, whose front legs rest on land and rear legs on the sea, symbolising Venetian dominion over both.
The Erizzo Room. Owing its name to Francesco Erizzo, Doge from 1631 to 1646, this room is decorated in the same way as the preceding rooms: a carved wood ceiling, with gilding against a light-blue background, and a Lombardy-school fireplace. The frieze along the walls contains angels and symbols of wars, an allusion to the military feats that were the reason for Erizzo’s appointment as Doge. From here, a small staircase leads up to a window that gave access to a roof garden.
The Stucchi or Priùli Room. The double name of this room is due both to the stucco works that adorn the vault and lunettes, dating from the period of Doge Marino Grimani (1595-1605), and the presence of the armorial bearings of Doge Antonio Priùli (1618-1623), which are to be seen on the fireplace, surmounted by allegorical figures. The stucco-works on the walls and ceiling were later commissioned by another Doge Pietro Grimani (1741-1752). Various paintings representing the life of Jesus Christ are present in this room, as well as a portrait of the French King Henri III (perhaps by Tintoretto), who received a magnificent welcome when he visited the Serenissima in 1574 on his way from Poland to take up the French throne left vacant with the death of his brother Charles IX.
The Philosophers’ Room. Directly linked to the Shield Hall, this chamber takes its name from the twelve pictures of ancient philosophers which were set up here in the 18th century, to be later replaced with allegorical works and portraits of Doges. With one’s back to the Shield Hall, in the left wall of this chamber one can see a small doorway that led to a narrow staircase, which enabled the Doge to pass rapidly from his own apartments to the halls on the upper floors, where the meetings of the Senate and the Full Council were held. Above the other side of this doorway there is an important fresco of St. Christopher by Titian.
Corner Room. Its name comes from the presence of various paintings depicting Doge Giovanni Corner (1625-1629). The fireplace is worthy of note; made out of Carrara marble, it is decorated with a frieze of winged angels on dolphins around a central figure of St. Mark’s Lion. Like the following room, this served no specific function; set aside for the private use of the Doge, its role depended on the taste and requirements of the illustrious tenant and his family. Apart from the splendid fireplaces, these rooms have none of their original furnishings.
The Hall of Portraits. Like the chamber immediately preceding it, this room served no particular function, and was undoubtedly put to a wide variety of uses depending upon the requirements of the Doge, the size of his family, the activities in which they were involved. Here again, the splendid fireplace that was part of the original decor remains.
The Equerries Room. The palace equerries were appointed for life by the Doge himself and eight of them had to be at his disposal at any time. Their duties ranged from serving as antechamber attendants to bearing the symbols of the Doge in public processions. The room no longer has its original furnishings and the most important features here now are the two doorways: one leading into the Shield Room and the other to the Golden Staircase. This room was the main access to the Doge’s private apartments. The visit from here continues up the second ramp of the Golden Staircase to the second floor, where the itinerary takes you through the chambers that housed the various Institutions of the Republic.