Venice’s Commemorative Monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni

Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400–75) is far from a household name but his legacy was immortalized in a monumental equestrian statue found today in the Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. To local Venetians, this is a very familiar spot as the Colleoni monument sits in front of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital of the same name. While Bartolomeo Colleoni famously made a dying declaration that he would bequeath much of his estate to the Venetian Republic if he was buried near San Marco, a sleight of hand on the interpretation placed him near the Scuola Grande di San Marco instead of in the Piazza San Marco. Ironically, he may have ended up in the better place for having an enduring legacy. Today Piazza San Marco is a frenetic place with people coming and going in all directions. Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo is busy, but not chaotic; elegant and enjoyed by local residents and tourists; and most importantly for Colleoni’s legacy, the basilica was the location of the funerals of most of the Venetian doges and many of the former rulers are buried within the basicila’s complex. Thus Colleoni’s memorial is not a monument rushed past by thousands of tourists, but a stately monument situated near a once-great seat of religious and civil power.

Memorials and monuments dot landscapes and cityscapes around the world. We don’t always know why they are there or what is being commemorated. Yet, they become touchstones in our lives. In the case of the Colleoni monument, if you arrive at the Campo there is no marker that tells the story of his military prowess or his devotion to Venice. But Verrocchio’s great equestrian monument grabs your attention. His legacy is assured by the beauty and commanding presence.

After not seeing the monument for ten years, I visited Colleoni last week. His impressive, fully restored presence still commands attention. And in the twenty-first century, he even sits adjacent to the Snack Bar Colleoni, where one can sit and gaze simultaneously at the nearby canal, the monument, the basilica and the grand façade of the Santi Giovanni e Paolo hospital. Indeed Colleoni’s monument has endured.