The “pedestal” of the IVth Moor.

The “pedestal” of the IVth Moor.

When I am walking in the less crowded streets in the district of Cannaregio for a Photo Tour, I often end up in Campo dei Mori. This Campo owes its name to the presence of four ancient statues depicting the “Moors”, namely the three Greek merchant brothers – Rioba, Sandi and Alfani – who arrived in Venice in 1112 from Morea (hence the name “Mori”), together with their camel driver. The statues of the 3 merchants (dated end of the XIIIth century) overlook the Campo dei Mori, while the IV ^ statue, in my opinion the most fascinating one, depicting their camel driver, is located along the Fondamenta. Take a good look at what this last statue is based on. I always wondered what the origin of this “pedestal” could be, as it looks very much like a piece of column, until I came across a very similar one, found in the Quarto d’Altino Museum. It should be remembered that very often, centuries ago, pieces of ancient and constructions were used as salvaged material to build elsewhere (the island of Torcello is a good example, it was almost destroyed to bild Venice). I then asked the very kind Dr. Ballestrin, director of the Quarto d’Altino Museum, to have information about the origin of the find. His response was very comprehensive:

“Actually it is not a column but a funerary altar made of Aurisina limestone, found in the North-East necropolis of Via Annia in Altino and dating back to the first half of the 1st century AD. Altino played an important role in the diffusion of Hellenistic culture which, mixed with the typical patterns of official Augustan art, gave rise to an artistic production, which came almost exclusively to us through the funeral testimonies, which characterized the municipal center throughout the 1st century AD. The monumental typology that most directly bears witness to this trend, is that of the cylindrical funerary altars, of which Altino, which preserves the greatest number of specimens, represents its main center of importation and diffusion in the upper Adriatic area. It is a typology reworked on the Hellenistic model of the altar decorated with festoons of fruit and flowers, tied by ribbons and supported by bucrania, widely diffused starting from the 2nd century BC in the centers of the coast of Asia Minor and in the Aegean islands, in particular Rhodes, Cos and Delos. The Altinate altar is the specimen closest to the original prototype. However, it becomes a completely new creation, consistent with the widespread neoattical taste of Augustan Rome, of which the Ara Pacis represents the most significant achievement. The inventiveness and creativity of the local workshops later brought significant transformations to the original scheme, both for the general use of masks and human heads instead of the bucrania, and for the insertion of unusual motifs, which, finally, for the wealth of the vegetal decoration, present also on the octagonal altars, autonomous local re-elaboration of the model.”

After passing the Campo dei Mori, continuing along Calle dei Mori, going towards the Church of Madonna dell’Orto (where Tintoretto is buried), turn right after the Ponte de la Madonna de l’Orto and you will find Palazzo Mastelli on the other side of the canal. It seems that the three merchants had soon become so rich that they could take away the gold with the tubs, hence the name of their Palace. Take a good look at the façade and, in addition to the bas-relief of the camel-driver, you will find – as Giulio Lorenzetti writes in his “Venice and its estuary -” fragments of Byzantine friezes and paterae (XIII century) and the rest of a Roman altar placed as a column , at the corner window “. This leads us to discover that the three merchants have probably taken this piece, as often happened in those times, from the Roman necropolis of the nearby Quarto d’Altino, to embellish their palace.

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