Tommaso Rangone: Seriously Self-Obsessed!

Bronze statue of Tommaso Rangone by Alessandro Vittoria, San Zulian, Venice
I have long been fascinated by Tommaso Rangone (1493-1577), whose statue so prominently adorns the façade of San Zulian

Rangone was a very wealthy physician and a major patron of the arts, but his patronage came at a price. 

Tommaso Rangone, physician, philologist and patron of the arts, was one of the more colourful characters of sixteenth century Venice. Born in Ravenna in 1493, his original name was Tommaso Giannotti (or Zannotti).

The young Tommaso studied medicine and philosophy at the university of Bologna, graduating in 1516. After a spell teaching at the university of Padua he entered the service of Guido Rangone (a count from Modena) as a physician and astrologer. He would later ask permission to adopt the count's surname as his own.

In 1534 Rangone settled in Venice where he became a highly influential figure. He was an important patron of Tintoretto, Jacopo Sansovino and Alessandro Vittoria. However, Rangone's patronage came at a price and that price was his self-glorification.

In the 1550s Rangone financed the building of a new façade for the church of San Zulian, but only on condition that it would include a bronze statue of himself. Rangone sits above the entrance to the church, a position normally accorded to a saint.

San Zulian was not the first church to honour an individual on its façade. This honour had been claimed by Sant’ Elena with its monument to Vettor Cappello, a naval commander, who kneels before Saint Helen. A similar project (c.1550) was carried out by the Grimani family at Sant' Antonio di Castello. Around 1542 a monument was set up on the façade of Santa Maria Formosa to another man by the name of Vettor Cappello, who was also a naval commander and grandson of the older man.

All three monuments honoured deceased members of the highest stratum of Venetian society, men who had held important military positions. Rangone was neither a soldier nor a patrician; he was not even a Venetian! How he arranged it still baffles scholars.

Rangone holds in one hand the plant (the source of his wealth), which had been discovered in South America and which he named 'Indian wood' and used to treat syphilis, and in the other a book (a sign of his scholarly interests). To reflect the donor's familiarity with ancient texts, there are inscriptions in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. ​

Rangone had also offered to finance the building of façade for the church of San Geminiano, providing he could add a bust of himself to it. The church faced the Piazza San Marco and the thought of an image of an individual appearing in such a prominent place must have appalled the authorities. Rangone's offer was duly rejected. Ever persistent, two decades later, in 1571, Rangone secured permission to build a portal for a secondary entrance at the rear of the church. Here he placed a bronze bust of himself, the work of Alessandro Vittoria. The bust is now in the Ateneo Veneto.

The year before (1570) he had secured another chance of memorialising himself on a prominent façade when the nuns of San Sepolocro agreed to his offer to build a stone entrance portal facing the Riva degli Schiavoni, with the usual proviso that it included a statue of the donor. The commission for the portal went to Sansovino and that of the statue to (probably) Alessandro Vittoria. The church and most of the convent have been demolished, but the statue has survived and can be found in the Seminario Patriarcale. It depicts Rangone as his name saint, the apostle Thomas.

When, in 1562, Rangone had become Guardian Grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco he tried to have a statue of himself erected on the façade in return for the financial contributions he had made to the confraternity. Although his bid was rejected by the members (confratelli) of the scuola, he still managed to find a way to be glorified by having his portrait included in each of the three paintings he commissioned from Tintoretto. The paintings, which depicted scenes from the life of Saint Mark, were hung in the Sala Capitolare.

As Rangone, and not the scuola, was paying Tintoretto, he expressly demanded that only his own portrait should be included in the paintings and not that of any of the other members.

In the same year as the commission, Doge Girolamo Priuli had made Rangone a knight of Saint Mark and so we see him in the paintings wearing the golden robe of a cavalier aurato.

Rangone wrote a manual (Sul Come Condurre la Vita Fine a 120 Anni) on how to live to the age of 120. He fell somewhat short of that span in his own life, dying in 1577 at the age of eighty-four.

His funeral, which he himself had choreographed, was a splendidly extravagant affair. Rangone is buried in the church of San Zulian.


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