The Drunkenness of Noah

The Drunkenness of Noah by Filippo Calendario, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

Each day thousands of people crowd onto one bridge to photograph another. The object of their attention is 'a work of no merit...owing the interest chiefly to its pretty name, and to the ignorant sentimentalism of Byron.

That was Ruskin's caustic opinion of the Ponte dei Sospiri, better known, even in Italy, as the Bridge of Sighs.

However, a few feet away from the Ponte della Paglia, where the tourists stand clicking merrily away, is a work of supreme merit. Unfortunately, the Drunkenness of Noah seems to pass most of them by.

The sculpture, which forms part of the south-eastern corner of the Palazzo Ducale, may be the work of Filippo Calendario, who was one of its architects. The placing of almost life-size groups (Adam and Eve are depicted on the south-western corner) on the corners of a building was without precedent, either in Venice or elsewhere.

The bible tells how, after the flood, Noah planted a vineyard. Turning his vines into wine, he drank a glass too many and ended up flat out in his tent, sloshed and naked. There he was observed by his son Ham, who told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. The latter approached their father, walking backwards so that they would not see him naked, and laid a cloak over him. 

The sculpture cleverly uses the two sides of the corner to dramatise (with a little license) this aspect of the story. Noah is depicted drunk on one side, while two of his sons are depicted on the other. We see a hand slipping surreptitiously round the corner to cover up the father's nakedness. 

The Drunkenness of Noah by Filippo Calendario, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

The Drunkenness of Noah by Filippo Calendario, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

The Drunkenness of Noah by Filippo Calendario, Palazzo Ducale, Venice