A Monument to a Mercenary

Verrocchio's statue of the mercenary, Bartolomeo Colleoni, Venice

Venice is home to one of the most magnificent statues in the world. "I do not believe that there is a more glorious work of sculpture existing in the world" wrote John Ruskin. 

Ruskin was referring to the bronze equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, which was modelled by Andrea del Verrocchio and cast by Alessandro Leopardi. Colleoni (1400-75) was a successful condottiero (mercenary), who was employed by the Venetian republic for many years. 

Colleoni bequeathed to the Republic of Venice a small fortune, on condition that it erected a statue of him in the Piazza San Marco. A statue to an individual in the city's most prestigious public space was out of the question. However, as they didn't want to lose the bequest, the powers-that-be ordered the statue to be erected in the Campo San Marco rather than the Piazza San Marco!


The statue, which depicts man and horse as a formidable fighting machine, was unveiled to the public on March 21st 1496. 

Bartolomeo Colleoni was very proud of his family name, which comes from the Latin word coleus (testicle). As a general, he led his men into battle with the cry 'Coglia, coglia' and his coat of arms actually depicts three pairs of testicles. In Italian, a slang word for testicles is coglioni

Colleoni is buried in the Cappella Colleoni, in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, in his native city of Bergamo.



The equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni in Venice.

Bartolomeo Colleoni's coat of arms

Coat of arms of Bartolomeo Colleoni, Cappella Colleoni, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo