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Venice - Historical flags (Italy)


Last modified: 2021-08-24 by rob raeside
Keywords: italy | veneto | st. mark | winged lion | serenissima | venice | venezia |
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Historical flags of Venice

1) image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

2) image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

The first venetian flag is dated from 1177 and bears several representations of Saint Marco. In the XIV century the lion appear (with the face of Saint Marco). It was red on white background and is quoted also in golden on blue background. I don't have real images of this flags and I made the reconstruction in the modern ratio 2:3.
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

In the end of the XIV century the background started to be red and the lion golden. A variant of this flag is reported with only half of the lion in the fly (the head and half body)
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

The lion was always complete from the middle of the 14th century. The republic of Venetia never codified its heraldry, so there are no official designs for the flags
Mario Fabretto, 8 june 1997

The cover of [sie63] shows what the book describes as approximately a quarter of a flagchart, one of many to roll of the, mostly Dutch, presses for the use of seafarers: "Tableau des Pavillons que la Plupart des Nations arborent a` la Mer. Faitau de'po^t des cartes et plans de la marine pour le service des vaisseaux du Roy par ordre de M. de Machault, Garde de se'aux de France. Par le Sr. Bellin Inge'nieur de la marine. 1756." [beL56]
On the 4th row from the bottom there is "Pav. de Venise" - A flag of 3 flywise stripes 7/1/1, red, blue, and red. On the upper red stripe, based on the blue stripe in gold the image of a male bearded sfinx looking hoistward, in his right paw a high latin cross, his left paw resting on an open book of many pages opened hoistward in gold (which is also based on the blue stripe), its tail coiling forward, then behind its body, then between its hind legs then backward.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 4 January 2001

image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

On 15 May 1797 Venecia was occupied by Napoleon, and on 1 June a Public Salvation Committee decreed that the lion is suppressed. Seems that the blue and yellow colors were adopted (those colors were the favorite of Napoleon or can be taken from the old shield). They are known cockades with those colors after 9 April 1797. The Republic took the name of Saint Marco and after a small period was merged with the Italian Republic (later kingdom).
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

According to the Venetian web pages I spoke about for two days, the Venetian Republic never officialized till 1797 its heraldic emblems. The same could maybe be said concerning the flag or the gonfalon of the city.
The Venetian pages say : (I quote and translate)
"At the fall of the Serenissime Republic in 1797, the provisory Municipality substituted the secular inscription "Pax tibi Marce evangelista meus" on the book of the lion with the words "Diritti e doveri dell'uomo e del cittadino" [Human and citizen rights and duties]."
It doesn't seem that the lion was suppressed at that time.

"With a decree of the Vice-king Eugene Beauharnais of the 18th February 1806, a coat of arms was adopted, showing all the coats of arms of the states constituting the Italian Kingdom on the Napoleonic Eagle. With patent letters, a coat of arms was adopted on the 22nd February 1813 in which the ancient emblem of Venice doesn't appear".
Pascal Vagnat, 9 November 1998

I believe that the lion follow (1797) in the city flag but is suppressed in the state flag.
Jaume Ollé, 10 November 1998

I had the chance to get a copy of the "Raccolta di Carte Pubbliche, Istruzioni, Legislazioni, ... del nuovo Veneto Governo Democratico - Volume Primo" (Collection of Public Documents, Instructions, Laws ... of the new Democratic Government of Venice - First Volume), printed in Venice, 1797.

The list starts on May 13, 1797, with the announcement of a provisional government and the settlement of a limited number of French troops in some fixed places of the Capital (i.e. Venice).

On May 16, the government announced the Republic and a change in the words of the open book in the arms: "A cui in vece dell' antica Iscrizione viene sostituita la seguente : Diritti, e Doveri dell' Uomo e del Cittadino" (to which, instead of the ancient text, the following is substituted: Rights and Duties of Man and of the Citizen).

The change is short-lived, as the Lion is replaced by the Liberty badge on May 20, no further details are given.

And the flags? In the whole collection no flags are mentioned and we may suppose that the French Tricolor was displayed by the French troops and that was enough. Nonetheless, a decree was issued to determine the cockade already on May 18: "la Nazione ha adottato tra gli altri quello della uniforme Coccarda tricolore Verde, Bianco, e Rosso" (the Nation adopted among the others (symbols) that of the standard Green, White and Red three-colored cockade).

The documents refer to "La MunicipalitÓ Provisoria di Venezia" (The Provisional Municipality of Venice), which would have joined the other towns of the former state in a new republic. On May 27 the Provisional Municipality of Venice invited the inland Municipalities (of the former state) to send their representatives to Milan, to agree the capital of the new republic under the guide of the "General in Capo" (Leading General, i.e. Napoleon). Please, remove from the page the reference to the Republic of Saint Marco, which instead applies to the 1848-1849 revolution.

A decree issued on May 28 is remarkable. It warns the citizens about the incoming visit of the General and among the instructions we find a very interesting one: "I colori Italici siano scelti preferibilmente a tutti gli altri, onde far conoscere all' universo intiero , che entriamo anche noi nello stesso spirito della LibertÓ Italiana" (The Italian colors shall be preferred to all the others, in order to let the whole universe to know that we too join the same spirit of the Italian Liberty). By means of this, we may infer that flags in the Italian colors did appear during the short life of the Provisional Government of Venice in 1797, albeit never officially introduced. Venice had to wait till the 1848 to see those colors flown, by another republic still.

Please, note that all the Italian text above is written in contemporary language and it matches the original in the document, including the capital letters. It differs in some details from the current Italian.

I hope this sheds some light on an otherwise obscure time of the history of Venice during the Napoleonic wars.

Pier Paolo, 23 August 2019

Venecia was given to Austria in Vienna Congress - 1815
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

"In 1825 the Austrian government conceded a coat of arms [to the city of Venice] which consisted of the lion of Saint-Mark in natural colours on a field azure. The coat of arms is surmounted by a ducal crown..."
Pascal Vagnat, 9 November 1998

image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

In 1848 Venice revolted and the Italian flag was used with the Venetian lion in the canton. Austrian retook it 1849.
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

"Daniele Manin [I don't know who he is] with a decree of the 21th March 1848, gave [the city] a flag, tricolore green-white-red, with a white rectangle bordered with these three colours and charged with the lion passant or, in the upper third of the green stripe".
Pascal Vagnat, 9 November 1998

In 1860 Venice was returned to Italy.
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

" The communal council of Venice, in his sitting of the 15th December 1879 adopted as coat of arms a shield azure with the lion of Saint-Mark or "in moleca" [only the head, a part of the body and the paws of the lion are to be seen]. (...) The civic flag was the national tricolour with in the canton a red rectangle with the lion of Saint Mark passant or, in the upper third of the green."
Pascal Vagnat, 9 November 1998

image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

the blue line meaning the sea. Seems that was in use until 1942.
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

This flag appears at J.W Norie - J.S. Hobbs Flaggen aller seefahrenden Nationen, 1971[ nor71] (original print 1848) as
183 Venice Peace (as Venice War Flag except the stance of the lion of St. Marcus is less aggressive, the book is clear and open, and it holds a cross, rather than a sword). For one thing, its tail apparently curves over its back, behind its body and between its legs. The field part encircled by the curve of the tail has apparently been miscoloured as part of its body.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

The part between the tail and body is also yellow in [zna99].
Željko Heimer, 13 November 2001

image by Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

The city flag was changed 1942 for an pro-Italian design.
Jaume Ollé, 9 November 1998

" With a decree of the Head of the Government of the 1st of May 1942, [emblems] were conceded to the city of Venice: a coat of arms [same as the former one, the lion being surmounted by an aureole (nimbus) holding the open book of the Evangile with the words in black letters "Pax tibi Marce evangelista meus". The top of the shield is gules (purple) a bundle of lictors or .... The shield is of Venetian form, and is surmounted by a doge crown], a seal, a gonfalon [red semé with stars or, with the lion of Saint Mark or passant, its dexter upper paw on the book of Evangile, on the earth from which is issuing a fortress and its lower paws on water. The gonfalon is bordered with gold ornament and sacral pictures representing the four Evangelists, the Annunciation to the Holy Dove. The gonfalon is ended with seven "tongues" ornamented with symbols of war.], a flag [vertically green-white-red with a red rectangle with the lion of Saint-Mark passant or in the green field].
In fact, this flag seems to have been little in use, and the better know copy of the gonfalon (or its variant) was in use.
Pascal Vagnat, 9 November 1998

Here is another Venice flag. It is from the Times Atlas of World History. The caption says it shows the "Lion standing on land as well as on water, symbolising the Republic's dominance of its hinterland as well as of the Adriatic". The "flag" actually looks more like a tapestry to me. Can anybody identify exactly what this flag is?
T.F. Mills, 8 May 1999

On my local copy of the Times Atlas of World History (1993) there is an image on p. 182, which looks strangely familiar to the 'flag' you sent. It is a stone relief with this text: 'The Venetian Republic controlled extensive territories in the eastern Mediterranean and the Lion of Venice stood guard on coastal fortresses in Greece and the Balkans, as well as in Crete and Cyprus. The lion stands on land as well as water, symbolizing the Republic's dominance of its hinterland as well as the Adriatic.' The stone relief stands guard on Cyprus.
I am curious: was the stone relief made into a flag? - in which case it is a Cyprus flag. The structure on the right is in my edition a round tower with three levels. Can you tell in which year the Times Atlas you quote was edited?
Jarig Bakker, 9 May 1999

I found out that It is part of a (rather complicated) flag on p. 141 of FTAAATW. Caption: " Since 1300 the main design of the Venetian flag has remained the same. .. This design from the end of the 17th century has the lion partly on land and partly on water, signifying that the Venetian Empire extended from the hinterland of the city to the whole Adriatic Sea."
On the same page info on the Venetian flag, which doesn't seem to be correct: " Gold and red were possible chosen because these colors had been used by the Byzantine Empire and Venice claimed that region. The old design of the flag, which at present is proudly hoisted in front of the San Marco church, has four rectangular tails..."
The flag on p. 141 has 6 tails, as has the flag in 'Venice' by John H. Davis, Newsweek, New York, 1979 - (too big ; some tourists might have noticed that too. Same flag on 'serenissima' .
So the image sent by Tom is part of a flag; I assume the whole flag is impossible to become a GIF.
Jarig Bakker, 9 May 1999

IMHO, it is "just" a detail from the flag, and it really looks like tapestry, as you say - very ornamented. Still today a similar flag is used by modern city of Venice and Regione del Veneto. The lion of St. Mark was used as symbol of Venice, both on flags and as stone relief (functioning as some kind of COA, I believe). Such reliefs were put in fortification walls, usually above the gates,
Željko Heimer, 10 May 1999

This image is also to be found on page 112 of "Heraldry: Sources, Symbols and Meaning", Ottfried Neubecker, 1997, Tiger Books International (London), where it is referred to as "Venetian flag from the 17th century; Venice, Museo Correr".
So it seems it is definitely an actual flag.
Santiago Dotor, 19 May 1999

Venice War Flag

image contributed by Jarig Bakker, 9 March 2001
Scan from Norris/Hobbs: 'Maritime flags of all nations', 1848

Venice flag in peace time is with the open book, but in war time it has the sword instead of the book.
Andrea Fassetta, 8 March 2001

Above is a scan from Norris/Hobbs: 'Maritime flags of all nations', 1848, which is alongside the Venetian Peaceflag.
Jarig Bakker, 9 March 2001

The picture from Norie-Hobbs' book is quite correct, but there was another difference between both flags: in the war flag the lion rests with its paw on a closed bible.
Ralf Stelter, 9 March 2001

For some reason, I've always been under the impression that it was not so much a flag used in time of war as the flag used by warships, as opposed to merchant ships, possibly because the carved lions at the Arsenal also have the closed book.  Ralf and Jarig's posts suggest I was mistaken...can anyone confirm the actual usage?
The reason the book (actually not a Bible) is closed is that the text is "Pax tibi Marce evangelista meus" ("Peace unto thee, Mark, my evangelist"), a sentiment not deemed appropriate for military activities.
Joe McMillan, 9 March 2001

I used the term "war flag" as this is the old German term for naval ensign. I also have had the impression that both flags were naval flags and no "war time" and "peace time".
Neubecker in "Fahnen und Flaggen", c. 1939, writes that merchant ships had the flag with cross, war ships the flag with sword. He also shows the book opened in the war flag. And all other illustrations also show the sword in combination with an open book. I have only one note in my files with sketches of both flags where on the "war flag" the book is closed, but to my shame I can not find the source. What I found: Aldo Ziggioto quoted in his vexilla Italica series about flags of the italian states the "Dizionario Historico Tecnico Pratico della Marina", edited in 1759 in Venice, which writes about naval flags: "the lion presents either the cross or the sword, but only the cross on merchant flags". So maybe that warships used either of the flag depending of the state they were in (peacetime - wartime), but that is not certain...
But what book is it, when it's not a bible? I know that in the beginning it was a roll of parchment, later it was a book, and I got the impression it was a bible, although it is not mentioned as such in any source.
Ralf Stelter, 9 March 2001

The quotation is not biblical.  It is from a mediaeval legend that an angel appeared to St. Mark when he was traveling from Aquileia (at the head of the Adriatic) to Rome and said to him "Pax tibi, Marce, evangelista meus.  Hic requiescet corpus tuum," (Peace unto thee Mark my evangelist.  Here your body will rest.)  Since the text is not biblical, I conclude that the book cannot be a bible.
Joe McMillan, 9 March 2001

This flag appears at J.W Norie - J.S. Hobbs Flaggen aller seefahrenden Nationen, 1971[ nor71] (original print 1848) as
182 Venice War.
What isn't as clear from the scan is that part of the book is coloured red. At first this looks like an attempt to erase half the book, as a last minute correction to conform with the War Ensign having a closed book. But if examined more carefully, a tiny black line can be seen, which would suggest that indeed a part of the page was to be coloured red. Apparently, the book is torn, or blood was spilt.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

Comapre notes by Ralf Stelter. I would be ready to agree with him, that there is no war-time and peace-time flag variants, only the merchant and naval version, the only (meaningful, certainly though history many variations were made) difference is what the lion holds - either sword or cross, the first being used on naval vessels and latter on merchant. Also, at the time it may not be quite clear what Venetian ships are of what category - they would be similarly built and equipped...
Saying that, I believe that there is no such thing as closed book being naval variant - it must be one of those "urban legends" and nothing more.
Regarding the "blood" on the book, IMHO, it is nothing more then some point from the flag field entering the area that should be coloured yellow - a number of similar "peninsulas" could be find in other flags, too. There is no significance it it.
Željko Heimer, 13 November 2001

Actually, this is the point where I disagree with Ralf: Ships changed function in times of war. Eg. a merchant would maybe be employed as transport ship. So judged from the viewpoint of that ship, the flags could well be War and Peace. Whether this use was institutionalized, and/or whether the distinction of a Naval Ensign was, would at the very least depend on the time these flags were flown.
I know for certain that there is such an variant, now. I've just been given a catalogue of Adria Bandiere, where all three Venetian banners they picture/offer/produce have St. Marcus holding the book in his right claw, the left is simply supporting him. (This is much easier on the book than those historical versions were, if they existed.) However, they also have a jack, quartered, with in one of the quarters St. Markus holding the Sword, and with his left paw standing n the closed book lying on the ground!
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 15 November 2001

Flag According to Book of all Kingdoms (late 14th Cent.)

image by Eugene Ipavec, 16 March 2010

The 32th flag mentioned and illustrated in the Book of All Kingdoms [f0fXX] is attributed to Venice. This as depicted in the 2005 spanish illustrated transcription [f0f05], a white flag with the winged lion of St. Mark in red, facing the hoist, nimbused in white and holding/reading a white paper roll (not book); the flag shown in the ogival default shape of this source.
The anonymous author of [f0fXX] describes the flag thusly: "El se├▒or d’esta Venecia ├í por se├▒ales un pendon blanco con un le├│n bermejo con alas, commo el evangelista san Marcos." (The lord of this Venice has for sign a white pendon with a red lion with wings, like Mark the Evangelist).
António Martins-Tuválkin, 17 November 2007

Flags According to Steenbergen Book (1862)

image by Jaume Ollé, 13 February 2003

No. 229 - Venice (several variants)
Source: [stb62]
Jaume Ollé, 13 February 2003

image by Jaume Ollé, 13 February 2003

No. 230 - Venice (several variants)
Source: [stb62]
Jaume Ollé, 13 February 2003