27 January 2009

I'm Left, he's Right

Here’s a pair of ancient red porphyry lions that I see nearly everyday. They live in the little Piazzetta dei Leoncini, right beside the Basilica. Actually, they’re built more like a couple of tough little pugs than lions, with their short, stubby legs and roundy rumps. And their heads are way too big for their bodies. But that doesn’t stop the kids from climbing right up on them for pretend piggyback rides while their parents have a cool drink at the American Bar next door or squint at their maps in the Piazza.

From the goofy smirks on these leonine faces, you’d never guess that this little raised pile of stones saw many horrors through the centuries, and also a great miracle, according to local legend. It is said that St. Mark himself intervened in the blinding of a slave here – he dropped into the melee (evidently upside-down) and stilled the burning brand in mid-air. If you don’t believe me, you can take a look at Tintoretto’s stunning painting of the event, currently hanging at the Accademia (but I gotta say, the scene really doesn’t look much like the Piazzetta).

Just like the pair of lions at the New York Public Library – “Patience & Fortitude” – these two have nicknames, or so I am told. But nobody seems to know them, so I just call them “Sinistra & Destra." (Yup,
"Left & Right.")