Universally known as the symbol of Venice, its ancient Republic, but also of the region of Veneto and the Italian Militar Marin, the winged lion of Venice is usually interpreted as an allegory of Saint Mark, referring to an old tradition according to which an angel, in the form of a winged lion, would have indicated the lagoon territory of Veneto as Saint Mark’s burial place; the winged lion is also referred in the Apocalypse as one of the four animals surrounding Jesus Christ reborn.
The first representations of this figure in Venice date back in 1261, because it simbolically embodied all the characteristics Venetians people were proud to be recognized for:
- the mane embodied the strength of the Republic
- the wings symbolized the spiritual power
- the halo, traditionally associated with holiness, underlined the religious pietas
- the feline tail refers to majesty and power
The lion was often matched with a book, which represented wisdom and knowledge, and a sword, universal symbol of justice; more often than not, the lion was portrayed with its paws planted on the ground, while its hind were floating in water: the clear intent was to underline the power of Venice, both on sea and land.
The ancient banner of the Repubblica Marinara di Venezia presented the winged lion of Venice on a blue background with crosses and red decorations, surrounded by six flames, one for each sestriere, while on the current city of Venice’s flat the winged lion stands on a bright red background, a color connected with military power, thus indicating that the Serenissima still recognizes herself in those ancient virtues.