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Black brass door knocker in form of nude man with two sea horses.

Glossy, sculpted black bronze door knocker in the form of a man and two horses standing on a large shell. In the middle is a nude, muscular man with curly hair and a curly beard. He raises an upside-down trident in his right hand. With his left he touches the tail of an animal that has the head and front legs of a horse, but a long, mermaid-like tail. Another mer-horse creature is on the other side of the man. Their tails are symmetrically curled behind the man. He stands on their crossed front legs.

Gallery Text

In the sixteenth century, elaborate knockers became a feature on palace doors in Venice. Made of the precious material of bronze, they were status symbols meant to impress both by their display of wealth and, as in this example, by their fine craftsmanship and sophisticated design. With remarkable invention, Alessandro Vittoria, Venice’s leading sculptor in the second half of the sixteenth century, used the graceful and flexible bodies of two sea horses to form the lyre-like handle of the knocker. Neptune, god of the sea, balances himself on their front legs. His presence would have appealed to learned visitors in this maritime center who would have recognized the reference to Virgil’s Quos ego, in which Neptune calms a tempest to speed Aeneas on his voyage to Italy. Such visitors would also have appreciated that this complex design was based on a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that circulated in prints and medals.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Alessandro Vittoria, Italian (Trento, Italy 1525 - 1608 Venice, Italy)
Door Knocker with Neptune and Sea Horses
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
c. 1550-1580
Creation Place: Europe, Italy, Veneto, Venice
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2540, European Art, 13th–16th century, The Renaissance
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Physical Descriptions

42 x 31.7 x 11.5 cm (16 9/16 x 12 1/2 x 4 1/2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Palazzo Pisani, Venice, Italy. Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, Vienna, Austria. Edward L. Jellinek, Buffalo, New York. [Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, NY (?-1953) sold]; to Fogg Art Museum, 1953.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Francis H. Burr Memorial Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Gothic to Baroque in Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, exh. cat., Allentown Art Museum (Allentown, PA, 1960), no. 43, repr. p. 53, cklist p. 21
  • Highlights from the Collections of the Fogg Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis (St. Louis, 1964), cat. 64
  • Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1967)
  • Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY, 1967), cat. 56
  • James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), pp. 166-7
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997

Exhibition History

  • Gothic To Baroque in Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, 10/29/1960 - 12/31/1960
  • Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 05/08/1967 - 06/11/1967
  • Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967
  • Re-View: S422-423 Western Art of the Middle Ages & Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
  • 32Q: 2540 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

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