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.)
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

Harvard University Art Museums, 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

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