Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 1, 2014

The winged lion and the man on the crocodile

A winged lion and a man on a crocodile stand guard on top of columns at the edge of the canal in the Piazetta di San Marco in Venice.




The Lion of Venice is an ancient bronze winged lion which came to symbolise Venice after its arrival in Venice in the 12th century. It has a long and interesting history. It is a composite of different pieces of bronze created at different times. Some of the oldest parts probably date from the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd centuries BC. The statue took its present form sometime in the Medieval period.



Napoleon pinched it and took it to France while on his 1797 campaign in Italy. It was damaged at this time and was restored by French sculptors. It was dropped and badly damaged when it was returned to Venice and was stored at the Arsenal before it was restored by Bartolomeo Ferrari and returned to its column in 1816.  His tail was altered and now sticks out behind him; it was previously tucked between his hind legs. The book under his paws was recast.

The winged lion also symbolises St Mark, one of Venice’s patron saints. There are many winged lions all over Venice.

The man with the crocodile standing on the western column represents St Theodore of Amasea, patron of the city before St Mark. He is holding a spear and stands on a crocodile which represents the dragon he is said to have slain. It is also made up of parts of ancient statues. It is a copy, the original is kept in the Doge’s Palace.

I have not seen the man with the crocodile anywhere else but on the column in the piazetta.


The best view of the sculptures is from the terrace of the Basilica of San Marco. It is worth paying the small fee to see the museum and the view from the terrace.


  1. Excellent photos and precis of the history of these symbols of Venice!

    • I love the fact that they are so old and have such an interesting history. There was another column, but it fell in the canal some time ago.

  2. They are beautiful statues, full of history. The winged lion, representing St Mark, is one of the four winged beasts associated with the four Evangelists. This, originated from a prophecy by Ezequiel in the Old Testament. The other statue, represents, as you say, St Theodore of Amasea or St Theodore Tiro, an early Christian martyr, who was Venice’s saint patron before St Mark. St Theodore was also known as “the slayer of dragons” and protector against the Devil, so the figure he is standing on is not a crocodile, but a dragon, although a small one and difficult to differentiate.

    • I think you can see that the man with the spear is a composite of different sculptures. The ‘crocodile’ has little ears and has the head of a dragon, but the tail of a crocodile. I wonder why there are not more sculptures of the saint in this form.

  3. Some interesting history here

    • I have wondered about the man on the crocodile on many occasions. There are centuries of history everywhere you look in Italy.

  4. Very interesting. Did not know the second story. Great pictures.

    • We had a few fabulous days in Venice. I don’t think it would be possible to take a bad picture in the city. I have often wondered about the man on the crocodile. I think the stories behind these things are amazing.

  5. Hi Debra, Lovely posts from Venice. I wanted to acknowledge (and congratulate you) on the milestone of 4,000 individuals following your blog. That is a noteworthy accomplishment and you must feel very pleased with the success of all the wonderful information you shared with us and, of course, your splendid photos which take us on a flight of fantastic armchair travel. You have a gift. So many times I’ve been awed by the sensitive nature of your topics, subjects and insight. A very rich reminder of the wonders of the world; particularly and generally, Italy. Most of us can’t visit as often (or as widely) as you do; so, grazie tanto, for making the journey and sharing it with us. Our vicarious pleasure through your dialogue and exquisite photos.

    • Thank you for you delightful comments. I had no idea when I started the blog where it would go, if anywhere. I have had fun and met lots of lovely people along the way. I love to travel and the blog has made me more observant. We bought our apartment in Italy to give us a base in Europe to allow us to travel more easily there, but we love Italy so much we seem to have trouble moving much further.

  6. Interesting; l enjoy learning about these pieces of art and history of the city.

    • I find the stories behind the sculptures fascinating.

  7. Loved reading about those statues . Your photography was excellent on that other camera. Looking forward to seeing if the new one could possibly be any better.

  8. Some very handsome lions!

  9. Venice, such a wonderful place to get lost in and I love that you’ve found so many lions. Lovely photos, makes me want to return and seek the lions myself.

  10. I’ve read something recently about the winged lion being a Byzantine symbol but I can’t remember what it was that I was reading – so now I have to go and rifle around and find it because it is interesting to know the mythology behind these things isn’t it. I do like the photo with the seagull standing on the lion’s head. I’m always baffled by the logistics of pinching something as large and immensely heavy as this lion – I guess it was truly manhandled.

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