No matter how many times I visit the Palazzo Ducale, or the basilica of San Marco, for that matter, I can't help but feel that I'm missing more than I'm taking in. Paradoxically, it seems the more I see, the more I notice what I haven't yet seen and don't have time to see during any single visit. If I then return to specifically look at the things I missed during the prior visit, I notice yet other things I'd never noticed before and that I really must return to look at more closely some time in the future.
And so with each visit, against all logical expectations, my list of things yet to see multiplies rather than diminishes.
I trust at some point this will all change: that a sense of the finite will reassert itself and I'll glimpse, however vaguely, a distant day when I might conceivably believe I've seen pretty much all there is to see at the Palazzo Ducale. At least in theory I trust in such an possibility.
In actuality, I suspect that if a place like the Palazzo Ducale can be compared to a vast novel, an edifice in which an entire world view is spelled out in painstaking detail, the best that most of us will ever be able to do is skim it, or flip quickly through its pages, or, in some cases, just glance at its cover.
I only had a little time to visit the Palazzo Ducale yesterday afternoon and I spent all of it (and more than I'd planned) absorbed in the collection of 14th-century capitals displayed just beyond the ticket booth entrance, well short of the main part of the Palazzo and the main reasons people visit it (the grand rooms of the doge's apartment, the even grander council chambers, the prison). Removed from their original places outside among the building's facade during 19th-century restoration and placed inside where their already damaged surfaces might be safe from the elements, these groupings of capitals are fairly easy to blow right past. I usually do.
Each leafy capital is inhabited by its own category of figures: there are representations of the seasons, of the Zodiac, of trades, of foreigners and so on. I'd typically get caught up in such things, but yesterday I paid almost no attention to themes and took each figure as an individual piece: noticing only the way they were carved, the marks and disfigurements of time, the charm of some, the pathos of others.
The figures on the capitals are both literally (at hardly more then 6 inches in height) and dramatically among the most insignificant characters in the grand sweeping narrative of the Republic that the building's architecture and ornamentation are designed to convey, and perhaps for that very reason, considered one-by-one, they struck me as the most absorbingly human: both vaguely familiar and undeniably other, intimate and strange, very much of the past yet somehow nevertheless--arriving after a hazardous voyage of centuries--present.