Venetian Lion with Man | Mark Lindsay

Venice is an enormous and endless treasure hunt. Obsessions are welcome here—whatever suits your fancy. I have friends who search the city for ancient graffiti, inscriptions, shrines to the Madonna, mysterious symbols and even ancient splash guards that discourage public urination. I was inspired by these efforts. So, on one day in early January, while looking up at the Lion of St. Mark, in Piazzetta San Marco, I decided to collect lions.

It was not my most creative decision. Collecting images of lions in Venice is like collecting ants at a picnic. The winged lion is the very symbol of the city and its patron saint and there are lions everywhere. One finds brass lions, gold lions and silver, bronze lions, plaster lions, stone lions, drawings of lions and paintings of them. There are lions both with wings and without. In a city of great mystery, intrigue and idiosyncrasy choosing to search out lions was a bland commitment but I cared not.

The mission would be simple. I would find every likeness of every lion that I could and photograph it. I would then gather the images to see if I could make sense of my collection. Being on vacation I wanted no burden to this, I simply wanted to find Venetian lions.

There were significant revelations to my project. On average, I discovered a new lion every 200 feet or so. But this was indeed just an average. Sometimes there would be strange, long gaps of no lions at all. And then there'd be a rush of lion after lion after lion. Some of the lions were fierce—the vanguards of Venice on eternal watch duty. But surprisingly, many of them wore silly smirks and were hardly intimidating. I could confidently say that there were more friendly lions in Venice than scary ones.

The best and most regal lions in the city were cast in bronze. There's something about the metal that lent weight to them. I wouldn't mess with any of the bronze lions I met though there were a few sculpted in stone that made me laugh out loud (never a good thing if you're a lion). Maybe my favorite lions were the myriad lion-head doorbells with the buttons right in the lions' mouths. I wonder if they'd bite off the fingers of annoying solicitors. Chomp!