Looking at Palazzo Loredan, San Marco, the second column in from the left has a graffiti depiction of a man with a long pipe. It is inspired by the remarkable legend of a local fisherman called Biagio. A firm favourite with one and all, this old man used to spend a lot of time outside Palazzo Loredan, touting for small jobs amongst the residents of the district. During the moments of rest he allowed himself, he liked to stand and look out over the canal while smoking his pipe. One day, however, when the city was very quiet, the wake left by a passing gondola suddenly turned red. The waters of the canal parted, leaving the gondola suspended in midair, whilst the panic-stricken gondolier dived to one side and swam to the bank.
At this point, two enormous black arms ending in terrible claws came out of the water and snatched away the felze (the small cabin that used to be located at the centre of a gondola). Biagio caught a glimpse of two young girls seized by the claws, whilst a monstrous twin-horned head emerged from the water. Biagio had no doubt that is was Satan himself.
Later, it emerged that the two young girls were members of the Gradenigo family, and it was said that Satan was probably taken revenge upon their father, whose dabbling in the secrets of magic had unwittingly offered the devil the chance to seize hold of these innocent souls.
Faced with this terrifying spectacle, Biagio did no think twice. He hurled his pipe into the water and yelled at Satan to take him rather than the two girls, extending his arms to show that he offered himself in sacrifice. Now it was Satan’s turn to mock Biagio for believing he was some sort of Christ figure. However, he did promise to release the two girls if Biagio’s arms could embrace the entire world. No sooner had he said this than Biagio’s arms were painlessly detached from his body and, followed by a host of cherubim, flew off in either direction around the globe. Satan was left speechless and released the girls, leaving untouched the old Biagio whom God had protected.
The artist of the graffiti is not known, but the legend makes this little seen graffiti something quite special….
(Adapted from Secret Venice by Jonglez Zoffoli)