The Making of a Legend: Bel Vizcaino

Statue of Bel Vizcaino in Vizcaya's entrance

This larger-than-life stone sculpture dates to the eighteenth century and has been welcoming visitors to the entrance Piazza at Vizcaya since 1916, the year construction for the main house was finished. Like all other objects and furniture in the house, the statue was acquired by James Deering with the savvy eye of his artistic director, Paul Chalfin. They probably first saw the statue during a trip to Venice in 1914, but it was not brought to Vizcaya until 1916, possibly due to shipping delays caused by the war.

The Origin Story

Original made in the image Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, the statue is attributed to the Venetian sculptor Giovanni Marchiori (1696-1778). It was part of a group of sculptures representing great Venetian artists that decorated the central courtyard of the Palazzo Morosini, in Santo Stefano, Venice.

In the 1600’s the palace was the home of Francesco Morosini, known as the Peloponnesian for his victories against the Ottomans in the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, then called Morea. The home and its collections stayed in the Morosini family until the death of the Countess Loredana Gatterburg-Morosini, who died in 1884.

The art collections and furniture were sold and dispersed. The sculpture seems to have been acquired by the art dealer Guido Minerbi, ultimately getting Deering and Chalfin’s attention.

The Inspiration for Bel Vizcaino

The statue was given a new identity once it arrived in Vizcaya to suit the theme of the Age of Exploration, embedded in the symbols of the Estate.

Deering was enthralled with this period in history. He decided to name his new winter estate after an explorer, but not just any explorer. Inspired by Biscayne Bay and a real 15th century merchant, Deering created his own legend, that of Bel Vizcaino. This is where Vizcaya gets its name.

Today, we no longer know the statue as being that of Andrea Palladio, but instead Bel Vizcaino, a mythical explorer and fellow traveler of Ponce de León. Chalfin carved the name Bel Vizcaya into the base of the statue, forever changing his identity and trying it with that of Vizcaya.

Preserving the Legend

The statue of Bel Vizcaino almost makes the legend real, embodying the persona in stone. Vizcaya’s Collections Care team diligently works to preserve the piece, which has remained exposed to the elements for more than 100 years.

Watch the video below to learn about the most recent restoration of this Vizcaya icon. The statue’s fingers were replicated and replaced by experts at Rosa Lowinger and Associates, a local conservation firm. Special thanks to the Villagers, Inc., for making this treatment possible.

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in here, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Help Vizcaya continue to preserve its vast collection by making an online donation. Together, we can safeguard this rich cultural heritage for future generations to explore and appreciate. 

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