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28 The staircase was thus the focal point linking these two axes. It also had great ceremonial importance. In 1485 the Maggior Consiglio resolved that the climax of every ducal coronation, the placing of the beretta on the head of the new doge, should take place at the top of the staircase, after the religious service in San Marco and the grand procession around the Piazza. The same setting was used by the doge for welcoming ambassadors and important visitors. As a curious extension to the expression of ducal authority there was a prison cell beneath the staircase. 29 The form of the grand ceremonial staircase has remarkable precedents among the drawings of Jacopo Bellini, who also bequeathed the same motif to Venetian Renaissance narrative painting. As a painter Jacopo rarely freed himself from the legacy of Gothic and Byzantine traditions, but his drawings show a fine grasp of modern perspective and of clas- 69 Ca’ Dario, facade of the 1480s 70 Palazzo Ducale, courtyard, towards the Arco Foscari, mid-fifteenth century; east wing on the right begun after fire of 1483 sical architectural vocabulary. In his youth he had studied with Gentile da Fabriano, and he may even have visited Florence himself. The triple arch at the top of the staircase, the middle landing, the benches along the sides, the chamber beneath and, above all, the scenic effect of the courtyard setting, are all prefigured in drawings in his sketchbook in the British Museum, London.
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