A crowd of Venetians gathers to observe the dramatic submission of the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Pope Alexander III. Soldiers and clerics mingle with children and dogs. Federico Zuccaro filled the scene with small details, noting everything from the delicate carving in the arches of the cathedral to the boats in the harbor and the men peering around the columns to better view the scene below.
Zuccaro made this drawing in preparation for a painting for the Palazzo Ducale, Venice, which was to replace Tintoretto's version destroyed by fire. Zuccaro drew an event that took place in 1177, more than four hundred years earlier. Emperor Frederick I, nicknamed "Barbarossa" or "Red Beard" by the Italians, had tried to invade Italy and set up his own pope, which led Pope Alexander to excommunicate him. Frederick withdrew temporarily but then returned, captured Rome, and was in the midst of preparing further attacks when his army was destroyed by disease. After his defeat, he agreed to recognize Alexander and was triumphantly accepted back into the Catholic Church.