There's been a church on this island, originally known as the Isola dei
Cipressi, since the 9th Century. Previously there'd been a vineyard, a
cypress grove and a mill. A Benedictine monastery was established
here in 982, with a church erected in 987 by Vitale Candido and the Badoer
family. The body of Saint Stephen was brought here in 1103 by a monk
called Petro from
Constantinople and from then on the Doge and the Signoria visited the
church every year on the saint's feast day, the 26th December, and this became
one of the most popular festival days in the Venetian calendar, involving
the floating of thousands of candles in the Bacino di San Marco, lasting
until the end of the Republic. In 1204 the body of Saint Lucy was brought
here too, but her feast day celebrations on the December 13th became so
popular that after a storm resulted in the deaths of many people in 1280
her body was moved to the church of Santa Lucia in Cannaregio. The church
and monastery were almost destroyed by an earthquake on Christmas Day in 1223 and rebuilt by Doge Pietro Ziani, who later retreated here.
The church was rebuilt in late Gothic style after 1461.
Palladio's replacement of this gothic church, together (after his renovation
and enlarging of the monastery in 1560) began in 1565. The church was also
realigned at this time, its fašade having originally faced San Marco, and
the piazza outside added. Palladio
died in 1580 and Simeone Sorella continued the work for a further 30
years. In 1610 Palladio's Istrian stone fašade was finally finished, having been begun
by Sorella in 1597, keeping faithfully to Palladio's plans. The effect was
completed in 1609 when buildings in front of the church were demolished.
In 1800 the Conclave which elected Pope Pius VII was held here, but in
1806 the monastery was suppressed and the buildings then used as barracks and
Another temple front, it's a development of Palladio's design for the
San Francesco della Vigna.
A Latin cross - stony, light and monumental, as befits a church built for
ceremony, with white walls
and thick clusters of supporting Corinthian columns and pilasters.
On the right as
you enter is an Adoration
of the Shepherds by Jacopo da Bassano, an atmospheric night time scene that benefits greatly
from a coin in the light. Opposite it is an odd Martyrdom of
Saint Lucy by Leandro de Bassano (one of Jacopo's four sons, who were
all painters in his studio) which depicts
strong men and oxen trying to move the saint with ropes. Also three late Tintorettos:
The Fall of Manna in the Desert, a revolutionary sideways-on Last Supper
best viewed from the choir behind the altar, and a Deposition painted in the year of his death.
Also a brighter Risen Christ and St Andrew with the Morosini Family
by Jacopo & (mostly) Domenico Tintoretto and works
by Ricci and Palma Giovane.
The Ricci, Jacopo da Bassano, a Ponzone and two
Tintorettos are currently (March 2015) being restored.
The Tintorettos are
the Risen Christ and a Martyrdom of Cosmas and Damian
usually said to be 'Studio of'.
Two small panels depicting four pairs of saints by Cima da Conegliano,
now in the Brera, Milan. St Jerome in the Desert by Cima is also in
Veronese's wonderful Wedding Feast at Cana (see below right) was removed from the refectory of
the monastery (Palladio's first work here, begun in 1560) by Napoleon and is
shamefully still in
the Louvre, in the same room as the Mona Lisa scrum. On September 11th 2007, to celebrate the 210th anniversary of
the looting, a computer-generated facsimile was hung on the wall opposite
the entrance, where the painting
Rocco Marconi's Christ and the Adulteress,
now in the Accademia.
The church in art
Monet, Turner, Guardi, Carlevarijs, Canaletto...
Campanile 63m (206ft) electromechanical bells
The original campanile stood in front of the church, collapsed in 1442
during a storm and was rebuilt. A new tower, behind the church, was built
1729 by Scalfarrotto following the collapse of the previous campanile in
1726. This one itself collapsed in 1774, killing one monk and wounding two
others, and was rebuilt in 1791 by Fra Benadetto Buratti. In 1993 the
wooden angel on the top of the campanile was struck by lightning. It now stands
in front of the ticket office for the campanile.
A lift takes you to
the top, giving panoramic views towards San Marco and into the
It is impossible to conceive a design more gross, more barbarous, more
childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more insipid in
result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard.
Observe, also, that when Palladio had got his pediment at the top of the
church, he did not know what to do with it; he had no idea of decorating
it except by a round hole in the middle ... Palladio had given up colour,
and pierced his pediment with a circular cavity, merely because he had not
wit enough to fill it with sculpture. The interior of the church is like a
large assembly room, and would have been undeserving of a moment's
attention, but that it contains some most precious pictures.
Effie Ruskin wrote
...to my mind a very corrupt form of architecture and very ugly, half
Greek Temple-ish and half anything else you like, the inside heavy and
Letter to her mother, 15th December 1849.
The church in film
In memoria di me (In memory of me) an Italian film released in
2007, was filmed in the monastery and the church. And very handsome they
look too, especially at night with atmospheric lighting.
Mon-Sat: 9.30-12.30 and 2.30-6.30
Vaporetto Isola San Giorgio
Cosimo de' Medici when he was banished from Florence in 1433 took
refuge here. He brought Michelozzo with him who designed and built a
show Cosimo's gratitude. This was demolished after a fire in 1614 and
replaced with Longhena's library, built in the 1640s.
There are two cloisters. One Giovanni Buora's Cloister of the
Bay Trees begun in 1516 and completed by Buora's son Andrea in 1540. The
other is Palladio's untypical Cloister of the Cypresses, begun in 1579,
the year before he died, but not completed until the mid 17th Century. In
1806 the monks moved to Santa Giustina. In 1808 an airship was built in
the church and in 1929 the complex became a barracks and ammunitions store.
In 1951 the
monastery was taken over and restored by art patron Count Vittorio Cini ,
and renamed in memory of his son Giorgio, who was killed in an air crash
in 1949. It now hosts conferences and courses and so is not generally open
to the public, except at weekends when there are guided tours. Some
Benedictine monks remain.
The Cini Foundation website