Traditionally said to have been one of the first seven churches of Venice and first built in 639, by San Magno (St Magnus), to whom the Saviour (Salvatore) had appeared in a dream and sent him a sign - a red cloud this time. The first documented date is 1067. This church is said to have had an iron-grating floor with running water beneath. A rebuilding after the fire of 1106 can be seen on De Barbari's famous map of 1500. It is in the porch of this Romanesque church that Pope Alexander III is said to have taken refuge disguised as a pilgrim and fleeing Emperor Frederic Barberossa. (But another story has him working for six months in the kitchen of the convent of Santa Maria della CaritÓ.) From 1267 San Salvador housed the relics of the first patron of the city, Theodore, which had previously been in San Marco.
The present Renaissance church was begun in 1506 to designs by Giorgio Spavento, with Tullio Lombardo supervising, helped by his father Pietro, following Spavento's death three years after work began. The church was largely completed around 1523, with Jacopo Sansovino responsible for the completion of work from 1530-34 and for the lovely frescoed side entrance onto the Mercerie. The fašade was rebuilt 1649-63 to a design by Giuseppe Sardi with sculptural decoration by Bernardo Falcone. It has an Austrian cannonball somewhat neatly embedded in the bottom left hand corner.
The church is monumental with a lovely dark grey interior, reminding me of some favourite churches in Florence, although the multiple-domed interior is supposed to hark back to the Byzantine and to San Marco. Despite the darkish stone it's a well-lit church. The interior is designed on mathematical principals, based on the proportion of 2:1 - square bays alternating with half-bays.
The remains of Saint Theodore, Venice's original patron saint, are in the chapel to the right of the apse.
The body of the church is mostly tombs and painting-free altars, including an altar of the Scuola dei Luganegheri (Guild of Sausage Makers) with statues by Vittoria of Saint Sebastian (with a metal arrow embedded in the stone) and Saint Roch (with a very discreet sore on his leg). There are a pair of paintings just before the shallow transept, with the tomb of Caterina Cornaro at the end of the right one.
The great Titian Annunciation of 1563/6 (see far below right) sits on an altar by Sansovino, next to his tomb of Doge Francesco Venier. It's one of the few late Titians (he painted it at the age of 90) remaining in Venice in the place for which it was commissioned, by Antonio Cornovi della Vecchia from Bergamo in May 1559. And in case you're wondering why Mary is lifting up her scarf and showing the angel her ear, it's because that was evidently the organ through which the holy spirit (specifically The Word) entered and impregnated her.
The other great Titian is another late one - the damaged but explosive and impressive Transfiguration of 1560 over the high altar, which hides a 14th century silver-gilt reredos revealed only at Christmas, Easter and at the feast of San Salvador on the 6th of August. A pulley lowered the painting on feast days and the canvas had suffered from this rough use and had been nastily over-painted to hide damage. Restoration in 1997 revealed the true Titian, conceived as an image to work in its unique situation.
A third Titian, a Crucifixion, was commissioned by Flemish merchant Giovanni D'Anna for his family altar right opposite the Cornovi chapel. The D'Anna family suffered financially following Giovanni's death, however, and work on the chapel halted. The Crucifixion is lost, or may indeed never have been painted. The commissioners of these three paintings and Titian himself were all members of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and there is a possibility that it was a co-ordinated commission.
Then there's The Supper at Emmaus (see below) a stiff piece of work which tradition ascribed to Giovanni Bellini, or a pupil of Bellini called Benedetto Diana (according to Layard) or Carpaccio (according to Crowe and Cavalcaselle) or to Bellini's studio - it depends on which book you read, or which art historian you choose to trust. The church itself used to cover its options by having Bellini and Carpaccio scribbled in biro on masking tape stuck on the plastic sign nearby, with question marks. They then settled on 'Anonymous copy of a Bellini', but recent (2011) restoration saw previous overpainting removed, with a date of 1513 arrived at and it's now believed that it is the work of Vittore Carpaccio, painted for Girolamo Priuli.
Cannaregio :: Castello :: Dorsoduro :: Giudecca :: San Marco :: San Polo :: Santa Croce :: The Islands :: Demolished