This is the great Venetian church of the Dominican order, just as the
Frari is for
the Franciscans. The sites which were granted to them are far apart and
far from the political centre of Venice. The land for this church was,
like that for the Frari, presented to the order by Doge Jacopo Tiepolo.
The first church here was said to have been built in 983, but is first
documented in 1184. The Dominicans were given the land here around 1230,
and their first church was completed during the 13th century. It was soon found
to be too small, however, and work on a much larger church began in the
early 14th century. By 1368 the apses and transepts were finished but a
shortage of funds halted work until the Maggior Consiglio (Grand
Council) gave the Dominicans 10,000 ducats in 1390. By
1430 the nave
was completed and the church was consecrated, with Bon's
portal added in 1458-62.
Both Gentile and Giovanni Bellini were buried
here, in February 1507 and November 1516. Like the
San Zanipolo also gets called 'a Venetian Pantheon' as it has
twenty-five tombs of doges. The church was not, as you might think, named
after the apostles John and Paul (Giovanni and Paolo). The name saints
of this church are two obscure soldier-martyr saints of the same names.
Images of these saints can be seen in the stained glass window, standing
alongside Saints George and Theodore, two of Venice's three patron
The west front’s huge unfinished brick façade contrasts with the
of the decorated façade of the adjoining
Scuola Grande di San Marco. The
portal is by Bartolomeo Bon, with columns salvaged from a church on
Torcello, and mixes classical details into its essentially gothic form,
said to have been the style's last gasp in Venice. It
was to be part of a remodelled façade but the rest never happened. Notice
too the lack of a campanile.
interior looms impressively, cross-vaulted with stout plain columns and wooden tie beams.
These are all features it shares with
the Frari, but San Zanipolo lost its wooden choir in 1682 and so seems
larger and airier. The aisles are separated from the nave by 10 thick
columns of Istrian stone. The well-lit choir draws the eyes with all
its Gothic windows and its Baroque high altar, attributed to Longhena.
The stained glass windows are one rare surviving examples from the
period produced on Murano to designs mostly by Bartolomeo Vivarini.
chock-full of crowd-pleasing paintings than the
Frari, San Zanipolo
does have the Giovanni Bellini San Vincenzo Ferrer polyptych
right). It’s an
early work - his first important independent commission - but is somewhat lacking
polished serenity of his later work, and with considerable studio
involvement, especially in the predella. This polyptych, painted around
1465-8, was commissioned by the scuola piccolo devoted to this
saint, who had a reputation as a miraculous healer, which may have
increased his popularity in Venice after the plague outbreak of 1464.
You’ll also find the odd Saint Anthony
Begging by Lotto and some impressive Veronese ceiling paintings in the Capella
This chapel was the one destroyed by fire in 1867 (see below) the Veronese
ceiling paintings having come later from the lost church of
Santa Maria dell'Umiltà. They
had been taken to Vienna in 1821, following the demolition of the church,
and only returned to Venice at the end of World War I and installed here
in June 1925.
The tombs of doges
are a bigger draw here - this is the burial place of twenty-five doges,
and after the 15th century all of their funerals were held here. Especially
fine are the three for the Mocinego doges on the
entrance wall (see above). The one on the left (as you face the
back wall) to Doge Pietro is by Pietro Lombardo, with the help of
his sons Tullio and Antonio. It glorifies the Doge's military
achievements, with Christian themes only getting a look in towards the top with
the relief of The Three Marys at the Sepulchre. The tomb on the right to
Doge Giovanni is
by Tullio Lombardo, the elder son, probably with the help of his brother
Antonio. The tomb in the middle, of Doge Alvise I and his wife Loredana
Marcello, is later and probably Palladio-designed. It is embellished with
two saints taken from Doge Pietro's tomb and incorporates the memorial to
Bartolomeo Bragadin, which did not make the Bragadin family happy.
Marcantonio Bragadin's tomb, by Scamozzi is also here. He being the
Captain of Venetian forces at
Famagusta when it was taken by the Turks, who was tortured and flayed
alive and his stuffed body paraded around the town seated on a cow. His
remains were stolen from the arsenal in Constantinople nine years later,
returned to his family
and interred here.
The tomb of Doge Giovanni Dolfin is still flanked by
fragments of monochrome frescoes of Virtues by Guariento, a
Paduan painter, which where damaged by the moving here of Doge Andrea
Vendramin's tomb from
Santa Maria dei Servi.
Jacobello del Fiore painted an altarpiece for this church around 1428,
of which the predella panel of the Assassination of Saint Peter
Martyr (previously attributed to Gentile da Fabriano) in Dumbarton
Oaks, Washington may have been a part.
A Bellini altarpiece of The Virgin and Child with Saints, called
the Saint Catherine of Siena altarpiece was one of three paintings destroyed in a fire in the Capella del Rosario on August 16th 1867 (see
photo by Carlo Naya above). The other two were Titian's mid-period masterpiece The Death of St Peter Martyr and Tintoretto's
Crucifixion. The Titian is now only to be seen in copies, like
the one by Johann Carl Loth (see above right), and was one
of his most influential works.
It and the Tintoretto were singled out as the church's art highlights
by H.Taine in his guidebook Italy: Florence and Venice of
1869. Of the Crucifixion he said The poesy of light and shadow
fills the air with brilliant and lugubrious contrasts. A jet of yellow
light falls across the nude figure of Christ which seems to be a glorified
corpse. Above him float the heads of female saints in a flood of glowing
atmosphere while the body of the perverse thief, contorted and savage,
embosses the sky with its ruddy muscular forms. In this tempest of
intense, angry daylight it seems as if the crosses wavered... you perceive
in the background under a luminous cloud a mass of resuscitated bodies.
The Bellini was
in poor condition but was an early and innovatory work, being probably the
first unified pala produced in Venice. It was usually sited above the first altar on the right
as you enter the church, where its original frame remains, but it had been
moved temporarily to the Capella del Rosario. There's a description of it by Crowe
and Cavalcaselle in A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice,
Padua... But a picture of it can be built up from an engraving by
Francesco Zanetti from 1858, an etched partial copy by Johann Leonhard
Raab and an anonymous watercolour copy, current whereabouts unknown - see
and white copy above right.
Veronese's enormous Supper at the House of Levi
of 1573 was
looted by Napoleon and later returned to the Accademia. It was
famously painted, for the refectory here, to replace a Last Supper
by Titian destroyed in a fire, as Christ in the House of Simon the
Pharisee, the feast where Mary Magdalene had washed Jesus's feet with
her tears and hair, but had to be renamed after the
authorities objected to the liberties Veronese had taken with the
peripheral figures, and having forgot to include Mary Magdalene. (The
Inquisitors had initially just asked the prior to get Titian to replace
the large dog in the foreground with Mary. This episode being the inspiration for the famous Monty Python
Michelangelo and the
Pope sketch ('OK, we'll lose the kangaroo - I can make him
another disciple'.) Another Veronese painted for San Zanipolo (for the
altar dedicated to the Pietà) the late, dark and strikingly foreshortened
Lamentation, found its way to France in the early 17th century and is now
in the Hermitage.
Tintoretto's 1566 Madonna and
Saints Sebastian, Mark and Theodore with Camerlenghi is now in the Accademia.
It came here from the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in 1817, and was moved to
the Accademia in 1883.
A figure of Adam by Tullio Lombardo taken from the tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin here
Santa Maria dei
Servi ) is now in the Met in New York.
It is said that the painter Vincenzo Catena - a talented
associate of Bellini and Giorgione - is buried here, but no trace
or formal record has ever been found.
The church in art
Many views by the likes of Guardi, Bellotto and Canaletto. The
Canaletto of 1738/9 (see above right) shows the earlier (17th/18th
triple-light windows down the side. There's a
watercolour by Sargent, called Rio dei Mendicanti, Venice, of
c.1899, which is also from the classic viewpoint. David Roberts
did a watercolour of the interior in 1851 (see above right).
The church in fiction
In Falling in Love
Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti comes here to light a candle
for his mother half way down the right aisle, under a stained glass
window depicting a saint she was never sure was George or Theodore. He avoids looking at the Bellini
as he passes, being 'still
scandalized by the violence of the last restoration...poor thing'.
Monday to Saturday 8.00 to 10.00 for the parish,
10.00 to 6.00 with entry
Sunday 1.00 to 6.00
San Zanipolo in a photochrom print of c.1890.
Showing Gothic triple-light windows along the side.