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Pietro Lombardo and sons 1481-90


A shrine was built near here in 1408 to house a painting of the Virgin commissioned by Francesco Amadi, on the walls of whose house it hung. This image soon got a reputation for working miracles and donations allowed for the building of a small wooden church squeezed into the same campo. Work began in 1481 on the present church and continued into the early 1490s, with consecration on 31st December 1489. The church was designed by Pietro Lombardo and embellished with carvings by him, his sons, and their workshop. The initial work, under Pietro's direction, resulted in the construction of the barrel-vaulted nave, and in 1485 it was decided to add the raised presbytery, surmounted by a dome designed by him. It was funded by Angelo Amadi, the nephew of Francesco who had had the icon painted. The uncle had also been married to noted beauty Elena Badoer.  A year into the building work it was decided to remove the church from parish control and make it part of a monastic institution, so the Amadi family house nearby was given to the Franciscan Order of Poor Clares and the first twelve nuns came from the convent of Santa Chiara on Murano. The ceiling seems to have been a 16th-century replacement of the original, and although the church seems to have remained untouched since then the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries saw the creation, and movement around the place, of many paintings and altars for this church (see Lost art below).

All were removed when the church and its high altar were returned to their supposed original state in the late 19th century, with their places taken by marble panels. The appearance of the church before this work can be judged from the 1840 print (see above). This work has been characterised as turning a devotional shrine into a monument. The replacement of the marble facings began in 1865 under the Austrians but work stuttered after the unification, only resuming in 1883 after several visits by the King to the church, who found pigeons and sparrows flying in and out of the broken windows. The work was completed by 1887

The exterior, and
marbles list
The arms of the Amadi family are to be seen over the door. The handsome marble-clad exterior - unusually you can admire all four sides of this church - was the first church since San Marco to be so completely covered. It's also probably the earliest example of superimposed orders of pilasters (different on the lower and upper levels) in Venice. The large semi-circular gable echoes the barrel-vault inside.
The Virgin and Child over the door is by Giorgio Lascaris, but he signed it with the name Pyrgotoles, a famed carver from antiquity mentioned by Pliny the Elder as one favoured by Alexander the Great, none of whose work is known to survive.
The marbles and stones used on the exterior are Pavonazzo (white with black and grey veining), Broccatello Rosso (pale red), Verona marble (deep red), Porphyry (purple), Verd Antique (dull, dark green), Alabastro a Pecorella (little sheep alabaster) (red) and Serpentine (dark green).

Much rhapsodising and plenty of purple prose have been devoted to this interior, using phrases like 'Renaissance jewel box', but you'll forgive and forget when you get inside and sit and wonder. The space consists of a single nave, a decorated wooden barrel vault and a chancel up a steep flight of steps, raised so that everyone can see the venerated image of the Virgin. There is a domed apse above and the sacristy is underneath the chancel. There are no columns to complicate the space, and no great paintings remain. It's not the details that appeal, it's simply the perfectly-proportioned whole, as you are enclosed by the polychrome marble patterns and porphyry and admire the fine carving skills of the Lombardi. It's very reminiscent of San Miniato in Florence, but so much smaller. The marble facing of the upper half of the nave walls is thanks to the 19th century 'restoration' work, though, as this area was originally stuccoed.
The railings of the staircase up to the chancel have small statues of The Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel, and Saints Francis and Clare, all by Pietro's son Tulio Lombardo.
The miracle-working painting of The Virgin and Child by Niccolo di Pietro is above the altar. On either side of the altar are bronze statues of Saint Peter and Saint Anthony Abbot. They are by Vittoria, who was a pupil of the Lombardi, and are the only later additions to their work.
The ceiling features fifty square panels depicting mostly Old Testament prophets, patriarchs, kings and others. The pendentives are Sibyls (east side) and Old Testament Heroines (west side). They are all by Pier Maria Pennacchi and his assistants, and date to just before 1515, the year of Pennacchi's death.
The paintings on the underside of the barco (nun's gallery) at the back are attributed to Marco Vecellio, Titian's nephew, and dated to the 1580s or 90s. The main subjects are The Virgin and Child, Saint Francis and Saint Clare, the last two reflecting the order occupying the convent.

The convent and cavalcavia
The convent was also the work of the Lombardi
. It was suppressed on 25th April 1810 and by 1813 had been handed over to the Municipality for use as, you guessed it, a barracks. It later passed into private hands. Until the 19th century a nuns' passageway (the cavalcavia -  seen in the two old prints below) linked the nun's gallery (barco) in the church to the convent. It was less a footbridge as it contained two rooms with benches, cupboards and paintings, but it was destroyed in 1810. The barco contained around twenty-six paintings at this time and the chapter house and refectory housed another twenty-one.

Ruskin wrote
The most interesting and finished example in Venice of the Byzantine Renaissance, and one of the most important in Italy of the cinque-cento style. All its sculptures should be examined with great care, as the best possible examples of a bad style. Observe, for instance, that in spite of the beautiful work on the square pillars which support the gallery at the west end, they have no more architectural effect than two wooden posts. The same kind of failure in boldness of purpose exists throughout; and the building is, in fact, rather a small museum of unmeaning, though refined sculpture, than a piece of architecture.
Its grotesques are admirable examples of the base Raphaelesque design examined above. Note especially the children's heads tied up by the hair, in the lateral sculptures at the top of the altar steps. A rude workman, who could hardly have carved the head at all, might have been allowed this or any other mode of expressing discontent with his own doings: but the man who could carve a child's head so perfectly must have been wanting in all human feeling, to cut it off, and tie it by the hair to a vine leaf. Observe, in the Ducal Palace, though far ruder in skill, the heads always emerge from the leaves, they are never tied to them.

Lost art
A Giovanni Bellini triptych depicting Saint Jerome in the Desert is mentioned by Sansovino as on the left hand side of the nave here in 1581. Boschini in 1664 mentions panels of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, also by Bellini, flanking the Saint Jerome. All three are lost.
A two-panel Annunciation by Giovanni Bellini and his studio (once thought to be by Carpaccio) which once formed the outer doors of the organ here, moved to San Francesco della Vigna in 1817, is now in the Accademia. They purchased the Angel panel in 1907 and retrieved the Virgin panel from storage in San Francesco della Vigna in 1910. The marble walls of the Virgin's room in that painting echo the walls of the church. The back of the panel with the unusually fluttery, for Bellini, Angel Gabriel once held a panel depicting Saint Peter, which is also in the Accademia. Behind the Virgin panel, and now lost, was a Saint Paul. These works are thought to date to just after the dedication of this church in 1489.
Boschini also mentions a Mary Magdalene by Titian on a movable altar here, beyond Bellini's Saint Jerome and another Bellini of The Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist, Clare and a female donor with a small child near the door in the presbytery.
A long and narrow Dead Christ with Two Putti (possibly a predella panel) and two full-length panels of Saints James and Anthony Abbot, early works by by Marco Basaiti, now in the Accademia, came from the convent here, as did a Lot and his Wife of c.1660/70 by Johann Carl Loth.
The Apotheosis of Saint Jerome with Saint Peter of Alcántara (see photo right) by Giovanni Battista Pittoni, was painted c.1725 for an altar in the left-hand side of the nave here, visible in the 1840 print (see above). It's now in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Some time between 1837 and 1855 it was replaced by Sante Peranda's Martyrdom of St Sebastian.
On the other side of the nave, according to Zanetti in 1733, was Saint Anthony of Padua Holding the Infant Christ by Giulia Lama, which is now lost. The artist was the daughter the painter Agostino Lama and may have trained alongside Giambattista Piazzetta, a childhood friend.

The church in art
The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the apse of Santa Maria Nuova by Bernardo Bellotto (see right). Santa Maria dei Miracole e Santa Maria Nova by Ippolito Caffi. There are two small paintings of the rear of the Miracoli, one called A Market Scene, by James Holland in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight. He painted quite a few versions of the same scene (similar to Bellotto's) in oil and watercolour, one of which was owned by John Ruskin's father.

The church in films
Orson Welles’ 1951 film version of Othello sets the wedding of Desdemona and Othello in this church (see right).
The flower shop in the film
Bread and Tulips in the campo behind the Miracoli is an invention.
Donald Sutherland walks past the church in Don't Look Now, and lets us see how grubby it was before the 1997 restoration (see below).

Opening times
Monday to Saturday: 10.30  - 1.30 and 2.30 - 5.00
Sundays: closed

A Chorus Church

Vaporetto Rialto


An engraving by Antonio Lazzari c.1830 What is going on in the foreground?!

And this one from 1703  by Luca Carlevaris has a bonfire and copulating dogs, of course.





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