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Santi Giovanni e Paolo
San Zanipolo
Bartolomeo Bon/Lombardo family
14th-15th centuries


History

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 both are far from the political centre of Venice. The land for this church was, like that for the Frari, presented by order of 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 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, part of a planned marble façade that never happened.
Both Gentile and Giovanni Bellini were buried here, in February 1507 and November 1516. Like the Frari 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 saints.

The church
The west front’s huge unfinished brick façade contrasts with the marble-clad elegance 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.  Notice too the lack of a campanile.

Interior
The 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 rare surviving examples from the period, produced on Murano to designs mostly by Bartolomeo Vivarini.

Art highlights

Less chock-full of crowd-pleasing paintings than the Frari, San Zanipolo does have the Giovanni Bellini Vincent Ferrer polyptych (see right) which is in its original frame. It’s an early work - his first important independent commission - but is somewhat lacking in the polished serenity and originality of his later work, and with considerable studio involvement, especially in the predella. The polyptych was painted around 1465-8, when the influence of the sculptural style of Mantegna, his brother-in-law, was still strong on Giovanni. It was commissioned by the scuola piccolo devoted to the then-new saint, who had a reputation as a miraculous healer, which may have increased his popularity in Venice after the plague outbreak of 1464.
There's also the odd 1542 Alms of Saint Antoninus of Florence by Lorenzo Lotto. It's notable for depicting a somewhat hierarchical model of charity, with the saint himself having no direct contact with a poor person. Antoninus had been a leading Observant reformer of the Dominican Order, only just canonised, in 1523. He it was who had founded the Società dei Buonuomini that met in San Martino in Florence and he had been the prior of San Marco before becoming Archbishop of Florence. Amongst the throng of supplicants at the base of the painting, all looking like portraits, the central bearded figure in an orange robe has been recently convincingly argued to be a portrait of the artist. Lotto worked often for Dominicans, but they paid him little for this - his fee of 125 ducats had 35 deducted in exchange for a 'free' funeral, which we have no record of ever having happened. This altarpiece is to be found, with some impressive ceiling paintings by Veronese, in the
Capella del Rosario. This chapel was the one destroyed by fire in 1867 (see below), the Veronese ceiling paintings from the lost church of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà. having been brought here later. 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, being installed here in June 1925.
The tombs of doges are a bigger draw - there are twenty-five here - 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 right). 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 war-like Doge's military achievements, with classically-inspired pagan imagery, like scenes featuring Samson, and 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, the Paduan painter, which where damaged by the moving here of Doge Andrea Vendramin's tomb from Santa Maria dei Servi.

 

Lost art
The 1867 fire
A Bellini altarpiece of The Virgin and Child with Saints, from the 1470s and 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  Tintoretto's Crucifixion and Titian's mid-period masterpiece The Death of St Peter Martyr of 1530, which had only been returned from Napoleon's looting fifty years before. The Titian is now only to be seen in copies, like the one by Johann Carl Loth (see right) kept here, and there's another by Titian-fan Géricault in Basel. It was one of his most influential and famous works in his time, and an early example of the episode being used as an altarpiece main panel. 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 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. 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 a black and white photo right).

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.
Paolo Veronese's enormous Feast in 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 (c.1557) by Titian destroyed in a fire in 1571. The central group is very similar to that painted by Titian. But the painting had to be renamed after the church authorities objected to the liberties Veronese had taken with the peripheral figures - they objected to 'the man with the nosebleed', 'the buffoon with the parrot' and the 'men dressed as Germans'. 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 into another disciple'.) Veronese merely changed the title of the painting, inscribing it on the cornice of the staircase. Another work by 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.
Jacopo Tintoretto's 1566 Virgin and Saints Sebastian, Mark and Theodore with Three Camerlenghi (The Madonna of the Treasurers) 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 (originally in Santa Maria dei Servi) is now in the Met in New York.
Saint Ursula by the Roman painter Francesco Ruschi from c.1640/45, from the monastery here, is in the Accademia.

Lost graves
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 Refectory and Goethe
Aside from being the original site of Paolo Veronese's enormous Feast in the House of Levi of 1573 (discussed above) which was looted by Napoleon and later returned to the Accademia, the refectory was also used by Pietro Edwards as a restoration laboratory in the late 18th century. His work was unusually sensible and reversible for it's time, and his qualms during his involvement in the Napoleonic plundering are well documented.  In the spring of 1790 Goethe was admiring Titian's Death of Saint Peter Martyr (a work later destroyed in the 1867 fire) in the church when a friar asked if he'd like to see the restorers at work. He was impressed, saying that the restorers were 'intimately acquainted with the diverse styles of the masters'.

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 century?) semi-circular 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 below).

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 Vincent Ferrer polyptych as he passes, being 'still scandalized by the violence of the last restoration...poor thing'.

Opening times
Monday to Saturday 8.00 to 10.00 for the parish,
10.00 to 6.00 with
3.50 entry fee.
Sunday 1.00 to 6.00

Vaporetto Ospedale


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San Zanipolo in a photochrom print of c.1890.
Showing gothic triple-light windows along the side.




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