Venice - The Frari
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
[The Franciscans or Frati Minori di San Francesco were settled at Venice as early as 1227. In 1250, having by that time begged sufficient funds, they began the erection of their great church, adjoining their friary. It was completed about 1338, (by Fra Pacifico,) and dedicated to Our Lady, under the title of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. A few Doges are buried here ; but the monuments are chiefly those of great Venetians, military, naval, or administrative, and of painters or sculptors. Families were then divided into friends of the Franciscans and of the Dominicans. Bear in mind that this is a Franciscan church, and expect to find Franciscan saints and symbols.
Do not visit the Frari with this book till after you have seen San Zanipolo (Giovanni e Paolo)]
The Frari can be approached either by gondola direct, or by the steamboat to San Toma station, as before (see under San Rocco).
Externally the church, though vast, is not very interesting.
The West Front has a fine Italian Gothic doorway, surmounted by figures of the risen Christ, with the Madonna and Child, and the founder of the Order, St. Francis. The South Façade is chiefly interesting as affording a view of the lofty Campanile, erected in 1361 by Jacopo delle Massegne. High up on its West side are figures of Our Lady with the Child, and St. Francis receiving the stigmata from a six-winged crucified seraph. Beyond the campanile, again, we come to a fine doorway of a special Venetian type, the finial ending in a figure with an open book, characteristically Venetian ; below is a charming relief of Our Lady enthroned with the Child, between two adoring angels, of the school of the Massegne (about 1400). Over the other door, to the R. of this, is a figure of St. Francis.
Walk round further into the little Campo in front of the Scuola di San Rocco, in order to observe the lofty un-buttressed Apse, which, as is often the case in Venetian churches, is architecturally the most interesting portion of the building. It is probable that the traceries in these windows suggested those of the Doge's Palace. This Apse and the Chapels adjacent should be examined externally from several points of view.
Enter by the door in the South Aisle.
The interior resembles in its largeness of parts and in general plan that of San Giovanni e Paolo ; it has a Nave, simple Aisles, an Apse, and six Apsidal Chapels in line with the Apse (four at San Zanipolo). Its chief peculiarity, how-ever, is, that the Choir is placed West of the Transepts, as in Westminster Abbey and in some other northern churches.
Begin your examination of the interior in the R. or
1st altar, rococo.
Near the 1st pillar, on a Holy Water Basin, statue of Chastity bearing a lamb, by Campagna (1593).
Beyond this, modern monument to Titian, erected by Ferdinand L, (1838-52,) with the muses of Sculpture, Architecture, Painting, and Wood-carving. Titian himself is seated in the centre ; behind him, relief representing his famous picture of the Assumption, formerly the High Altar-piece of this Franciscan church and altar, Salviati, Presentation of the infant Virgin in the Temple. Beyond it, rococo monument of Almerico D'Este, general of the Republic, with his statue, (1660.)
3rd altar, statue of St. Jerome with his lion, by Alessandro Vittoria, said to be a likeness of Titian in his 98th year, and famous for its anatomical correctness. Behind it, Glory of St. Francis.
Mount the steps by the Choir. Pass three or four unimportant 16th and 17th-century monuments, and enter the R. Transept.
R. wall of Transept, early Renaissance monument of Jacopo Marcello, (1484,) by the Lombardi. The sarcophagus is borne by three crouching figures of captives : above it is the statue of Marcello himself, erect, not recumbent ; on either side, military pages. This is a fine early example of the non-recumbent, figure. (In other places, intermediate forms occur where the figure slowly raises itself on one elbow.)
Beyond it, altar-piece in three sections, by Bartolommeo Vivarini ; in the centre, Our Lady and Child ; L., St. An-drew and St. Nicolas of Myra, with the three balls ; R., St. Paul and St. Peter ; above, a Pieta, with gilt wooden adoring angels. (This altar-piece was recently removed to L. Transept.)
End wall, near door of Sacristy, ornate terra-cotta florid-Gothic monument of the " Beato " Pacifico, a Franciscan brother, and the Architect under whom this church was completed, erected (a century after his death) by his family. This is a fine specimen of Florentine terra-cotta, its over-elaborate Gothic almost merging into Renaissance, with "wild crockets." In the lunette is the Baptism of Christ; on a sarcophagus, beneath it, Faith, Hope, and Charity, in niches, with the Resurrection, and Christ in Hades ; on the finial, Our Lady and the Child ; at the sides, above, a painted Annunciation. This curious and interesting transitional work deserves careful examination.
Over the door of Me Sacristy, monument of Admiral Benedetto Pesaro, 1503, by Lorenzo Bregno and Antonio Minello the Pesari were the chief patrons of this Franciscan church. The portal itself is formed by the monument, which bears ships and other emblems of Pesaro's victories ; in the centre, the Admiral's statue ; above it, in the pediment, Our Lady and the Child ; L., Neptune (?) and R., Mars (by Baccio da Montelupo)—heathen deities admitted into a Christian church.
L. of this, spirited wooden equestrian statue of a Roman prince, Paolo Savello, with stolid bourgeois features ; on the sarcophagus, Our Lady and the Child, and the usual Annunciation. In this case and others like it the recumbent figure has not only risen from the lid of the tomb, but has actually mounted on horseback.
Enter the Sacristy (closed ; the Sacristan expects a small fee).
Opposite the door, large marble reliquary, with reliefs of the Passion, of the 17th century ; good and relatively unaffected works of their bad period. In the centre, behind a curtain, beautiful *Renaissance ciborium, with charming decorative work ; relief of a Pietà, and figures of St. John the Baptist and St. Francis.
The altar- piece at the end of this Sacristy consists of an exquisite work in three panels, by Giovanni Bellini, painted in 1488. This picture (usually known as "the Frari Madonna") is perhaps the loveliest of Bellini's Madonnas. The picture is enclosed in its charming original frame, the decorative work of which is continued in the painted niche of the central panel. Our Lady sits enthroned, with a delicately soft and tender expression, in a small chapel, Iike one of those in St. Mark's, with a gold mosaic cupola. The Child on her knees stands erect and naked. At the foot are two charming little angels, playing musical instruments, their attitudes more fanciful and their clothing scantier than in earlier examples of Bellini's art. These angels are probably his most popular single figures. The whole is a sweetly mystical and celestial presentment of the Mother of God. The four stately saints on the side-panels are noble figures, but difficult to discriminate in the absence of symbols : I take them (very doubtfully) to be, L., St. Nicholas and St. Peter, R., St. Paul and St. Benedict ; but I am open to correction. The entire work is very rich and mellow in colour : gravely beautiful, and saintly in feeling.
Re-enter the main church, and proceed to examine the Apsidal Chapels.
The 1st chapel, of St. Francis, has an ugly modern altar-piece of St. Francis receiving the stigmata, which I notice here only for its importance as regards the Franciscan order ; all the symbolism of the chapel is obviously Franciscan.
2nd chapel: on the R. wall, the monument of Duccio degli Alberti, ambassador of Florence in Venice, (d. 1336.) This is the earliest tomb in Venice on which the Virtues appear, (Justice and Temperance at the sides :) but it is of Florentine workmanship; otherwise it resembles the ordinary early-Gothic tombs in having the recumbent figure of the deceased on a sarcophagus, and a canopy above it. Study it as marking an epoch in the evolution of Venetian sculpture. Many later tombs are copied from it. L. wall, 14th-century tomb, usually called "the Monument of the Unknown Knight ;" it has no inscription, but presents the well-sculptured figure of a knight in hauberk and helmet, lying dead on his sarcophagus, with a dog (his crest) at his feet. Above him is a figure of St. Joseph bearing the infant Christ, towards whom the face of the figure turns. These two admirable early tombs should be carefully compared, both for architecture and symbolism, and contrasted with the bombastic tone of later monuments.
The 3rd chapel has nothing of importance.
The Apse, the internal architecture of which is rather interesting than beautiful, had formerly for its High Altar-piece Titian's Assumption of the Madonna, as is appropriate in a church dedicated to St. Mary in Glory. This famous picture, towards which the whole building once converged, is now in the Academy, and its place has been taken by an altar-piece of the same subject by Salviati, brought from the demolished church of the Servites.
R. wall of Apse, late Gothic, almost Renaissance, tomb of Doge Francesco Foscari, (d. 1457,) by Antonio Rizzo. This is a striking example of the way in which the late Gothic monuments approached the Renaissance ideals. It also shows the increased size and costliness of the later tombs. The centre of the design is occupied by the sarcophagus, supported by base trefoiled arches : on it lies the dead Doge, with solid practical unimaginative features. At his head and feet stand the four Cardinal Virtues, life-size, and becoming of immensely increased importance in the composition. The curtains above (like those of a bed) are drawn, no longer by angels, but by two pages in armour, introduced merely to show a knowledge of classical costume and of --anatomy. On the sarcophagus itself are Faith, Hope, and Charity, retaining little, if anything, of Gothic feeling. Above the curtains is a figure of Christ blessing, in a mandorla ; at the sides, a somewhat affected Annunciation ; the rampant foliage of the pediment is very un-pleasing. Altogether this tomb exhibits the last stage of decadent Gothic—" the refuse of one style encumbering the embryo of another."
The L. wall is occupied by the immense early Renaissance tomb of Doge Nicolo Tron, (d. 1473,) also by Rizzo. The difference between this and the one opposite, which can so readily be compared with it, marks the change which was fast coming over Venetian art. As far as purity of design goes, Rizzo's Renaissance manner is at any rate better than his decadent Gothic. This monument is also noticeable as being one of the first which has the figure of its occupant repeated,—once dead, on the sarcophagus, and once, below, as an erect living statue. I will not enumerate all the separate figures of armed pages displaying shields, the Temporal and Theological Virtues, and the host of other conventional sculptor's properties with which we are now familiar. They are hardly worth individual description. The upper portion of the tomb consists of a figure of the risen Christ, in the lunette, with an Annunciation, now conceived in true Renaissance spirit, at the sides ; it has a statue of God the Father as a finial. Sumptuous, well-worked, empty, unimpressive, The Doge himself is as dull as he is ugly : a cunning business man, with no spark of nobility.
The 1st apsidal chapel beyond the Apse has a fine early sarcophagus, with the Madonna and Child, and an Annunciation. The altar-piece, by Pordenone, represents Our Lady with the Child, and assorted Franciscan saints, (St. Francis, St. Antony of Padua, St. Louis of Toulouse, and others.)
The 2nd apsidal chapel has a gilt wooden Renaissance altar-piece by Dentone, with a wooden figure of St. John the Baptist as a penitent in the desert, by Donatello. The other figures are St. Jerome, St. Genevieve, an Annunciation, and a Resurrection. In the altar beneath repose the remains of St. Theodore, the original patron of the Republic, removed here from the Scuola di San Teodoro, near the church of San Salvatore ; nobody now seems to take much notice of him. On the L. wall of this chapel is the Renaissance monument of Melchior Trevisan, general of the Republic, (15o0,) the sarcophagus (now reduced to an uninteresting relic) forming a mere base for the statue of the general, and flanked by his pages, as supporters. This is the last stage reached by the simple sarcophagus tomb.
The 3rd apsidal chapel is that of the Milanese, belonging to the merchants of Milan established in Venice. It is naturally dedicated to the great patron saint of Milan, St. Ambrose, and has a fine altar-piece (by Alvise Vivarini and Basaiti) representing St. Ambrose enthroned in the centre, attended by other saints. Nearest to the Milanese Father are the military patron saints of hospitable Venice, St.
George and St. Theodore. On the right are the other Doctors of the Church usually associated with Ambrose—St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. On the L. are an assorted group of miscellaneous saints, Sebastian, John the Baptist, and others. At the foot of the throne sit the usual musical angels. In the painted loft above is a curious Coronation of the Virgin, evidently by another hand. This very allusive altar-piece thus combines devotion to St. Ambrose, as patron saint of Milan and as Doctor of the Church, with polite recognition of Venetian hospitality, and the usual Adriatic desire to propitiate a powerful and useful plague-saint.
The L. Transept has a delicate small Gothic doorway, to the R. of the ugly Renaissance one. On its R. wall is an *altar-piece in three sections, by Bartolommeo Vivarini, still filling its original Gothic tabernacle framework,—the last worthy of inspection. It has in its central panel, St. Mark enthroned, as patron of Venice, with musical angels at his feet. To the L. are St. John the Baptist, and St. Jerome holding the church of which he was the luminary; to the R., St. Paul and St. Nicholas : (St. Ambrose and St. Peter?)
Before passing down the L. Aisle, cast a glance at the carved wood stalls in the Choir, which were the seats of the Franciscan brethren in this monastery.
In the L. Aisle is a graceful small doorway, with our Lady and kneeling brethren.
The rood-screen, which shuts off the choir from the nave, is late work, unimpressive, and has the usual Crucifix, with Our Lady, St. John, the four Evangelists, and the prophets.
Opposite this screen, in the L. Aisle, is the large Chapel of the Baptistery; it contains the Font, crowned by the usual figure of St. John the Baptist, (by Sansovino.) Over this font is a handsome monument, in the style of the Massegne, with five figures of saints, whom I cannot satisfactorily identify.
The Altar-piece is also a work in sculpture by the Massegne : below (later work) in the centre, St. Peter standing; at the sides, (I think,) St. Jerome, St. John the Baptist, St. Andrew, and St. Francis or St. Antony of Padua; above, Our Lady and the Child, with four great female saints, St. Lucy with the lamp, St. Catharine with the wheel, St. Mary Magdalen with the pot of ointment, and St. Claire with the cross. (Identifications doubtful.)
The rest of this Aisle is chiefly given up to the great family of the Pesari, who were the chief patrons of the Franciscans in Venice.
Just beyond the door of the Baptistery, with its handsome arch, is the late Renaissance tomb of Bishop Jacopo Pesaro, (d. 1547.) This shows fine workmanship, and little feeling. The Bishop lies semi-erect on his sarcophagus, one of those transitional instances where the recumbent figure seems to be trying to raise itself. The bier is adorned with plaques of coloured marble and supported by two children with their feet on skulls. The canopy is characteristic of later Renaissance feeling. Good, but unpleasing.
The altar beyond this has for its altar-piece Titian's famous **Madonna of the Pesaro family. This singular picture, one of the most celebrated of its author's works, was painted for the same Bishop, Jacopo Pesaro, whose tomb we have just examined beside it. A word of explanation is necessary here. In 1501, Jacopo Pesaro, who was bishop of Paphos in Cyprus, then still a Venetian possession, was appointed by Pope Alexander VI. (Borgia) to the command of the Papal fleet in the new crusade at that time being undertaken against the Turks by Rome, Venice, and Hungary. For this occasion, Titian painted for the militant prelate a very beautiful picture, (now at Antwerp,) in which Pope Alexander VI. introduces to St. Peter the new Admiral of the Holy See. On the bishop's successful return from his naval expedition, he commissioned Titian to paint this second altar-piece as a thanksgiving for his victory. The scene is a lofty portico in a soaring church of then unexampled size, like St. Peter's at Rome. Our Lady sits en-throned with the Child near some colossal columns. Just below her sits St. Peter, reading, (at whose feet are the keys;) he is disturbed from his book and looks away to-wards the surrounding figures, as though the Holy See were diverted for the moment from its spiritual task to undertake a necessary military adventure. He gazes down benignantly, (as does also Our Lady,) upon the kneeling figure of the donor, Bishop Jacopo Pesaro himself, (on the L.)) an admirable portrait. Behind the bishop, St. George, representing the military power of Venice, and extending his arm towards the kneeling donor, holds aloft the banner of the Holy See, bearing the arms of the Borgias, surmounted by the Papal crown, and crowned above with the laurel-leaves of victory. Behind him, again, bows a captive Turk, a trophy of the fighting ecclesiastic's campaign against the Infidel. The right-hand side of the picture is occupied by the figures of St. Francis and St. Antony of Padua, who represent this Franciscan church of the Frari. Beside them kneels Benedetto Pesaro, the head of the house of Pesaro, (his tomb is in the R. transept,) with other members of his family, most of them in the crimson robes of Venetian senators, (Knights of St. Mark.) The Franciscan saints seem to commend them to Our Lady. Angels, dwindling after the wont of the time into babes, fill the upper portion of the picture. The allegorical meaning of this famous and beautiful work deserves a little study. It well exhibits the increasing importance of the portraits of the donor and his relations, who now quite throw into the shade Our Lady and the saints. A fine piece of composition, departing boldly from the old conventional symmetry : gorgeous colouring : admirable light and shade.
Beyond the Titian, and over the small door of the S. Aisle, stands the gigantic, vulgar, and ugly monument of Doge Giovanni Pesaro, (d. 1659,) by Longhena and another. This is the worst Baroque work in this church, almost equalling in pretentious vulgarity the tomb of the Valiers in San Zanipolo. The boastful character of the monument is shown, not only in its vast size, but in its theatrically gesticulating Virtues, its fly-away Faith, Hope, and Charity, its oddly startled figure of the Doge, jumping forward under the canopy of his own sarcophagus, (which is supported by very fearsome nondescript animals,) and, above all, in the four figures of captive negroes (black marble faces with white eyes) which sustain the whole. The skeletons below are in the vilest taste of their period. The bombastic Latin inscriptions, exactly paralleling the style of the tomb, state that the Doge "lived 70 years," " unlived," (not died,) "in the year 1659," and "lived again in this monument in the year 1669." A monstrous and hideous nightmare.
Beyond this is the frigidly " correct" modern tomb of the sculptor Canova, (d. 1822,) with finely-sculptured but unimpressive figures from his own design for the tomb of Titian. Its chilly classicalism, its emptiness of feeling, and its blank white spaces produce a cold effect that is eminently unpleasing.
Over the Holy Water Vessel, beyond, statue in bronze of the great local Franciscan luminary, St. Antony of Padua, by Balthazar Stella.
End wall, near the door, Renaissance tomb of Pietro Bernardo, d. 1538, by Alessandro Leopardi, a piece of very fine and delicate workmanship, wasted upon an exceedingly ugly and meaningless design. Much of the minor decoration is, however, most beautiful and graceful ; it deserves to be examined rather in detail than as a whole. Mr. Ruskin seems to me unjust in his denunciation of this and of many other fine early-Renaissance monuments.
The vast Franciscan monastery at the back of the church has been seized by Government and converted into the Public Archives.
From the little Campo in front of the church, you may cross the bridge and turn to the L. Cross another bridge, and keep along the street a little to the R. ; cross the Campo S. Stin, obliquely to the L., when one turn to the L., and one to the R., will bring you into the little Campiello di San Giovanni. Here you find the portico and remains of the once splendid Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, where was preserved the famous relic of the Holy Cross, and whence were brought the Gentile Bellinis now in the octagonal room at the Academy. A post in front, dated 1554, has brethren of the Fraternity worshipping the Holy Cross, with the eagle, the symbol of the Evangelist ; on the sides are other symbols. The gateway is in the style of the Lombardi ; it is surmounted by the Holy Cross, with adoring angels ; in the lunette, the eagle of the Evangelist. The door and windows have fine Renaissance decoration. The court-yard has late-Gothic windows with florid finials. The rest of its architecture is early Renaissance. Over the main door is a figure of St. John ; under a lunette to the L., the Evangelist receiving the members of the Fraternity, with Our Lady and the Child above. This gate, portico, and court are a picturesque relic of what was once a very stately Guildhall. The interior only deserves a brief visit for the sake of its still handsome rooms, of its empty church, and of the pictures which once adorned it, now in the Academy.