Sestieri Di S. Croce And S. Polo
( Originally Published 1911 )
MUSED CIVICO—S. GIOVANNI DELL' ORIO—S. MARIA MATER DOMINI—S. CASSIANO—S. GIOVANNI ELEMOSINARIO—THE RIALTO — S. POLO — I FRARI — SCUOLO DI S. ROCCO — S. ROCCO
THE Sestiere di S. Croce, in which we find ourselves at the Fondaco dei Turchi, now the Museo Civico, on the south of the Grand Canal, includes none of the great and important buildings on this side of Venice, which as a whole, it will be remembered, is divided, as is that part of the city to the north of the Grand Canal, into three parts the Sestiere di S. Croce, the Sestiere di S. Polo, and the Sestiere di Dorsoduro. For our purpose, the purpose of exploration, however, we shall deal with the Sestiere di S. Polo in this chapter with the Sestiere di S. Croce : this for convenience. There is in S. Polo, however, enough and to spare for a day's pleasure.
And first as to the Fondaco dei Turchi, now the Civic Museum. This Palace remains as to its foundation in some obscurity, dates varying from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries being given by historians as that of its inception ; but there seems little doubt that it was built by the Pesaro family. The earliest date seems, indeed, the more likely, if we may judge, as I suppose we may, by its architecture, which is Byzantine. In 1380 it was bought by the Republic for its condottiere Niccoiô d' Este, Marquis of Ferrara, but a hundred years later it reclaimed it, and in 1520 we find it the residence of the Papal legates in Venice. Seven years later the House of Este got it back, but they soon parted with it, and after it had passed through various hands, Doge Antonio Priuli, who had bought it, gave it to the Turks for their fondaco in the city. Under the Turks it suffered much, but as far as might be it was restored in 1860, and in 1880 was used by the Government as a museum for the Correr Collection a not very important collection of curiosities with one or two good pictures,and such it still remains. It always must have been one of the most venerable buildings on the Grand Canal, or indeed anywhere in Venice.
Just behind the Museo stands the church of S. Giovanni Decollato, called S. Zan Degola, and beyond it, on the Rio di S. Giovanni Decollato, the Church of S. Giacomo dell' Orio, which was probably founded in the tenth century and rebuilt by Sansovino in the sixteenth. It has been restored again in our time, but remains a curious and interesting building. It contains nothing of very great interest a picture of S. Sebastian, S. Roch, and S. Lorenzo by Bonconsiglio, a picture by Francesco Bassano of S. John Preaching, and a spoilt and late work by Lotto, a Madonna and saints. From S. Giacomo dell' Orio we proceed to S. Maria Mater Domini, founded in the tenth century and rebuilt in 1510, `probably by Jacopo Sansovino. It contains three interesting pictures, besides a Byzantine relief of the Madonna. Over the second altar to the right is the Martyrdom of S. Cristina, painted in 1520 by Catena, a rather Giorgionesque work, in which we see in a bright landscape S. Cristina, about to be drowned, the mill stone about her neck, borne up by angels, while Christ Himself appears to comfort her. The whole work is charming, though not apparently in very good condition. In the right transept is a very fine work by Tintoretto, the Finding of the Cross, and opposite a Last Supper by Bonifazio the second of that name.
From S. Maria it is but a step to S. Cassiano, which also was founded in the tenth century, where an oratory then stood dedicated to S. Cecilia. The Campanile is still a work of the thirteenth century, but the church is now of the seventeenth. Here, too, are three fine pictures : a S. John Baptist with four saints in a lovely landscape by Rocco Marconi, the pupil of Giovanni Bellini and the follower of Palma Vecchio, to whom, in fact, this work was long ascribed; a somewhat affected Visitation by Leandro Bassano, and in the choir a magnificent picture of the Crucifixion by Tintoretto. The decorative quality of this work is very striking; the background of spears may well have given Velasquez a hint for his Breda.
We now make our way from S. Cassiano into the Rialto, past the fish and vegetable markets. Just off the latter stands the Church of S. Giovanni Elemosinario, usually called S. Giovanni in Rialto. This church figures early in the history of Venice, but the building we see dates only from the sixteenth century. Its great treasure is the picture of S. John by Titian, which he painted for the High Altar of this church with an inscription dated 1533. Dr. Gronau so well describes this work that I cannot hope to better his words. He says : "The figure of S. John is placed high in the canvas, raised by several steps and towers to an enormous height, against a background of sky covered by fine clouds. The Bishop, with a boy at his side bearing a cross, kept entirely in shadow, is interrupted while reading the Bible by a cripple, who has crept up to him, covered with rags and begging for alms. Titian has taken the moment when the old man is turning to hand the beggar his gift. The gentle bending attitude of the Bishop and the hopeful upward gaze of the beggar seem to unite the two figures more than the contrast of their outward appearance divides them. With remarkable artistic audacity Titian has brought the broad white surface of the Bishop's robe into the centre of the picture, treated with great freedom in play of light and shade, and has surrounded it by a brownish red in the under robe and collar. The few colours employed are blended in splendid harmony with the deep blue of the sky, and so much grandeur is given to the picture by composition in colour and outline that it never fails to make a strong impression, hanging as it does over the High Altar of a fairly large church."
Here, too, is a picture of Doge Giovanni giving alms by Rocco Vecelli, and a very fine Pordenone, an altarpiece of St. Sebastian, S. Roch, and S. Catherine.
So we pass on through the markets to S. Giacomo di Rialto in the market-place, probably the oldest church in Venice, for it was founded in 421, though some writers have it that S. Pantaeone is older. What we see in S. Giacomo now, however, is alas a restoration of the seventeenth century. Close by the church is a curious statue of a hunchback, I Gobbo. This statue, the work of Pietro da Salo in the sixteenth century, supports a pillar from which the laws of the Republic were proclaimed. In the great days of Venice all this district of the Rialto was the centre of her merchandize. Traders and merchants from all over Italy, from Turkey and the East, from Spain and the West thronged these piazzas and streets. The marketplace is still a sufficiently busy and picturesque spectacle, but it makes a sorry comparison doubtless with a busy life that here had its centre in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
From S. Giacomo and the Ponte di Rialto we return to S. Giovanni Elemosinario by the Ruga S. Giovanni, which we follow into the Campo di S. Aponal. The church here of that name was first built in 1034 and restored in the fifteenth century. In the nineteenth century it was closed and actually sold by auction. It was bought by certain of the faithful, who reopened it for the honour of God. Over the door is a fifteenth-century group of the Venetian general, Vittorio Capello, kneeling before S. Elena, by Antonio Rizzi. This group does not belong to this church of S. Aponal, but to the old Church of S. Elena, now destroyed.
From the Campo di S. Aponal we proceed straight on across two canals to the church and Campo di S. Polo. The Campo, in which are several fine palaces—Palazzo Corner Mocenigo, Palazzo Soranzo, of the fourteenth century—is one of the larger Campi of Venice, and was of old the scene of numerous bullfights and tournaments. In July, 1450, a Friar, in imitation, one may suppose, of S. Bernardino, was wont to preach here, and here he lighted a bonfire of false hair, sensuous pictures, books, rich clothes, and I know not what else, which he had persuaded half Venice to destroy. The Campo was, however, the scene of a more tragic affair than that ; for it was here that Lorenzino de' Medici, the murderer of Duke Alessandro de' Medici, was himself assassinated by the hired bravos Cecco Bibboni and Bobo da Volterra. Bibboni gives a very vivid account of the affair, which Symonds translates in his " History of the Renaissance." It seems that the two bravos had watched Lorenzino go into the church from a cobbler's shop in the Campo, and they set upon him as he came out of the south door. " I saw him issue from the church," says Bibboni, " and take the main street ; then came (his uncle) Alessandro Soderini, and I walked last of all ; and when we reached the point we had determined on I jumped in front of Alessandro with the poniard in my hand, crying, Hold hard Alessandro, and get along with you in God's name, for we are not here for you!' He then threw himself around my waist and grasped my arms and kept on calling out. Seeing how wrong I had been to try to spare his life, I wrenched myself as well as I could from his grip, and with my lifted poniard struck him, as God willed, above the eyebrow, and a little blood trickled from the wound. He in high fury gave me such a thrust that I fell backward, and the ground besides was slippery from its having rained a little. Then Alessandro drew his sword, which he carried in its scabbard, and thrust at me in front and struck me on the corselet, which for my good fortune was of double mail. Before I could get ready I received three passes, which had I worn a doublet instead of that mailed corselet would certainly have run me through. At the fourth pass I had regained my strength and spirit, and closed with him and stabbed him four times in the head, and being so close he could not use his sword, but tried to parry with his hand and hilt. I, as God willed, struck him at the wrist, below the sleeve of mail, and cut his hand clean off, and gave him then one last stroke on his head. Thereupon he begged me for God's sake to spare his life, and I, in trouble about Bebo, left him in the arms of a Venetian nobleman, who held him back from jumping in the canal. When I turned I found Lorenzino on his knees. He raised himself, and I, in anger, gave him a great cut across the head, which split it in two pieces and laid him at my feet, and he never rose again." That murder, like so many political assassinations of that time, took place outside a church, and was excused by the immorality of a time which regarded the act of Brutus with reverence and appealed to it on most occasions.
The Church of S. Polo, or S. Paolo, was founded in the ninth century, but the present building is of the beginning of the nineteenth. It possesses nothing of much interest a relief of the twelfth century in the apse, of the Madonna and Child between S. Peter and S. Paul with two angels : almost nothing else. The Campanile, however, belongs to the fourteenth century and is beautiful.
From the Campo di S. Polo it is but a short walk across two canals to the great Franciscan church of Venice, S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The Frari balances SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the great Dominican church on the other side of Venice, to the north of the Grand Canal. The Friars Minor settled in Venice as early as 1227. They came, of course, as beggars, but by 1250 they had so far approved themselves to the Venetians that they were able to begin building the vast church and convent we see, which was founded on the site of an old abbey given them by the Benedictines, and was finished less than a century later, in 1338. The convent is now the Archivio of the city, and I suppose one of the finest in Italy. As for the vast church, it is from an architectural point of view one of the most interesting in the city. Its beauty lies chiefly in its apse, which is a great feature in the church both from within and without. These great bare brick churches of Northern Italy have, I think, much to recommend them if only in their restfulness after the often glaring marbles of the Tuscan buildings. But, like the latter, one must not compare them with our northern work, for the intention of their builders was very different from ours, and both were to a larger extent than we recognize at the mercy of their material. No one will care to give as much attention to the mere building of any church in Italy, I think, nor do they demand it, as he will gladly give to Westminster Abbey or Lincoln or Wells. Yet for all that the Italian churches have their own beauty of space and light, which ours—as we see them now at any rate—too often seem to need.
In the Frari, as far as the exterior is concerned, the west front has a fine doorway, surmounted by figures of the Risen Christ, the Madonna and Child and S. Francis. To the south stands the beautiful fourteenth-century Campanile of Massegne, and here, too, is a fine Venetian doorway, by which one usually enters the church. Here is a Madonna and Child and a figure of S. Francis. But when all is said the apse remains the finest feature in any view of the building from outside. Within in its vastness the church reminds us again of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. It has one feature rare in Italy, but common in Spain, and to be found in England, in the Abbey, for instance. I mean the choir is set west of the transept, so that it fills a good part of the nave. The church was rebuilt in its present form in the fifteenth century. The plan is simple and the internal effect much finer than the west front would lead one to expect. The nave and aisles measure about 230 feet by 104 and the transepts 160 feet by 48. The effect of such spacious composition is very noble. One enters by the door in the north aisle, and walking down the length` of the church begins one's visit with a tour of the south or right aisle. Such is the usual method, and it is a good one.
The holy water basin here, with its statue of Chastity or Charity, is it ?with a lamb, is by Campagna, a work of the end of the sixteenth century. Close by is a vast and hideous monument erected in the first part of the nineteenth century by Ferdinand I to Titian. Beyond the second altar, with its picture of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin by Salviati, is a baroque monument to Almerico d' Este, a general of the Republic; this is of the seventeenth century. Over the third altar is a statue of S. Jerome, which is said to be a likeness of Titian just before his death. It is the work of Alessandro Vittoria.
We now pass on into the right transept. Here is the fine early Renaissance tomb of Jacopo Marcello, a fifteenth-century work by the Lombardi. Beyond it is a work with which it perfectly harmonizes, a triptych by Bartolommeo Vivarini of the Madonna and Child with S. Andrew, S. Nicholas, S. Peter, and S. Paul, with a Pietà above between adoring angels carved in wood and gilded. This, like most of the other pictures, was till lately in S. Tomà. To the right, near the sacristy door, is the Gothic monument and tomb of Beato Fra Pacifico, the finisher, and in some ways the founder almost, of this church. It is a Florentine work of the fifteenth century. In the lunette is a Baptism of Christ, and beneath Faith, Hope, and Charity, with the Resurrection and Christ in Hades ; here also is a relief of the Madonna and Child, and at the sides above an Annunciation, painted. This beautiful tomb of Gothic work passing into Renaissance is unique in Venice.
Above the sacristy door is the tomb of Benedetto Pesaro, the Venetian admiral, a sixteenth-century work by Lorenzo Bregno. The figure of Mars to the right is the work of Baccio da Montelupo, a Florentine. Close to the door on the left is a wooden equestrian statue of Prince Paolo Savelli, a Roman noble, a work full of life, already prophesying the full Renaissance.
Within the sacristy is a large reliquary of the seventeenth century in marble with reliefs of the Passion. Behind a curtain here stands a fine Renaissance ciborium with a relief of the Pietà and two saints . John Baptist and S. Francis. Here, too, stood one of the great treasures of the church, an altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini, painted in 1488, one of the loveliest of his works. It still carries its original Renaissance frame. In the midst is the Blessed Virgin, enthroned, with her little Son standing on her knee. At her feet are two music making angels of pure delight, while in the side panels are four splendid saints on guard. S.Peter, S. Nicholas, S. Paul, and S. Benedict. Nothing that was ever in the church can have been lovelier than this quiet altarpiece.
Returning to the church, we enter the apse. There are six chapels here. In the second are two fine tombs of the fourteenth century, that on the right being the monument of Duccio degli Alberti, that on the left of an unknown knight. These are splendid works of art. In the sanctuary itself, over the High Altar, Titian's Assunta, now in the Accademia, once stood. I suppose there is no one who sees it in its present place who does not regret that it was removed from this altar for which Titian painted it. Here are the Gothic tomb of Doge Francesco Foscari on the right and the early Renaissance tomb of Doge Niccolô Tron on the left. They are neither of them very satisfying or masterly works. In the first chapel, to the left of the High Altar, is a Madonna with S. Francis, S. Anthony of Padua, S. Louis of Toulouse, and other Franciscan saints by Pordenone. In the second chapel, the chapel of S. Theodore, lies the deposed patron of the Republic. The altarpiece is of carved and gilded wood, possibly by the Lombardi, but with a fine S. John Baptist by Donatello, and on the left is the monument one cannot say the tomb of Melchior Trevisano, a general of the Republic who died in 1500. In the third chapel is a fine altarpiece of S. Ambrose, for the chapel was that of the Milanesi in Venice, with S. George and S. Theodore for Venice, S. Gregory, S. Augustine, and S. Jerome, S. Sebastian, and others, with music-making angels by Alvise Vivarini and Marco Basaiti. Above is a Coronation of the Virgin by some later hand.
The left transept is full of the glory of Bartolommeo Vivarini's fine triptych of S. Mark enthroned with S. John Baptist, S. Jerome, S. Peter, and S. Paul. Thence we pass into the Baptistery with its marble altar and Madonna, and four saints of the school of Massegne, and its font and statue of S. John Baptist by Sansovino.
The left aisle is almost entirely given over to the tombs of the Pesaro family, which was the greatest patron and bene-factor of the Franciscan Order in Venice. Not one of these tombs is of any great beauty or interest, though none is so meaningless, vulgar, and ostentatious as the huge pyramid that covers poor Canova. The great and beautiful thing which recalls us to this aisle of the Frari again and again is Titian's famous Madonna del Pesaro.
It was in April, 1519, that Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, for whom Titian had already painted the votive picture now in the Antwerp Gallery, ordered this great altarpiece for the Church of the Frari, where so many of his family lay. From then to May, 1526, Titian received instalments of his price, and on 8 December of that year a solemn ceremony was performed as the picture was placed over the altar the Pesari had erected. The pictune then unveiled was one of the greatest the young Titian was to paint. Under a vast and beautiful Renaissance arch, through which we see a great sky full of snow-white clouds, between two mighty pillars, the Madonna sits enthroned, her little Son standing on her knee laughing with and blessing S. Francis, behind whom is S. Anthony. Bending a little to her right, Madonna holds her Child with both hands gently, firmly, and receives the homage of Bishop Jacopo, who is introduced by S. Peter, behind whom a bearded warrior, leading a Turk and a Moor in chains, uprears the standard of the Borgia. On the right of the picture beneath S. Francis kneel the family of the Bishop, three old men, perhaps his brothers, a youth, and a fair haired child who gazes sweetly out of the canvas, while above one of those great white clouds has sailed into the great portico across the height of the pillars, and upon it, like children on a toy ship, are two winged angiolini bearing the cross. I suppose there is no other work of Titian in Venice which is so consummate a work of art or so wonderfully original a composition as this. Its humanity and quietness, the beauty of its colour too, its inexhaustible perfection, are the chief reasons why one continually returns to the Frari.
A little way to the left out of the Campo dei Frari stands the Church of S. Tomà, which was founded very long ago, but is as we see it a work of the eighteenth century. The whole place is full of relics, there being in all more than ten thousand, I believe. Here were temporarily conserved the pictunes from the Frari.. Returning to that great church, we find just behind it the Church of S. Rocco, with the Scuola beside it. As for S. Rocco itself, it is the one church in Venice that is very difficult to see, for it closes early, and I have never yet been able to find the sacristan. This, like S. Giobbe, is a plague church, S. Sebastiano and S. Maria della Salute being the others of the four Venice can boast. It was built in 1489 (but rebuilt again in the eighteenth century, and the façade is even later) to receive the body of S. Roch, which some Venetians had stolen from the city of Montpellier because he was, and is, for what I know, a great champion against the plague. The Scuola, which was already in existence, at once took the name of the Saint, and agreed to pay for the church, and when they had seen to that they further decided to employ Tintoretto to decorate their guild house, which he did during eighteen years, so that after the Ducal Palace, I suppose you may see more of Tintoretto's work in this scuola than anywhere else in the world. It is usual, owing to the growing and most inhospitable custom of the Italian authorities of making you take a ticket even to enter a church, to visit the Scuola first before the church, and since this is the custom, let us abide by it. The cost is a franc.
This great hall of the Guild of S. Roch was built in 1491, and rebuilt on a far greater scale in 1516-1549. It consists of two great halls, one above the other, some smaller rooms, and a noble staircase. Practically all these are full of Tintoretto's work, work which here especially won the enthusiastic and beautiful praise of Ruskin, in whose prose it will surely live for ever. It might seem doubtful if they will always endure in themselves or in the hearts of men. No one, I suppose, who has ever read those overwhelming pages in " The Stones of Venice " has left the Scuola di S. Rocco without a feeling of woeful disappointment. To begin with, one comes there after seeing the Palace of the Doges, after seeing the Bacchus and Ariadne, therefore, and all the glory of the Antecollegio. There fore one comes, remembering Ruskin's praise, expecting a similar, if not a greater glory. Instead, one passes before a vast number of great canvases, each one of which is as gloomy as night, in which one can scarce believe the sun ever shone, and these works come to seem at last as full of disappointment as the Paradiso of the Hall of the Great Council. Yet no one, I am sure, has ever given himself to these great, gloomy canvases without feeling their strength and passion, their sure and adventurous draughtsmanship, their marvellous composition, their wonderful technical strength, yes, and their sincerity. But this is not enough ; they may overwhelm us, and indeed they do ; they may draw from us all our praise, as they most surely will ; but when all has been said that can ever be said, they leave us cold, they do not touch our hearts, they are without mystery and beauty. What, after all, do they say to us, these pictures of the life of Christ, of Our Lady, and of S. Rocco,what do they mean to us? and seeing we are not painters, what joy, what pleasure, what delight, do they bring suddenly, silently into our hearts ? They tell us of the tremendous fight Tintoretto had with himself ; they tell us of his vast ambition to become a painter ; they tell us of his tireless energy and effort to express himself, and of his almost unbearable success. They have really nothing to do with Him who was born so long ago :
" With a brightness in His bosom that illumines you and me."
We are attracted rather by the wonderful power of that scene of cottage life, a true genre picture, realistic and a little brutal, in which a woman with great red arms just out of the washing tub masquerades as Madonna. . . . But what need to go over them all ? The titles are in every guide-book, only they do not accord with what we see.
Yet from this denunciation if denunciation it be I would wish to withdraw at least the Crucifixion, that vast and terrible picture which hangs in the Sala dell' Albergo. I can say nothing about it; it speaks after all for itself, and it is some-thing outside art and outside criticism. It has every quality I hate in a picture; it is dramatic, full of unruly and over emphasized gesture ; everything is in confusion, and the whole effect is emphasized and reemphasized by the chiaroscuro. Yet here at least I bow my head. Let it be what it may be as a picture, this is the Death of the Son of God. I shall never forget that group at the foot of the cross, with its strange, bowed ghostly figure, nor that uplifted victim forgotten by God.
I would say, too, if it be not the merest impertinence, that I would except from what I have previously said the Chris before Pilate, also in this room, which seems to me to have much nobility. And of course I except from all I have said with regard to Tintoretto's works the beautiful Annunciation of Titian on the side of the staircase over the first landing It is of the year 1545 or thereabout, according to Dr. Gronau and was bequeathed to the Scuola by a lawyer named Aurelio Cortona in 1555.
There is much work by Tintoretto in the Church of S. Rocco, as well as a Betrayal of our Lord, by Titian, which is popularly thought to be miraculous.