Santa Maria Formosa, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Santi Giovanni e Paolo

We backtrack a bit and take a right at the S. Crisostomo. We leave the busy road that leads to the station and we enter a number of courtyards that are typically medieval Venice. In the Corte Seconda del Milion we see the home that once belonged to the famous Marco Polo, the explorer who visited China. These courtyards are typical for how tradespeople lived in medieval times. Finally, we arrive at one of the largest squares of the city: Campo di S. Maria Formosa.

Corte Seconda del Milion large size      Corte Seconda del Milion large size       Home of Marco Polo
Corte Seconda del Milion Home of Marco Polo Venice


Campo Santa Maria Formosa large size     Facade large size     Aerial picture         Livecam
Campo Santa Maria Formosa Venice

foto: Jake “Joliet” Blues 

The founding of the church by the same name, the Santa Maria Formosa, was initiated by higher powers. Mary, as matrone formosa (lit. wealthy or plump), commanded the local bishop to establish a church at the place where a cloud would stop moving, and so it happened. The layout is similar to what we say at the San Giovanni Crisostomo, a Greek cross. This was the conventional shape for Byzantine churches devoted to Mary.

Campo Santa Maria Formosa big size         The other side        Ground plan  of the Campo
Campo Santa Maria Formosa Venetië


Campo Santa Maria Formosa large   Canaletto ‘Campo Santa Maria Formosa’         Canaletto’s study        Santa Maria Formosa facade 
Video Campo  (7.10 minutes)
Campo Santa Maria Formosa Venice

The diary of Malipiero describes how the Santa Maria Formosa was constructed. It was mostly completed when Codussi died in 1504. This church was located at the largest campo of the city. A freestanding church like this one is highly unusual for Venice. Perhaps the architect saw a challenge in designing a freestanding church that could be approached from three sides.

Santa Maria Formosa big size
Santa Maria Formosa Venetië

During the Gothic period the basilisk shape was dominant, but Codussi falls back on the old Byzantine layout: a centred plane, in this case, a Greek cross. These layouts were often used in the Veneto-byzantine period. Examples include the San Giacomo di Rialto and of course the San Marco. The layout of the Santa Maria Formosa shows the ingenuity of Codussi. Click here for the layout of the Santa Maria Formosa 1. Maria chapel of the Immaculate Conception and 3. Chapel of Barbara.

Facade of the  Santa Maria Formosa on the campo big size
Facade Santa Maria Formosa campo Venice


Santa Maria Formosa facade on the rio      Facade on the  Campo
Santa Maria Formosa facade rio Venice

It goes without saying that the San Marco, some minutes away from the Formosa, was the archetype for this layout. During the First World War, the church was heavily damaged after which the dome and roof underwent considerable change. For example, the high tholobate of the dome was never rebuilt. This downplays the otherwise nice elevation of the dome. To still receive sufficient light, the windows of the old tholobate were replaced by round windows in the lunettes of the aisles. The original look of the church is unknown, as the church underwent significant restoration after an earthquake in 1668. Most likely, the church was originally very basic, nearly “unvenetian”.

The ambiguity between the two main axles was niftily exploited by Codussi. The apses are found at the east side, but the north side has the main entrance. That is, from the direction of the campo. The west side, the side of the Rio di S. Maria Formosa, has the second ‘main entrance’, straight across from the apses. What’s unusual are the deep side-chapels in the aisles that accentuate the Greek cross.

Nave big size          Interior
Santa Maria Formosa nave Venice


Santa Maria Formosa big size
Santa Maria Formosa interieur Venetië

Photo: B. Coleman

Santa Maria Formosa  interior big size
Santa Maria Formosa  interior Venice

Photo: Thom Oeullette

Aisle and nave
Santa Maria Formosa interieur Venetië

Photos: B Coleman

The mullion arches in the side-walls of these side-chapels affect the Greek cross: they accentuate the longitudinal axis of the aisle.  If you walk through the church, the vista changes all the time. Each year, the Doge visited the yearly fest of the Immaculate Conception and the church organised a procession. Codussi designed a perfect stage to host it. Little is known of the exterior. The western facade – channel side- and the campanile are from the 17th century. The very simple apses draw your attention as you walk across the square. The Santa Maria Formosa was a rich parochial. A highly desirable area to live in. It drew in rich parishioners and thus a beautiful and large church. And that is something the parishioners of the church we examined before, the San Giovanni Crisostomo, couldn’t afford.

We will examine two more paintings. In the first chapel to our right, devoted to the immaculate conception of Mary, we see a triptych by Bartholomeo Vivarini from 1473.

Bartolomeo Vivarini ‘Madonna della Misericordia’ 1473 large size
Bartolomeo Vivarini Mary chapel of the accumulate conception 'Madonna della Misericordia' 1473 Santa Maria Formosa Venice

The triptych worships Mary and depicts to the left the meeting of Mary’s mother and father, Joachim and Anna. Maria is in the middle, as a protector of the poor and the right panel shows the birth of Jesus. The priest Vettor Rosati collected funds from his parishioners. That money allowed him to pay Vivarini and as a token of gratitude, the parishioners are depicted under Mary’s protective cloak.

Bartolomeo Vivarini ‘Madonna della Misericordia’ 1473
Large size        Parishioners
Bartolomeo Vivarini 'Madonna della Misericordia' 1473


Chapel of the H. Barbara
Chapel of the H. Barbara Palma il Vecchio Santa Maria Formosa Venice

Photo: Thom Oeullette

All the way to the left we see the chapel of the H. Barbara, the location of a polyptich made by Palma il Vecchio in 1510. Palma was a student of Titian and he spent some time in Rome where he was largely influenced by Michelangelo.

Chapel of the holy Barbara Palma  il Vecchio         Pietà
Chapel of the holy Barbara Palma il Vecchio Santa Maria Formosa

Barbara is quite chubby in this image (formosa), as a saint she is carrying a palm branch and her figure and face meet the Venetian beauty standards of that time. The tower depicted by Palma il Vecchio in the background is there for a reason, as the legend of this brave Christian woman is as follows:

Born as a daughter to a rich heathen, Barbara was introduced with Christianity and saw that it was good. Her father was furious and had her locked away. Barbara asked for more room and she had some additional quarters constructed. She insisted that not two, but three windows would be placed. Her cunning father knew all too soon what that would imply, the holy trinity. He turned his daughter over to the justice system. But the tortures that befell her did not break her faith. Erupting with anger over her stubbornness, Barbara’s father took up a sword and decapitated her. But then Christ intervened, and a lightning strike descended upon Dioscurus from the heavens to leave him as nothing more than a pile of ash. Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen, miners and others who deal with explosives.

Barbara was especially popular in the late medieval period. Palma depicted another Pietà in a tondo at the top of this polyptich.

Palma il Vecchio H. Barbara          Large  size
Palma il Vecchio H. Barbara Santa Maria Formosa Venice

We walk north and via the Calle Lunga S. Maria Formosaen de Calle Pinelli we arrive at the S. Giovanni e Paolo. Right where the Calle Pinelli crosses the Rio de S. Marina, we can see to our right that the rio splits up into two. This also marks the location of a wild movie chase where 007 tries to shake off his pursuers.

Rio de S. Marina big size
Rio de S. Marina Venice

From the S. Giovanni e Paolo we first walk west towards the S. Maria dei Miracoli.

The Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Bernardo Bellotto ‘Santa Maria dei Miracoli’  around  1741 capriccio big size
Bernardo Bellotto 'Santa Maria dei Miracoli' ca. 1741 capriccio


Campo Santa Maria dei Nova big size       Youtube  Campo Santa Maria Nova 2.29 minutes
Campo Santa Maria dei Nova Venetië

The Santa Maria dei Miracoli was restored in 1997 and counts as one of Pietro Lombardo’s masterpieces. He was a sculptor who managed a thriving workplace in fifteenth century Venice. The exterior of the church is purely renaissance by design, incorporating classic elements.

Santa Maria Miracoli facade big size          Other side
Santa Maria Miracoli facade Venice

Photos: Didier Descouens and the other side Wolfgang Moroder

Santa Maria Miracoli
S. Maria dei Miracoli Venice

photo: B Coleman

Santa Maria dei Miracoli apse big size
Santa Maria dei Miracoli apse exterior Venice


Santa Maria dei Miracoli entrance and  the fronton: Mary with Child
Santa Maria dei Miracoli entrance Venice

The facade is divided into two orders, crowned with an architrave. Friezes and multi-coloured marble are incorporated into geometric shapes that decorate the outside of the building. This marble splendour carries on to the interior, the choir is decorated with sculpted figures in the balustrades. All of this to worship the high altar with a Madonna, painted by Pietro Paradisi (1409). Originally, the painting of the Madonna was meant to be attached to the wall of a residential home, but after the attribution of various miracles to the artwork in 1480, this led to a number of tithes that were to pay for the construction of a church. Pietro Lombardo thus was commissioned with building a church for the Madonna. He constructed a honey-coloured church, often compared with a jewellery box. A moat was dug out to protect to miraculous painting.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli  main altar and the ‘Madonna dei Miracoli’
Santa Maria dei Miracoli  main altar and the 'Madonna dei Miracoli' Venice


Niccolò di Pietro ‘Madonna’ 1409
Niccolò di Pietro 'Madonna dei Miracoli' 1409 Santa Maria dei Miracoli Venetië


Santa Maria dei Miracoli interior big size       The other side       Ceiling
Santa Maria dei Miracoli interior Venice

Photo: Zairon

We return to one of the most important churches in the city, the S. Giovanni e Paolo. In front of the church we see an equestrian statue, Colleoni, by Andrea del Verrocchio (1483-1485).

The Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Canaletto ‘Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo’  1736-1740  big size
Canaletto 'Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo'  1736-1740

The Santi Giovanni e Paolo competes with the Santa Maria Glorioso for the title of ‘largest gothic church’ of the city and is also known as the San Zanipolo. The church was constructed between 1333 and 1430. The high central nave has remarkable crossed vaults, supported by wooden beams. The large space has an imposing character due to its architectural simplicity. A large fire struck the church in 1867, leaving many artworks by famous artists like Bellini and Titian severely damaged or completely destroyed, like the ceiling paintings in the Cappella del Rosario by Paolo Veronese.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo big size           Choir
Santi Giovanni e Paolo schip Venetië

The church was constructed according to the basilica model, with four chapels in the choir. The highly placed windows give the choir a lot of light intensity. The facade was never completed, the entrance portal is flanked by six Greek pillars with byzantine embossing in a composition by sculptor Bartolomeo Bon. The facade has three of the twenty-five Doge graves, which make this church a worthwhile visit.

Baldassare Longhena main altar and apse big size       Exterior apse big size
Baldassare Longhena main altar apse San Giovanni e Paolo Venice


Pietro Lombardo ‘Burial monument Doge Pietro Mocenigo’ large
Pietro Lombardo 'burial monument for Doge Pietro Mocenigo' Santi Giovanni e Paolo Venice
 Click here for the layout of the Santi Giovanni e Paolo
1.   Monument voor doge Giovanni Mocenigo van Tullio Lombardo (1500 –1510)
2.   Monument for doge Pietro Mocenigo by Pietro Lombardo (1476 – 148
3.   Polyptych by Giovanni Bellini (around 1465)
4.   Monument for the Valier family, designed by A. Tirali (1705 – 1708)
5.   Chapel of  San Domenico
6.   St. Antoninus gives out alms by Lorenzo Lotto (1542)
7.   High altar, seventeenth century
8.   Monument for doge Leonardo Loredan by G. Grapiglia and Danese Cattaneo
9.   Monument for doge Andrea Vendramin by Tullio Lombardo (1492 – 1495)
10. Monument for doge Marco Cornaro, by Nino Pisano (around 1360)
11. Monument for doge Antonio Venier by Pierpaolo dalle Masegne (ca. 1400)
12. Cappella del Rosario
13. Sacristy
14. Monument for doge Pasquale Malipiero byPietro Lombardo (around 1465)
15. Monument doge Tommaso Mocenigo  P.di Niccolò Lamberti and Giovanni di Martino (around 1475)
16. Monument voor doge Niccolò Marcello van Pietro Lombardo (ca. 1475)
17. The Martyrdom of Peter, a seventeenth century copy based on Titian
18. Monument for Marchese Chastler by Luigi Zandomeneghi (1825)

From the 15th century, the Santi Giovanni e Paolo was the place where Doges had themselves buried, so it’s hardly surprising that these burial monuments first served to glorify those who had died, instead of filling a religious role like we’d expect in a church. Based on these graves, we can have a closer, admiring look at burial art and the traditions involved in setting up a burial monument. Another artist who was heavily involved with this church was Pietro Lombardo, during the last quarter of the fifteenth century he produced four burial monuments along with his sons Antonio and Tullio. The nudes depicted by Tullio on the sides of his burial monument were later replaced by properly dressed saints, namely St. Catherina and Mary Magdalene. Centrally located in the gothic choir we see a large baroque altar, and we will have a look at a polyptich by Giovanni Bellini in the aisle, which he painted for St. Vincent Ferrer

Giovanni Bellini ‘Polyptich of Vincenzo Ferrer’ 1460-1465 large size
Giovanni Bellini 'Polyptich of Vincenzo Ferrer' 1460-1465 Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Giovanni Bellini ‘Saint Christopher Saint Dominic Saint Sebastian’ (Polyptich of Vincenzo Ferrer) 1460-1465, tempera on panel, 3,367 x 4,977 cm

We head towards Rio della Plata and then go to the scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.

 Rio della Plata big size
Rio della Plata Venice

Photo: Ole Steffensen

Click here for a continuation of day 5