At a quiet square near the Riva degli Schavioni we find the San Zaccaria, a church that is connected to a Benedictine monastery. The church bears the name of Saint Zacharias, whose relics are still kept in the church to this day. Zacharias was the father of John the Baptist. The church, founded in the 9th century by Doge Giustiniano Particiaco, was renovated multiple times throughout the centuries. The oldest parts of the building are the 10th century crypt and the 12th century floor mosaics that still contain 9th century fragments. The church was reconstructed during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The facade is an important monument because you can tell there’s a transition between gothic and renaissance architecture.
The layout of the church (click here for the layout of the San Zaccaria) was performed according to the gothic model, influenced by the style that was predominantly used for cathedral construction in Northern Europe. Typical elements include the high central nave and the elongated windows that add considerable light to the choir chapels.
“The interior of the church has an apse surrounded by an ambulatory lit by tall Gothic windows, a typical feature of Northern European church architecture which is unique in Venice. Nearly every wall is covered with paintings by 17th and 18th century artists. The church houses one of the most famous works by Giovanni Bellini, the San Zaccaria Altarpiece. The walls of the aisles and of the chapels host paintings by other artists including Andrea del Castagno, Palma Vecchio, Tintoretto, Giuseppe Porta, Palma il Giovane, Antonio Vassilacchi, Anthony van Dyck, Andrea Celesti, Antonio Zanchi, Antonio Balestra, Angelo Trevisani and Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.” Cited from Wikipdia
Giovanni Bellini ‘Pala di San Zaccaria’ 502 x 236 cm, panel 1505
The work is set in a large niche, depicting a sacred conversation within an established scheme: the Madonna and Child enthroned, a musician angel on a step and four saints placed symmetrically at the sides. They are St. Peter the Apostle, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Lucy and St. Jerome.
To the left of the music-playing angel is a small plague, known as a cartellino, where Bellini signed and dated the work: “IOANNES BELLIVUS / MCCCCCV” (Giovanni Bellini, 1505). Cited from Wikipedia
In the church lies the burial place of the artist Alessandro Vittoria, commemorated by a self-portrait bust on his tomb.
The adjacent monastery was infamous for its unruly behaviour of the nuns who mostly came from rich Venetian families. The baroque painter Francesco Guardi once painted a visit to the ‘nuns’ of this monastery. The Doge and his entourage gathered at the San Zaccaria every year during Easter to express their gratitude to the monastery community for their making available of a part of their orchard to expand the Piazza San Marco.
San Giovanni in Bragora
This gothic church from 1475 is built on old foundations. While the renaissance was already happening in Florence, Venice stuck to Gothicism for quite a while longer and not just when it came to architecture.
“The current appearance dates from the last renovation (1475-1505), which kept the basilica plan but added a brickwork façade in local late-Gothic style, and a façade divided into three sections.” Cited from Wikipedia
This church has a number of paintings that perfectly illustrate the transition from Gothicism to early Renaissance. The chapel to the right of the main altar shows a triptych by the Vivarini’s. This Vivarini is Bartolomeo, who painted a Mary between St. Andreas and John the Baptist. This altarpiece is still clearly part of Gothicism.
Bartolomeo’s cousin, Alvise, painted a ‘Resurrection’ twenty years later in 1498. The Christ figure painted by Alvise Vivarini looks like he descended straight from Mount Olympus. This figure was likely based on a classic image of Apollo. This is how the renaissance entered this gothic church.
The other side of the choir above the main altar is the location of the church’s pride and joy, an altarpiece titled: ‘Baptism of Christ’ from 1498 by Cima da Conegliano.
The compositional scheme of this painting meets all renaissance requirements. If you take a close look, you will notice how geometry played a large role in painting as well. Conegliano also produced a painting in this church with Constantine, Helena and the cross of Christ. The said painting also has a clear geometric composition. The Renaissance saw a revival of writing about art after a 1000 year hiatus. Alberti was the first to write his ‘De Pictura’ in 1435.
Beside John, there lies the usual cut log; yet, here it has given rise to a fresh shoot. The baptismal river has transformed into an undeniably sacred and life-giving flowing source. To the right in the background, stand a stag and a hind, representing the essence of the Christian soul. While the abundance of Oriental figures can be justified to some extent due to references in the Gospel to the Pharisees and Sadducees, it appears somewhat less in harmony with the natural context. Three individuals are aboard the boat on the river, two stand on the distant riverbank, and an additional two are further along the path.
Finally, to the right and close to the entrance, we have a chapel with a statue, a Pietà. The statue’s theme, Mary with her dead son Jesus on her lap is originally a theme from Northern Germany. It was called an Andachtsbild. The purpose of these statues, and this church does a good job of reflecting that, is for the parishioner to kneel down in prayer on the steps near the statue. One would then communicate directly with Mary through this statue. photos: Wolfgang Modorer, zoom: Sailko and Ricardalovesmonuments