The architecture of the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, also known as the Frari Church, is a stunning example of Venetian Gothic architecture. The church is one of the largest in Venice and was built between the 14th and 15th centuries.
The exterior of the Frari Church features a mix of brick and stone, with intricate stone carvings and sculptures adorning the façade. The church has a tall bell tower that can be seen from all around Venice, and a large central nave with a series of smaller chapels branching off to the sides. The front and side facade has four portals and is decorated with statues of saints and angels. The upper part of the facade has a large rose window.
Peter chapel Plan 18
Middle door Plan 12
Front facade Plan I
Inside, the Frari Church features a spacious and airy interior, with soaring arches and a high ceiling that gives the space a sense of grandeur. The church is designed in a Latin cross plan, with a nave and two side aisles that lead to a large transept.
This Franciscan church contains many famous works of art by artists like Titian, Canova, Sansovino, Donatello, Bellini, Alessandro Vittoria etc. Wikipedia interior plan and works of art.
Aside from its many paintings this church also has sculptures. We will briefly rush through the development of sculpting in gothic, renaissance, mannerism, baroc and all the way to neo-classicism.
Donatello was a master of many media, including bronze, marble, and wood. His wooden sculptures are particularly noteworthy for several reasons.
One of the most striking features of Donatello’s wooden sculptures is their attention to detail. Despite the relatively coarse and porous nature of wood, Donatello was able to create figures that were incredibly lifelike and expressive. His figures are rendered with great care, from the flow of their clothing to the wrinkles on their faces.
The sculpture by Donatello of John the Baptist from 1438 must have been a shocking experience for the sculptors of Venice.
Inscription: Inter natos mulierum non surrexit major Joanne Baptista Among those who were given birth to by a woman, none were as great as John the Baptist
This renaissance sculpture has little in common with the gothic sculptures that you find on the choir screen. Donatello is a sculptor from Florence who has also crafted a lot of bronze sculptures and a famous cavalry statue, the Gattamelata. Donatello’s wooden sculpture, which unfortunately we cannot get closer to, is remarkable not only due to its expressive design, but also because of the technique employed by Donatello. He used the thick gresso layer as a sculpting clay, as it were. John’s mantle partly consists of gresso. The gothic sculptors either used a lime or gresso layer on a wooden sculpture to create a stable foundation for the polychrome paint. This is clear to see with the wooden cavalry sculpture of Paolo Savelli by sculptor Jacopo della Quercia in the right transept.
The chapel of the H. Marcus shows a work by Sansovino, one of Michelangelo’s contemporaries. As a sculptor, Jacopo Sansovino struggled to find work in Florence.
Michelangelo considered him too great a threat and made sure to block certain assignments from reaching him. Sansovino was left with no other option but to seek employment outside of Florence. This is how, after working in Rome, he ended up in Venice where he mostly dealt with architecture. We walked past his Venetian residence this morning – designed by himself – at the Rio di San Gervasio near the S. Trovaso.
The sculpture by Sansovino, another John the Baptist from 1554, is characteristic of the transition from renaissance to mannerism. If you get close to this sculpture at the baptismal font, you will see that Sansovino lovingly went into excruciating detail. On the marble is the inscription: “Iacobus Sansovinus Florentinus faciebat”.
We now walk towards the choir where you get to see the enormous difference between John the Baptist by Sansovino and the gothic statues on the choir screens: a remarkable difference.
The body proportions of these gothic statues, their expression, the way they have been placed, none of it is a realistic display of the human body. What’s more, these statues are quite rigid and give out the impression of being inside gothic columns. There is one exception: The wooden crucifix created by the renowned Italian Renaissance artist Andrea del Verrocchio in the late 15th century.
If you compare the statues on the choir screen with the St. Hieronymus by Alessandro Vittoria from 1570, the difference is stark. Vittoria’s sculptures have a more natural pose. The body of St. Sebastian, next to St.Jerome, was sculpted in a kind of spirally twist (like a cork screw, a better term when it comes to art would be a figura serpentinata, or, a snake figure). By the way in the San Giovanni e Paolo you can also see a St. Hieronymus of Vittoria.
The baroque period focuses more on movement, as shown in this eye-catching monument for Doge Giovanni Pesaro by German sculptor Barthel from 1669. The use of black and white marble creates a strong contrast. If you stand in front of this monument, you should walk towards it and discover how the slaves that carry the group above them are quite remarkable.
“The next passageway is completely taken up by the megalomaniac mausoleum for Doge Giovanni Pesaro, who barely held office for a year and a half, from April 1658 until his death on 30 September 1659. It was designed by Baldassare Longhena. The statues, including the four enormous Mores, were largely crafted by Melchior Barthel from Dresden (1625 – 1672). The grandeur of this tomb shows not only how respected the doges were, but also how much they were prepared to sacrifice for their own glorification. The day before his death, the doge had earmarked twelve thousand ducats for his mausoleum in a supplement to his will, double what he had spent fighting the Turks. In the pluralis majestatis, he writes that it needs to include ‘a seated sculpture of us’. At the bottom left of the monument, it says in Latin: ‘he lived for seventy years’, to the right ‘he unlived in 1659‘ and below the ducal throne ‘Here he relives in 1669‘, the year in which the monument was completed.” Translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Venezia Anekdotische reisgids voor Venetië’ Athenaeum-Polak & van Gennep, Amsterdam 2011 p. 378