San Zaccaria and San Giovanni in Bragora

San Zaccaria        Lower part of the facade

San Zaccaria facade Venice
photos: Terence Faircloth; Didier Descouens; part: ctj71081

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.


San Zaccaria portal
photo: ctj71081

San Zaccaria            Zoom in

San Zaccaria interior nave
photos: Pedro Albuquerque and zoom: dvdbramhall

“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’       Zoom in

San Zaccaria: Giovanni Bellini ‘Pala di San Zaccaria’
photo: Didier Descouens

Giovanni Bellini ‘Pala di San Zaccaria’ 502 x 236 cm, panel 1505

San Zaccaria  aisle Giovanni Bellini ‘Pala di San Zaccaria’  
photo: dvdbramhall

The music-playing angel

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

Alessandro Vittore ‘Bust self-portrait’
G.B. Moroni ‘Portrait of Alessandro Vittoria’ 1552 – 1553

In the church lies the burial place of the artist Alessandro Vittoria, commemorated by a self-portrait bust on his tomb.

Francesco Guardi ‘The Parlor of the Nuns at San Zaccaria 1745 1750 Ca’ Rezzonico

Francesco Guardi ‘The Parlor of the Nuns at San Zaccaria'
Gabriel Bella ‘Visit of the doge to San Zaccaria on Easter day'
photo: Sailko

Gabriel Bella ‘Visit of the doge to San Zaccaria on Easter day

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

Campo Bandiera e Moro

Campo Bandiera e Moro Venice
photos: Sailko and Wolfgang Moroder

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.

San Giovanni in Bragora

San Giovanni in Bragora Venice
photo: Didier Descouens

“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

San Giovanni in Bragora       Zoom in

San Giovanni in Bragora nave Venic
photos: Reading Tom and zoom: Didier Descouens

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 Vivarini ‘Mary with child and Saints John the Baptist and Andreas’ 1478
In situ

Bartolomeo Vivarini ‘Mary with child and Saints John the Baptist and Andreas' 1478
photo in situ: Brad Hostetler

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. 

Alvise Vivarini ‘Resurrection’

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.

Cima da Conegliano ‘Baptism of Christ’ Altarpiece

Cima da Conegliano ‘Baptism of Christ’ 1493

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.

Cima da Conegliano ‘Baptism of Christ’ (detail)

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.

Cima da Conegliano ‘Baptism of Christ’ (detail)
San Giovanni in Bragora: Chapel of the Pietà

Chapel of the Pietà     Zoom in     In situ

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

Continuation Venice day 6: Scuola Grande dei Carmini and Santa Maria dei Carmini