Sights in San Polo and Santa Croce (Venice)

Of the six neighborhoods that make up Venice, the Santa Croce and San Polo neighborhoods, along with San Marco, are the most densely built-up neighborhoods. Here one finds little nature, but mainly residential environments. Together with Dorsoduro they take over the entire western side of the Grand Canal. There are many sights to admire, including some hidden gems. As for churches, there is the fabulous Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, with works by Titian and Bellini, the San Giovanni Elemosinario and the San Stae. Tintoretto fans will certainly find something to their liking in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. He left more than twenty works behind. The Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna gives contemporary art enthusiasts the necessary pleasure.

Table of contents

  • San Giovanni Elemosinario
  • Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
  • Scuola Grande di San Rocco
  • The Church of San Rocco
  • Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna in the Ca’ Pesaro
  • San Stae

A . San Giovanni Elemosinario
B . Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
C . San Rocco
D . Scuola Grande di San Rocco
E . San Stae
F . Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna
Source: Titian, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

San Giovanni Elemosinario

Address details: Ruga Vecchia S. Giovanni, 30125
Sometimes a tourist giant like Venice also offers small, hidden gems. The church of San Giovanni Elemosinario is one of them. You have to look hard to find it – the church seems to be crammed between some houses. The church is not dedicated to the famous John the Baptist or John the Evangelist, but to John the Chaplain. In Western Christianity he is almost unknown, but in the Orthodox Church he is venerated. Remember that Venice was part of the Byzantine Empire until well into the first millennium. John (550-616) was bishop of Alexandria, one of the most important dioceses in Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. He gave a lot of money and help to the poor, hence his nickname ‘Chaplain’.
This church was founded around 1070 and rebuilt after a major fire in the sixteenth century. It has a floor plan of a Greek cross with a dome. The church is worth visiting for two paintings by two competitors. By Giovanni Antonio de Sacchis (called Il Pordenone by everyone ) there is The Saints Caterina, Sebastian and Roch to whom an angel shows the way . Titian ‘s painting of Saint John above the high altar. The saint has one hand on the Gospel, with the other he offers alms to a beggar.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Address details: San Polo, 3072,30125
After San Marco, the basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (also called Santa Maria Assunta or simply I Frari) is perhaps the most important church in the lagoon city. There is an immense collection of masterpieces from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism. It is the church of the Franciscans or Friars Minor. The first church on this site was already there around 1250. The current beautiful basilica was built in the period 1340-1445. The exterior is very sober – it is therefore quite a surprise to enter this temple of art. The church is supported by twelve columns, obviously a reference to the twelve apostles. The clock tower is the second tallest in the city.
Source: Titian, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) Due to the high windows (typical Gothic) and the south-west orientation, the light is very special, especially in the early evening. This incidence of light reveals many treasures. There are works by Giambattista Pittoni, Girolamo Campagna, Paolo Veneziano and Alessandro Vittoria. By the hand of Titian – who is buried in the church – is the Maria Assunta , the large painting behind the altar in the apse. After the unveiling of the painting (no less than 7 meters by 3.6 meters) in 1518, the Venetians were astonished: they had never seen anything like it! Titian depicts the Assumption of Mary. It seems as if the painting consists of two halves. Above is the Blessed Virgin in a bright red robe. She is, as it were, pushed up by the choir of angels that carries the clouds. God the Father is waiting for her upstairs; the angel already has the crown in hand to crown her Queen of Heaven. Titian created a triangle between the Virgin and two apostles who are also dressed in red. This ensures peace and structure in the work.
The church has the only work by the Florentine sculptor Donatello in Venice. The famous painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari describes it as follows:
He [Donatello] therefore left Padua and on his return journey he visited Venice, where, as a token of his goodwill, he gave the Florentine colony a gift for its chapel in the church of the Friars Minor: a wooden statue of John the Baptist, made by him with the greatest care and diligence. Source: Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430–1516), Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) This painted statue of John is located in the Cappella dei Fiorentini, the Chapel of the Florentines. Donatello donated the statue to the church after a short visit around 1438. Two other magnificent works of art can be admired in the chapel: the Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro by Titian and the Pala di Pesaro by Giovanni Bellini . The Pala di Pesaro has as its official name the Madonna and Child and the saints Nicholas of Bari, Peter, Mark and Benedict . This altarpiece was commissioned by the wealthy Pesaro family to decorate the burial chapel of their deceased mother. Also to be admired: the grave monument for Canova, the beautiful (and authentic) monks’ choir from Lombardo’s studio, richly decorated doge tombs, etc. For the composer Monteverdi, buried here, there is a very sober gravestone, on which there are often some flowers from music lovers.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Address details: Campo San Rocco, 3052
The lay brotherhood of Saint Rochus was founded at the end of the fifteenth century and is the only brotherhood that still exists today (although it has far fewer members than in its heyday). The brotherhood soon decided to establish community buildings in the San Polo neighborhood. Its construction started in 1515 and lasted until 1560 due to all kinds of disputes. Three architects worked on it, each with their own style. The bottom of the facade therefore still belongs to the Renaissance, the second floor is (early) Baroque.
The Scuola is one of the most beautiful sights in Venice, because one of its members was a famous painter: Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594). His real name was Jacopo Robusti (‘the Sturdy’), but was called the ‘Little Painter’. His style is somewhere between Renaissance and Baroque, possibly also Mannerism. Tintoretto became involved with the brotherhood through his participation in a design competition: the brotherhood wanted to have the Sala dell’ Albergo (on the top floor) decorated and was looking for a painter for this. Big names such as Veronese and Schiavone also submitted a design. If not Tintoretto: he immediately offered the brotherhood a fully finished painting: Glory of Saint Roch . When he showed the free offer after protests from the other participants, the assignment could not escape him. Ultimately, Tintoretto painted no fewer than 56 large paintings in this building, spread over three rooms.
Source: Tintoretto, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain) The Crucifixion he made in 1565 is world famous. The more than fifty people and horses depicted initially appear to be organized without any order. Only later does the viewer discover the structure: Christ stands in an open, almost circular space. Under His cross are the women and the apostle John. As one explores the painting further, one sees the crowds and the number of people increasing. Christ is clearly at the center of this immense work (width: 12 meters!). One of the most beautiful works also comes from the year 1565: Christ before Pilate . Tintoretto depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate declared his innocence. Note the serene attitude of Jesus and his beautiful white robe – a nice contrast with the disorder that seems to reign among the people.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

The Church of San Rocco

Near the buildings of the Scuola is the church of San Rocco of the same name , also owned by the brotherhood. Because the Scuola was elevated to Scuola Grande by the city council in 1480, members and income flowed in. These revenues were used to build the church of San Rocco; the building was renovated in the eighteenth century by Giovanni Scalfarotto. What is immediately noticeable when approaching the church: this is one of the few churches in the world with an almost purely square facade. The relics of Saint Roch are kept in the church. He is one of the saints invoked against the plague. His relics were taken (or stolen, as is debated) from the French city of Montpellier. Another eight paintings by Tintoretto can be admired in the church, including a beautiful Annunciation . Be sure to notice the beautiful paintings in the apse of Il Pordenone.

Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna in the Ca’ Pesaro

Address details: Santa Croce 2076, 30135
One of the palaces of the extremely wealthy Pesaro family is located on the Grand Canal. This Ca’ (short for Casa or house) now houses the Museum of Oriental Art and the Galleria Internazionale dArte Moderna. As the name suggests, the latter exhibits modern art. The museum is owned by the Venice Biennale Foundation. Almost all works were purchased during or after such a Biennale. There is contemporary art by Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Gustav Klimt and many others. Definitely recommended for lovers of modern art.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

San Stae

Address details: Campo San Stae, 30135 Santa Croce
One of the hidden gems of Venice is the Church of San Stae. The church is named after Saint Eustachius, but the Venetians like to abbreviate names. One never hears about Sant’ Eustachio, but San Stae. This saint is said to have been a commander in the Roman army of Emperor Trajan in the early years of Christianity. His conversion to Christianity followed a hunt in the forest. He saw a deer with a large, gold glowing cross between its antlers. As a result of his conversion, he was martyred under Emperor Hadrian (around 118). A similar conversion story can be found at St. Hubertus, much better known in Flanders and the Netherlands. Both are patrons of the hunters.
The current San Stae was built by the little-known architect Giovanni Grassi, around the year 1680. The facade was added thirty years later by Domenico Rossi. Immediately upon approaching the church, the art style is striking: pure baroque (although the heyday of this movement is somewhat earlier). The facade has four Corinthian columns on a high pedestal. Above the entrance portal, the (small) triangular tympanum is ‘broken’ into three pieces. The images at the top are by Antonio Corradini. With the head covered that is the theological virtue of Faith, furthermore there is Hope and an image of the Savior. In the church one can find paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo ( Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew ), Giambattista Piazzetta, Sebastiano Ricci and many others.

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