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Map oriented to north with Frari in the middle.
(Jpg: Chiese di Venezia)

    View interior, small alters some of the prominent families commissioned works of art within the church and built alters and chapels for the glory of God (and the private use of their own family). Along this wall you can see (at least in part) five separate alters. Just imagine the church full of these.

    John Singer Sargent 

    Sketch after -- Monument to Benedetto Brugnolo da Legnago, Church of Santa Maria Gloríosa dei Frari, Venice

Pesari Alter
The Madonna di Ca' Pesaro
Pesaro altarpiece
"In the same church, for the chapel of the Pesari family, he painted a picture of the Madonna with her Son in her arms, and St Peter and St George; and round about are the patrons of the work; they include the bishop of Paphos and his brother, just returned from the victory which the bishop had won against the Turks." (Giorgio Vasari, I-449)

Monument to Bishop Jacopo Pesaro
before 1524 
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

St John the Baptist
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

St John the Baptist
Wood, height: 141 cm

Our Lady ascending into heaven
"Titian painted an altarpiece for the high altar showing Our Lady ascending into heaven and below her are the twelve apostles who are watching as she ascends." (Giorgio Vasari,  The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, 1550, I-449, quoted from the Giorgio Vasari pages

VITTORIA, Alessandro
St Jerome
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

John Singer Sargent
Campo dei Frari, Venice
John Singer Sargent painted the exterior courtyard in 1880

Photo: Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari
 Jpg: Philip Resheph

The Photo view is looking southwest from canal.


A huge, gloomy Gothic barn, the brick house of God known officially as Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari may not be the most elegant church in Venice, but it is certainly one of the city's most significant artistic storehouses after the Accademia and the Scuola di San Rocco. The Franciscans were granted the land in about 1250 and they completed a first church in 1338. At this point they changed their minds and started work on a larger building, facing the opposite way, which was finally completed just over a century later. The church is 98m long, 48m wide at the transept and 28m high - just slightly smaller than San Giovanni e Paolo - and has the second highest campanile in the city. And while the Frari may not have as many dead Doges as its Dominican rival, it undoubtedly has the artistic edge.

This is one church where the entrance fee is not a recent imposition; tourists have been paying to get into the Frari for over a century. Entrance is via the left transept, but it's best to begin your visit from the back, where you can enjoy the long view of the building, with Titian's Assumption above the High Altar acting as a focus.

Left aisle
Another magnificent Titian hangs to the left of the side-door: The Madonna di Ca' Pesaro La Dogana. This work was commissioned by Bishop Jacopo Pesaro in 1519 and celebrates victory in a naval expedition against the Turks led by the bellicose cleric in 1502. The Bishop is kneeling and waiting for St Peter to introduce him and his family to the Madonna. Behind, an armored warrior bearing a banner has Turkish prisoners in tow.
This work revolutionized altar-paintings in Venice. It wasn't just that Titian dared to move the Virgin from the centre of the composition to one side, using the splendid banner as a counterbalance; the real innovation was the rich humanity of the whole work, from the beautifully portrayed family (with the boy turning to stare straight at us) to the Christ child, so naturally active and alive, twisting away from his mother (apparently a portrait of Titian's own wife) to gaze at the clustered saints around him. The timeless `sacred conversation' of Bellini's paintings here becomes animated, losing some of its sacredness but gaining in drama and realism.

The whole of the next bay, around the side door, is occupied by another piece of Pesaro propaganda - the mastodontic Mausoleum of Doge Pesaro (died 1659)La Dogana, attributed to Longhena, with recently restored sculptures by Melchior Barthel of Dresden. Even the most ardent fans of the baroque have trouble defending this one, with its blackamoor caryatides, bronze skeletons and posturing allegories; political incorrectness is the least of its faults. It seems impossible for false taste and base feeling to sink lower,' wrote Ruskin, and you can see his point.

The penultimate bay harbours a Monument to Canova, carried out by his pupils in 1827, five years after his death, using a design of his own, intended for the tomb of Titian. His body is buried in his native town of Possagno, but his heart is conserved in an urn inside the monument. The despondent winged lion has a distinct resemblance to the one in The Wizard of Oz.

Left Transept

In the third chapel, with its altarpiece by Bartolomeo Vivarini and Marco Basaiti, a slab on the floor marks the grave of the father of opera, Claudio Monterverdi. The Corner Chapel, at the end of the transept, contains a mannered statue of St John the Baptist by Sansovino  ; this sensitively wistful figure could hardly be more different from Donatello's work of a century earlier  [John Singer Sargent would sketch Donatello's work on one of his visits].

  • Titian

  • (tsh´n),  c.14901576, Venetian painter, whose name was Tiziano Vecellio, b. Pieve di Cadore in the Dolomites. Of the very first rank among the artists of the Renaissance, Titian had an immense influence on succeeding generations of painters, especially in his use of color. 
  • More on the Frari

  • See Overview of Venice

By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2004 all rights reserved
Created October 2000
Updated 07/29/2004