San Zaccaria

Venice

Its history began in the 9th century, constructed to house the remains of St Zaccairah (father of St. John the Baptist), donated to the church by the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian.

The church was originally attached to a Benedictine monestary of nuns.  The nuns  mostly came from prominent noble families of the city and had a reputation for laxness in their observance of the monastic life. The abbess was usually related to the Doge.

in 1105 a devastating fire destroyed both the church and the monastery in which one hundred nuns also lost their lives.

In the 1400s, it was decided that the church was too old and small for the prestige of the monastery. Instead of demolitioning and reconstructioning the old church, a new church was built next to the old one, thereby incorporating it.

The remains of various doges are buried in the crypt, which is the oldest surviving part of the original church. It is flooded most of the year due to the tides.

Why Stop Here

Artwork by Renaissance Masters

Bellini
Tintoretto
Palma il Vecchio
Palma il Giovane
Tiepolo

 

Monuments and Tombs of Famous Venetians

St Zaccaria-St John Baptist Father

St Athananasius: Doctor of Byzantine Church

Allesandro Vittoria: Sculpture

Crypt: thought to contain some of the earliest Doges

FLOORPLAN

I try to limit my time in a church to an hour or so and have a list of things to see so I don’t spend all day inside. On the map, I bolded the top 3 things or if you are like me and can spend all day in a church check out the links to all the icons.

Click on the Icons or Numbers

to see an image of the art and get a bit of info. Click the link for lots more fun details.

Must See: the Big Solid or Bright Numbers & Icons

Find these to keep your visit to 30 minutes or less.
In this church 2, 4, 9, Zaccariah’s tomb, & crypt on the map.

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1. MONUMENT FOR TITIAN (1843-1852)

Titian wished to be buried in this church and set up a contract prior to his death with the Friars. In exchange for a painting for the church, the Friar's set aside burial space for him. Titian died in 1576 before the painting was completed. The painting never hung in the church and is in the Accademia today. It was finished by Palma il Giovane. It is unclear if his body was actually ever buried here.
This monument was added in the 19th century over (what was believed to be) his original 16th century tomb marker. During renovation no remains were found.

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3. MADONNA AND SAINTS: GIOVANNI BELLINI (1488)

QUICK INFO
-medium: oil
-Signed by Bellini on the centre of The VM's throne
-On the left are Saint Nicholas of Bari and Saint Peter
-On right are Saint Mark and Saint Benedict

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5. PESARO MADONNA: TITIAN (1519-1526)

QUICK INFO
This painting was commissioned by Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, Cyprus. In 1518 Jacopo Pesaro bought the altar for his family's worship and later burial rights. He commissioned this altarpiece both as a votive painting and to commemorate his valour in war. He was Commander of the Papal Fleet and led the Christian forces to defeat the Turks in 1502 during the 2nd Ottoman-Venetian wars.

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7. MONUMENT FOR CANOVA (1827)

QUICK INFO
Canova was a famous for his neoclassical sculptures (1757-1822).
The tomb was designed by 5 of his students based on a design Canova himself made for Titian's monument in 1794. The design was not used and was adapted for the monument dedicated to Maria Cristina of Austria which can be found in the church in Vienna.
Only his heart is buried here, possibly in the urn the women is carrying to the right of the door.

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MONUMENT FOR DOGE GIOVANNI PESARO (1669)

QUICK INFO
Baroque monument dedicated to Doge Giovanni Pesaro (1589-1659)

Find his relationship to other Pesaro's in the church. *****Great great grandson of someone in the Pesaro family. .

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4. THE ASSUMPTION: TITIAN (1516-1518)

QUICK INFO
-This is the largest altarpiece in Venice.
-It in the same spot Titian painted it for over 500 years ago.
-When the Frari monks first saw the painting, they considered not accepting it. It seemed Titian used new techniques that were considered borderline unacceptable at the time.

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JOHN THE BAPTIST: DONATELLO (1450's)

QUICK INFO
-Commissioned by Cosimo Medici for the Frari.
-It is now in the Florentine chapel.
-St John is the patron Saint of Florence.
-Possibly, it was a gift for the hospitality the Venetians showed to Cosimo while he was exiled in Venice for a year from Florence (1433-1434).
-St John in this sculpture is portrayed raggedy and looks like he may have been wandering in the desert. Cosimo may have requested this raggedy look to relate his own experience of being exiled to St John the Baptists' experience.
The circular window on the front of the church has a Florentine lily to signify the chapel inside.

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2. MADONNA & CHILD: VENEZIANO (1339)

-This is one of oldest paintings in the church.
-Made for the tomb of Doge Dandalo (1329-1339).
-Thought to be the earliest painting of a Venetian Doge.
-Doge Dandalo's tomb is below the painting and is Byzantine in style.

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CHOIR

QUICK INFO
It is rare to find choirs still in their original place since most were removed during the counter reformation in order for priests to get closer to parishioners. This one was completed in 1468. There are 124 stalls, 50 in the upper row, 40 in the middle and 34 in the lower. The upper panels portray the figures of Saints. The lower panels are inlaid with buildings and squares. Also portraits of unidentified people.

In 1475 the exterior, front and side of the choir were surrounded with stones from Istria. It is divided into bas-reliefs representing figures from the Old Testament.

The four doctors of the Church (St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine and St. Jerome) Above the crown are two statues of eight apostles, St. Anthony and St. Francis, and the sides of the large crucifix attributed to Verrocchio, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist. The two busts of San Bernardino and St. Louis of Anjou rest on two plates that hold the bow. These two and four doctors of the Church are the work of Pietro Lombardo and the rest is attributed to his workshop.

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FLOORPLAN

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ABOUT THE CHURCH

Most of the churches in Venice were founded during medieval times and then reconstructed in more modern styles as they wore down and needed to be repaired or replaced. This was not the case for San Zaccaria.

It is one of the earliest monastic foundations of the city, dating back to the 7th century. The first church was replaced by another in the Romanesque style in the 11th century.

During the 1400s, it was decided that the church was too old and small for the prestigious monastery, where there were young nuns from the most important Venetian noble families living there.

It was decided not to demolish and reconstruct the old church but to incorporate it by building a new one, right next to the old one. Parallel to the present church, there is still the medieval one. (pink outline in floor plan above)

Part of the old nave became the chapel for the nuns (who followed mass separated from the others), and the apse, (decorated with amazing frescoes by Andrea del Castagno), became a simple side chapel.

The construction took from about 60 years (1444- 1504 and consecrated no sooner than 1543). Because of both the lengthy duration of the works and the fact two chief architects were commissioned, successively, to design the edifice, the church (in particular, its facade) is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance elements.

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9. SAN ZACCARIA ALTARPIECE: GIOVANNI BELLINI (1505)

Dated and signed in 1505, the painting was commissioned to Bellini at the height of his long career (he was 75), by the Benedictine nuns who owned the church and convent.

It is painted as a continuation of the surrounding architecture and seems to be a glowing window into another world.

The painting was looted by Napoleon and kept in Paris for twenty years, before being returned in 1817. During that time it was transferred from panel to canvas.

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10. A. CELESTI: DOGE, EMPEROR & POPE RECEIVE BODY OF ST ZACHARIAS (1684)

Above, the body of St Zaccarias is circled for reference.

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REMAINS OF ST ZACCARIAS & ST ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA

ST ATHANASIUS
He was a Doctor of the Church, Patriarch of Alexandria, and defender of the Christian tradition against Arianism. His teachings were the foundation for the condemnation against Arianism at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and for the Development of the Nicene Creed. He was the first to list the 27 books of the New Testament as we know them today.

Dr of Church: title given by the Catholic Church to saints recognized as having made a significant contribution to theology or doctrine through their research, study, or writing.

ST ZACCARIAS
Supposedly the church was built to house the sacred remains of St. Zacharias, father of St. John the Baptist, donated to Venice by the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian in the early 9th century.

On top painting of St Zaccarias by Palma Il Giovane (1605)
St Zaccarias is usually portrayed as an elderly but git older man dressed in patriarchal regalia.

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4. TINTORETTO: BIRTH OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST (1505)

Originally this painting was titled "The Birth of the Virgin." However, it is probably the birth of John the Baptist. The woman in the foreground holding the baby enveloped in light is more likely to be The VM, who was present at the birth of John the Baptist. If the baby was The VM it would be unusual that her mother (St Anne)would be portrayed as an old women in bed and that would also make the glowing women next the the baby unknown.

The woman in bed who just gave birth is much more likely to be St. Elizabeth, John's mother. In the 16th century Elizabeth was usually pictured as a woman in middle age and in the twentieth year of her marriage vs St Ann who is portrayed as a young women.

The man off to the side is older and could be either Mary's or John's father.
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FUNERAL MONUMENT: ALLESANDRO VITTORIA

By 1601, the sculpture Vittoria had begun the process to have a funerary monument and a floor tomb made in San Zaccaria (which was close to his home). He designed it and partially executed it before he died.

The inscription reads: "Alessandro Vittoria, who, when alive, drew living countenances from marble." It is accompanied by personifications of architecture, sculpture, and painting.

On the floor of the church, on Vittoria's tombstone, there is a Latin inscription that talks about hope and redemption.

In the church you can find one of his first works (the statue of John the Baptist) and this one, one of his last.

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INFO: ALLESANDRO VITTORIA (SCULPTURE)

The son of a tailor in the Italian city of Trent, Alessandro Vittoria became one of the dominant artists in Venice from 1550 to 1600. After apprenticing to sculptors in his hometown, Vittoria moved to Venice, where he worked on commissions for both aristocratic patrons and the churches of Venice in the studio of Jacopo Sansovino. By 1550, he was an independent master. Following a quarrel with Sansovino, Vittoria began working outside Venice, in the cities of Trent and Vicenza.
Upon his return to Venice, Vittoria reconciled with Sansovino, and the two renewed their work together on large sculptural projects in marble and bronze. In the 1570s, after Sansovino's death, Vittoria took over many of his master's unfinished projects. He also increasingly won commissions from aristocratic patrons who sought him out as a sculptor, medalist, and decorator and who particularly valued his portrait busts and medallions. Vittoria was also an architect and painter, but little is known of his work in these media.

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ALTAR OF RELIQUERIES

Not sure what is all in, piece of true cross, piece veil??????

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ALLESANDRO VITTORIA: STATUE OF ST ZACHARIAS (1540'S)

The sculpture, Allesandro Vittoria, is buried in a monument to the right of the Bellini painting.

Vittoria's will left these 2 statuettes (St John the Baptist and St Zacharias-they are across from one another) to the nuns of San Zaccaria. He requested that the pair be placed on either side of the Altar of St Zacharias. It remains unclear whether they were ever placed on the altar, or when they were placed on the holy-water stoups.

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STATUE OF ST ZACHARIAS: ?ALLESANDRO VITTORIA

The sculpture is buried inside the church (to the right of the Bellini painting). St Zacharias is the patron saint of the church and his remains are also inside the church.

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ALLESANDRO VITTORIA: STATUE OF ST JOHN BAPTIST (1543)

The sculpture (Allesandro Vittoria) is buried in a monument to the right of the Bellini painting.

This is Vittoria's earliest known sculpture (1543). It was originally commissioned by the monks of San Geremia but payment was never fully made and Vittoria bought it back in 1565. It remained in his possession until he died, and in his will he left "my little St John" to the nuns of San Zaccaria. (along with the statuette of St Zacharias-to your left). He wanted the statues placed on the Altar of St Zacharias. It is unclear whether that happened or when they were placed on the holy-water stoups.

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3. GIOVANNI DOMENICO TIEPOLO: FLIGHT FROM EGYPT (abt 1750)

The Venetian Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo was the son of Giovanni Battista (one of the greatest European painters in the 18th century) and his uncle was Francesco Guardi (another famous Venetian painter).

It is a scene from the well-known story from the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt shortly after the birth of Jesus to keep the newborn child safe from Herod’s murderous intent.

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2. PALMA IL VECCHIO: MADONNA, CHRIST CHILD & SAINTS (1512)

Compare to Bellini's Madonna and Saints painted 7 years earlier. Palma may have studied under Giovanni Bellini.

The saints from the left are: St. Bernard, Gregory the Great, St. Paul, St. Elizabeth, St. Benedict and St. Placide.

Note the musician angel, with invisible wings like Bellini's, with a very small head. Seems out of place and uncharacteristic of the artist.

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8. VASSILACCHI: PRESENTATION MARY AT THE TEMPLE (1600)

Another one to compare to Titian's (Accademia) and Tintoretto's (Madonna del Orto).

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7. D'ALEGMANI & A. VIVARINI: POLYPTYCH ST SABINA (1443)

Venice in the 15th century produced two major family studios of painters: the Bellinis and the Vivarinis. The story of the Bellinis is well known. The Vivarinis not so much, even though they played an important role in transforming Gothic art into the radically new forms of expression of the Venetian Renaissance.

The Vivarini workshops spanned a period of six decades, starting from around 1440. The altarpieces and other paintings created by the studio’s founder Antonio; his brother-in-law Giovanni d’Alemagna; Antonio’s youngest brother, Bartolomeo; and his son Alvise, can be found in many churches in Venice, the Veneto and Bergamo regions, and also along Adriatic coast.

In the lower centre is the saint and martyr Sabina with St Jerome and St Licerius; in the upper section is an angel with St Agatha and St Margaret.

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6. D'ALEGMANI & A. VIVARINI: POLYPTYCH OF THE BODY OF CHRIST (1443)

Venice in the 15th century produced two major family studios of painters: the Bellinis and the Vivarinis. The story of the Bellinis is well known. The Vivarinis not so much, even though they played an important role in transforming Gothic art into the radically new forms of expression of the Venetian Renaissance.

The Vivarini workshops spanned a period of six decades, starting from around 1440. The altarpieces and other paintings created by the studio’s founder Antonio; his brother-in-law Giovanni d’Alemagna; Antonio’s youngest brother, Bartolomeo; and his son Alvise, can be found in many churches in Venice, the Veneto and Bergamo regions, and also along Adriatic coast.

The upper register: the Resurrection

The lower register:
right: Nereus and Achilleus
According to legend they were eunuchs of St. Flavia Domitilla in the first century. They refused to give up their christian faith and were all exiled to the island of Ponza and eventually tortured and beheaded. The sword and palm branches refer to their martyrdom.
center: Man of Sorrows image, the wounded body of Christ standing in a sarcophagus. In other images the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist stand on either side of the body, but for this work the artist has placed them above and accompanied by four disciples.
left: Pope Caius and Pancras: Both saints were martyred during Diocletian's rule. Pancras was beheaded, and many images of Caius assumed that he was too.

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MOSAIC FLOOR

The Church itself is very old and on the grounds of an ancient 9th century monastery. The original Church was built in the 12th century but sections of the original mosaic floors remain.

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MOSAIC FLOOR

The Church itself is very old and on the grounds of an ancient 9th century monastery. The original Church was built in the 12th century but sections of the original mosaic floors remain.

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STAIRS LEADING DOWN TO THE CRYPT

8 doges are buried down here in the crypt of this church.

The crypt features columns and vaulted ceilings indicative of the times, but like many buildings in Venice this subterranean level is partially filled with a permanent level of standing water.

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ENTRANCE TO OLD PART OF CHURCH: 3 euro

This area includes entrance into San Tarasio Chapel, San Antanasio Chapel and the crypts.
Paintings by Tintoretto, Palma di Giovane, Vivarini, Castagno, Tiepolo, Van Dyck, old mosaic floors and the crypt.

This area used to be part of the old nuns church. In the 1400's a new church was built around this older one, keeping it intact.

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5. PALMA IL GIOVANE: TRIUMPH OF DAVID (1595)

Originally served as the exterior shutters for the organ in this church. Organ shutters generally consisted of two canvas paintings mounted back to back to form doors. When opened, the interior side of the shutters was revealed, framing the pipes of the instrument; when closed, they protected the pipes from dust and their exterior decorations were visible.

The interior shutters, now unfortunately lost, depicted Zacharias, the saint to whom the church was dedicated, and Saint Ligerius, a lesser-known saint whose relics were preserved in San Zaccaria.

Must see Tombs and Relics

St Zaccaria

Luigi-Pietro-Andrea Zandomeneghi

Year: 1843-1852

Medium: Carrera Marble

Style:

Monument sculpture

Bosa, Ferrari, Fabris, De Martini, Rinaldi, Zandomeneghi

Year: 1794

Medium: Carrera Marble

Style: Neo Classic

relics

based design by B. Longhena

Year: 1669

Medium: Marble

Style:

USEFUL INFORMATION

Museum Pass: NO
visitmuve.it

The pass can be picked up in any of the museums included on the list. It’s good for 6 months from the date of purchase.

 

Chorus Pass: NO
chorusvenezia.org

12 euro includes over 12 churches
can buy online or at one of the church entrances.
normal entrance 1-3 Euros per church

 

Church Website:
soprintendenza.venezia.beniculturali.it

Cost: free
M-Sat: 10-12 & 4-6
Holidays & Sunday: 4-6