Venetian Gothic: The Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

If Rome is a city of the baroque and Florence that of the Renaissance then Venice might be considered the gothic sister of this trio -- so much so that it even has its own unique brand of it which is called "Venetian gothic" reflecting the fact that it has its own particular spin on the gothic style compared to some of its other European counterparts.  

What is "Venetian gothic?" Venice's variation on the gothic style is essentially one which combines the classic gothic pointed arch and merges it with Byzantine influences from Constantinople and Arabic design influences derived from the Spanish Moors.  The net result is a distinctive form of gothic style which cannot be mistaken for any of the gothic expressions found in France, England or elsewhere. It is rather unique to the city of Venice, a port city and a great trading centre and thus it should likely come as little surprise that these international influences might find expression here. 

The Ca d'Oro (Golden House) on the Grand Canal is often cited as a classic example of Venetian gothic. 

Our focus today, however, is not Venetian gothic generally -- though that would certainly be a topic worthy of consideration -- but specifically today the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.

The basilica is one of the largest churches in all of Venice, constructed of brick and, typical to Franciscan churches, fairly simple as far as the exterior is concerned. It too is considered a classic representation of the Venetian gothic character. 

Construction on the church took place from 1250-1338 and the church has the usual type of gothic vaulting and pointed windows one might expect generally from gothic architecture.  Merged with that, however, are some of the aforementioned influences that are unique to Venetian gothic. 

There is a particularly beautiful choir screen, complete with rood, that also forms a part of the plan of the basilica.  One might see certain basic similarities here to that which is found in the greatest church of Venice, the basilica of San Marco. 

The high altar of the church was consecrated in 1469 and its reredos includes one of the most famous representations of the Virgin, Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" painted between 1515-1518.  Fittingly, Titan, who was himself a Venetian, is buried in the church. 


The basilica also hosts Titian's "Pesaro Madonna" and Donatello's sculpture of St. John the Baptist amongst a host of numerous other works of art.  Here, for a taste, is a selection of some of the altars of the various chapels within the basilica. 

The Cappello Bernardo

Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament

Chapel of St. Peter

Chapel of St. Mark

Ss. Anthony, Michael and Sebastian

Chapel of St. John the Baptist with Donatello's depiction of the same

The basilica is also host the tombs and monuments of various Venetian Doges and other important personages of the city which, while perhaps of less direct interest to some of our readers, are certainly are of artistic interest insofar as they frequently exhibit the characteristics enchanting Venetian style.

Funerary monument of the Doge, Francesco Foscari

Lovers of music might be interested to know that it is within this church that the composer Claudio Monteverdi is buried.

While not representations of Venetian gothic, two works of Alessandro Vittoria found in the basilica are also worth sharing, namely his very regal depiction of St. Peter and also his evocative sculpture of St. Jerome. 

St. Peter

St. Jerome

We will conclude our brief tour of this basilica with this beautiful eighteenth century scuplture of the Immaculate Conception which is placed within one of the holy water fonts of the basilica.

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