Santa Maria Della Salute – Venice

” Our Lady of Health, or of Safety, would be a more literal translation, yet not perhaps fully expressing the force of the Italian word in this case. The church was built between 1630 and 1680, in acknowledgment of the cessation of the plague: of course to the Virgin, to whom the modern Italian has recourse in all his principal distresses, and who receives his gratitude for all principal deliverances.

The hasty traveller is usually enthusiastic in his admiration of this building; but there is a notable lesson to be derived from it which is not often read. On the opposite side of the broad canal of the Giudecca is a small church celebrated among Renaissance architects as of Palladean design, but which would hardly attract the notice of the general observer, unless on account of the pictures by John Bellini which it contains, in order to see which the traveller may perhaps remember having been taken across the Giudecca to the Church of the ” Redentore.” But he ought carefully to compare these two buildings with each other, the one built ” to the Virgin,” the other ” to the Redeemer,” also a votive offering after the cessation of the plague of 1576: the one, the most conspicuous church in Venice, its dome, the principal one by which she is first discerned, rising out of the distant sea; the other, small and contemptible, on a suburban island, and only becoming an object of interest, because it contains three small pictures! For in relative magnitude and conspicuousness of these two buildings, we have an accurate index of the relative importance of the ideas of the Madonna and of Christ in the modern Italian mind.

The Church of Santa Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal, one of the earliest buildings of the Grotesque Renaissance, is rendered impressive by its position, size, and general proportions. These latter are exceedingly good ; the grace of the whole building being chiefly dependent on the inequality of size in its cupolas, and pretty grouping of the two campaniles behind them. It is to be generally observed that the proportions of buildings have nothing whatever to do with the style or general merits of their architecture. An architect trained in the worst schools, and utterly devoid of all meaning or purpose in his work, may yet have such a natural gift of massing and grouping as will render all his structures effective when seen from a distance: such a gift is very general with late Italian builders, so that many of the most contemptible edifices in the country have good stage effect so long as we do not approach them. The Church of the Salute is farther assisted by the beautiful flight of steps in front of it down to the Canal; and its facade is rich and beautiful of its kind, and was chosen by Turner for the principal object in his wellknown view of the Grand Canal. The principal faults of the building are the meagre windows in the sides of the cupola, and the ridiculous disguise of the buttresses under the form of colossal scrolls; the buttresses themselves being originally a hypocrisy, for the cupola is stated by Lanzi to be of timber, and therefore needs none. The sacristy contains several precious pictures: the three on its roof by Titian, much vaunted, are indeed as feeble as they are monstrous; but the small Titian, St. Mark, with Sts. Cosmo and Damian, was, when I first saw it, to my judgment, by far the first work of Titian’s in Venice. It has since been restored by the Academy, and it seemed to me entirely destroyed, but I had not time to examine it carefully.

At the end of the larger sacristy is the lunette which once decorated the tomb of the Doge Francesco Dandolo; and at the side of it, one of the most highy finished Tintorets in Venice, namely The Marriage in Cana, an immense picture, some twenty-five feet long by fifteen feet high, and said by Lanzi to be one of the few which Tintoret signed with his name.