THE city of Venice has been divided since the twelfth century into six parts, sestieri, three to the north of the Grand Canal, called Castello, S. Marco, and Cannaregio, and three to the south, called S. Croce, S. Polo, and Dorsoduro. The largest of these divisions which endure till the present day is Castello, which embraces all the north-eastern part of the city. Of the three southern divisions Dorsoduro is now the greatest, for it includes the island of Giudecca, but up till 1271. Croce was its rival in size, for before that year it included the island of Murano.
It is very roughly to these ancient divisions that we shall adhere in our examination of the city in the following chapters. Roughly, because it will not always be convenient to forgo passing from one sestiere to another in search of a church that lies in our way ; nor is the traveller well used to any such division of the city, which divides itself naturally into but three parts, namely, the regions to the north and south of the Grand Canal and the island of Giudecca. No modern map which I have seen marks the sestieri, and though their names are everywhere emblazoned on the streets, they might seem to have rather a political than a geographical significance. It is convenient to the traveller, however, to examine the city rather in six walks than in three, and for that reason I have roughly taken the sestieri as my guide, glad that in doing so I am following a division so ancient and so enduring.
The Cathedral of S. Mark and its surroundings, which we have already dealt with, belong, of course, to that sestiere known as S. Marco. Before dealing with the rest of that sestiere we shall explore the largest of all, the Sestiere di Castello, which includes all the eastern and northern part of Venice lying to the north of the lagoon and the Grand Canal. Roughly, this sestiere may be said to be bounded on the west and south by the Palace of the Doges, the Church of S. Lio, the Rio di S. Maria, and the Rio dei Mendicanti;’ on the east and north by the sea and the lagoons. It is most easily and obviously entered by the Riva degli Schiavoni, but for our purpose we prefer to start from the Piazza.
From the Piazza, then, we proceed at once into the Piazzetta dei Leoni, and passing round the Palazzo Patriarchale we see opposite the Palazzo Trevisani or Bianca Capello, built by pupils of the Lombardi in 1500 and purchased from the Trevisani in 1577 by Bianca Capello for her brother. The famous Venetian beauty, who became Grand Duchess of Tuscany, however, never lived here herself.
Crossing the bridge to the right, which affords us a fine view of the Rio façade of the Ducal Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, we enter the narrow ways, cross the Campo di Santi Filippo e Giacomo, and crossing another canal enter the Campo di S. Provolo, and thence straight forward come to the Campo di S. Zaccaria, over the gateway of which is a fine relief, possibly by Massegne, of the Madonna and Child between S. John Baptist and S. Mark. Here by this gateway Doge Pietro Tradonico was assassinated when returning from Vespers on 13 September, 864. That visit, which ended so disastrously, was the first made by the Doge in recognition, it is said, of hospitality extended by the nuns, for the church was attached to a convent, to Pope Benedict II in 855, who had taken refuge there from the Antipope Anastasius. On the occasion of Doge Pietro Tradonico’s visit the nuns presented him with a cap, with which all the Doges thereafter were crowned. This cap was carried in procession when on 13 September in each year the Doge visited the church ; but after 1172 the date was changed and the procession was made on Easter Day. This continued to be the custom till 1797. The old convent, founded in 809, lay to the right of the church ; the later building near the Campanile is now a barracks.
The church itself is said to have been founded in the seventh century by S. Magno. However that may be, the Benedictine convent, as we have seen, dates from the ninth century, when Doge Angelo Particiaco placed in the church which he had restored a piece of the True Cnoss and the body of S. Zaccaria, which had been sent him by the Emperor of Constantinople. The present church, with its beautiful façade, dates from the fifteenth century, and is a spacious though rather gloomy building. Eight Doges lie therein, but its great treasure is the famous altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini of the Madonna and Child enthroned with four saints. It is one of the finest of his works. Completed in 1505, it is in that new manner which came to Bellini in his age as a new vision of the world, caught perhaps from the enthusiasm of his young disciples, who were to revolutionize painting. Our Lady and the Holy Child are still enthroned in that niche with which we are so familiar, but there is something new in the picture which assures us, as it did Vasari, that it is a work in the ” modern ” manner. Perhaps we find it in the figure of S. Lucia, who stands on the right of the throne, her fair hair lying all gold across her shoulders, the lighted lamp in her hand, the curved palm branch, too, the sign of her martyrdom. Beside her is S. Jerome, his Bible open before him, the father of monasticism. To the left stand S. Catherine of Alexandria and S. Peter. Nor is this all, for in the Cappella di Tarasio, to the right of the nuns’ choir, are some old Venetian paintings by Antonio Vivarini, very bright and lovely things. In the nuns’ choir itself, with fine inlaid stalls of the fifteenth century, is a Madonna and Child with saints, possibly by Lorenzo Lotto.
From the Campo di S. Zaccaria we proceed due south to the Riva degli Schiavoni, the quay of the Dalmatians. Here in old days there were, as today, many inns. As we see it, however, the Riva is not very old, since it only got its present breadth in 1780. Before that it was a narrow quay, paved in 1324, but it had always had, I suppose, its beautiful curved shape, in which half the loveliness of Venice is surely hid.’
We pass along the Riva, so picturesque in the sunshine, with its many boats and coloured sails and smell of ships, till we come to the Church of La Pietà. Here is a fine work by Moretto, behind the High Altar, of Christ in the house of Simon. It is not a religious picture, but it has its own nobility and beauty and helps to explain much in the later work of Paolo Veronese. It was not painted for this church, or indeed for any church, but for the refectory of S. Fermo at Monselice.
So we pass on, crossing the Rio dell’ Arsenale, into quite another Venice than any we have yet seen, poorer, dirtier, more ragged, and yet how full of the sun, how fulfilled with the sea ! We pass the Church of S. Biagio, built in 1052 and rebuilt in 1754, and so at last to the end of the Riva, which here ends suddenly in the Via Garibaldi, a street of poor houses in the Veneta Marina, built in 1807 by filling up a canal. Here is the Church of S. Francesco da Paola, a sixteenth-century building which was attached to a convent, suppressed in 1806, which had in its time replaced a hospital for the infirm. Opposite S. Francesco da Paola is the monument to Garibaldi and the shady park which brings us at last into the Giardini Pubblici, which were laid out by order of Napoleon in 1807. More than one church and convent were destroyed to make room for this pleasant recreation ground. Here stood the Churches and Convents of S. Domenico, of S. Niccolô da Bari, of S. Antonio Abate, and the Cappuccine. But one church indeed remains today on the island, S. Giuseppe di Castello, where we find an altarpiece by Tintoretto and an Adoration of the Shepherds by Paolo Veronese.
Hence we return to the Via Garibaldi and follow it to the end, taking the last bridge on the left, and making our way thence to the bridge that joins the Isola di Castello to what we may call Venice proper. This picturesque island was one of the largest of those on which Venice was originally founded. It It was called Olivolo and only, I think, Castello when it had been surrounded by walls. There was a small church here called S. Sergio e S. Bacco as early as 650, but this was destroyed, and in 774 a church was built on the site to S. Peter. This church became the Cathedral of Venice. It was destroyed in the sixteenth century, when the present church was built. The Campanile is, however, of the fifteenth century.
It was in this church during the tenth century that one of the most amazing raids was made by the Dalmatian pirates. It happened in this way. It was the custom at that time in the city of Venice for all those who wished to marry to get this rite performed on one day, 31 January, the anniversary of the translation of the body of S. Mark, in the Church of S. Pietro d’ Olivolo. The whole affair was, as one may imagine, a great festa ; the Doge was present in state, and the whole ceremony was consecrated by many old customs, among them this, that each bride on that day bore her dowry with her. Now it happened that the pirates who then and later infested these coasts and waters, knowing of this, conceived a plot whereby they might at one attempt possess themselves of 2 goodly booty of money and jewels and of many fair women who might be sold for a good price or kept as slaves. Their; scheme was nothing less than to carry off the Venetian bride; on the morning of 31 January, when, before sunrise, the: assembled in the Church of S. Peter to await their betrothed husbands. This bold scheme they carried out most successfully; they got the maids and the booty aboard their ships, not one escaped, and hoisting sail they set out for home. They had reckoned, however, without the Venetians. The news soon spread, and, headed by the Doge, all male Venice, with the case makers at their head, set out in pursuit, boats were manned and the race began. Now, as God willed, the breeze that had promised well at sunrise presently came to nothing. Pursued and pursuers took to the oars, and in such a business and in these conditions the Venetians were the better men. They pursued the pirates, came up with them, grappled their ships, and without mercy slew every single Dalmatian, and rescued their brides, who in the hurry had not been hurt. In memory of Venetian courage the Doge went in procession to the church of the case-makers who had headed the pursuit. Maria Formosaon the Feast of the Purification, the 2nd of Februarythe Feast of the Maries as it came to be called in Veniceand the case-makers then made him a present of straw hats and wine.
Nothing of any account remains in. Pietro save an ancient episcopal chair, to remind us that for many centuries, till 1807, in fact, it was the Cathedral of Venice.
From S. Pietro di Castello we return to S. Biagio, and thence make our way through the byways to the right to the Arsenal. First built in I I04 and several times enlarged, so that in its best days sixteen thousand workmen were employed here, it was for many centuries the true naval port and building yard of Venice. On either side the entrance we see the lions which Doge Francesco Morosini brought from Athens in 1687. The sitting lion stood on the inner shore of the harbour of the Piraeus and gave the harbour its name of Porto Leone; the other was set upon the Sacred Way, a little outside the city. The first is cut and engraved with Norse runes that read : ” Hakon with Ulf, Asmund and Orr, conquered this port Pirmus. These men and Harold the Tall (1040) imposed great fines because of the revolt of the Greeks. Dalk has been detained in distant lands. Egil was waging war together with Ragnar in Roumania and Armenia. Asmund engraved these runes in combination with Asgeir, Thorleif, Thord, and Ivar by desire of Harold the Tall, although the Greeks on reflection opposed it.”
The Museum, now the only thing to be visited here that is of much interest, contains the remains of the Bucenlauro, the ship of the Doge, destroyed by the French, in which he went forth in the name of Venice every Ascension Day to wed the Adriatic.
If on coming out of the Arsenal we turn immediately to the right we shall come to the Church of S. Martino, founded by the first fugitives from the mainland. The present building is the work of Jacopo Sansovino, or at least from his designs. To the right of the High Altar there is a Last Supper by Girolamo da S. Croce.
Close by, in the now destroyed Cistercian convent La Celestia, Carlo Zeno, the hero of Chioggia was buried by his men in 1418.
From S. Martino we pass to S. Giovanni in Bragora, founded by S. Magno in the seventh century, but in its present form dating from the eighteenth. On the piers before the choir chapel are two works, one by Cima, Constantine and S. Helena with the Cross, painted in 1502. Its predella hangs in the left aisle and shows three scenes from the Legend of the Cross. The other, the Resurrection, was painted in 1492 by Alvise Vivarini. Behind the High Altar is another Cima, one of his best works, the Baptism of Christ, painted in 1494. On the left side of the church is a Last Supper by Paris Bordone, and a charming Madonna and Child with SS. Andrew and John Baptist by Bartolommeo Vivarini, painted in 1478.
From the Campo di S. Giovanni in Bragora we proceed north past the Church of S. Antonino, which was founded in the ninth century and rebuilt in its present form in 1680, to S. Giorgio dei Greci, built by the Greeks in 1539. The history of the Greek Church in Venice is curious. Here till 1797, it is said, it remained in communion with the Venetian Church that is to say, with Rome. The first chapel of the Greeks in the city was the oratory of S. Ursula, and later they were to be found at S. Biagio. S. Giorgio dei Greci, however, is their own national building.
We return to S. Antonino and again proceed north to S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the Dalmatian church. It was built in 1451, and a hundred years later got its present façade by Jacopo Sansovino. It is still adorned by Carpaccio’s famous and well-loved paintings illustrating the lives of the three great Dalmatian saintsS. George, S. Jerome, and S. Tryphonius. On the left are three scenes from the life of S. George r. S. George and the Dragon. Mounted on a brown horse the youthful golden haired saint pierces the dragon with his spear. The princess he has so gallantly rescued stands by still fearful. Far away we see a smiling country, a city and ships. It is the hour of sunset.
So much of the story of S. George Carpaccio has painted here.
On the right of the church are three scenes from the life of S. Jerome : S. Jerome faces the lion and pacifies him, while his companions flee away; the Death of S. Jerome, a lovely and simple composition; S. Jerome in his study. Beside the altar is the picture devoted to S. Tryphonius, who subdues by prayer the Basilisk which devastated Albania. Beside this we see Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane and the calling of 3. Matthew. Over the altar is a Madonna and Child by Catena. The upper chamber with its fine ceiling is worth visit.
Close beside S. Giorgio is the Church of S. Giovanni di Malta, which of old belonged to the Knights Templars. The Dalmatians had an altar in this church before S. Giorgio was built.
From S. Giorgio we make our way still due north through the narrow ways to S. Francesco della Vigna. This church was originally dedicated to S. Mark, and came to the Franciscans from Marco, the son of Doge Pietro Ziani. The Franciscans rebuilt it in 1534 with a façade by Palladio, and an interior by Jacopo Sansovino, and restored the convent, now a barracks. It contains several fine pictures, including a restored Giovanni Bellini, a Madonna and four saints, a restored picture of Christ by Girolamo da S. Croce, and an Adoration of the Magi, also restored, by Paolo Veronese ; but nothing to compare for a moment with the glorious enthroned Madonna by Frat’ Antonio da Negroponte, painted in the middle of the fifteenth century, which hangs in the right transept. This is a masterpiece I would walk many miles to see, and for which I would leave any sacred picture by the later great masters of Venice. It has every thing that their works so conspicuously lack, and in every way is what we have learnt in Tuscany to expect an altarpiece of the Madonna to be. It is as though before our eyes the canticle of the Magnificat had become visible, as though in a vision we had seen our hearts’ desire.
Leaving S. Francesco, we pass now westward through the lanes to SS. Giovanni and Paolo. This is the great Dominican church of Venice, and stands, as always, on one side of the city, as the Frari, the great Franciscan church, does on the other. So it is in Florence and so in Siena. The church was begun as early as 1246 on a piece of land given to the Dominican Order by Doge Giacomo Tiepolo. It was nearly two hundred years in building. But before 1246 there is said to have been a Dominican oratory here dedicated to S. Daniele, and the Doge is said to have had a vision in which he saw this tiny chapel, the Campo covered with flowers, and to have heard a voice which said, ” This place I have chosen for My Preachers.” However this may be, the Doge gave the ground, then a marsh, to the Dominicans, and was himself buried, as we may see, just without the church by the façade. The church has two other connexions with the Doges. Here they all lay in state, and a great number of them were here buried. If Venice has any other church which may stand for her besides S. Mark’s it is this, where so many of her Doges and her admirals lie buried ; while without, as though on guard, rides the noblest of her condottiere, Bartolommeo Colleoni, expressed in eternal bronze by the greatest of Florentine sculptors, Andrea Verrocchio. This, the noblest equestrian statue in the world, is nobly placed in the Campo of the great church that holds so much of the heroism of Venice.
There, too, beside the church stands the Scuola di S. Marco, one of the finest early Renaissance buildings in the city, and peculiarly Venetian in style. It is the work of Martino Lombardi, and still fulfils its charitable object, for it is now a hospital.
Entering the vast church itself one is struck by its spaciousness, its monumental effect of largeness and light. Within, to the right, is the fine tomb of the Doge Pietro Mocenigo, the hammer of the Turks, who died in 1476. This tomb with its many statues is the work of Pietro Lombardo. To the left is the tomb of another Mocenigo, Doge Giovanni, who died in 1455. This is the work of Tullio and Antonio Lombardo. Above the entrance lies another Doge of the same House, Luigi Mocenigo, who figured at the battle of Lepanto, but who lost Cyprus. He died in 1577, and his wife is buried with him.
In the right aisle we come first to a picture by Bissolo of the Madonna and Child with saints, over the first altar. Then on the left to the monument and tomb of Marc Antonio Bragadino (1571), who held Cyprus as long as he could, but lost it at last, and was flayed alive by the Turks. Over the second altar is a fine early altarpiece of the school of the Vivarini, and beside it the tomb of the Senator Alvise Michiel (1589). We pass by the vast monument of the Valier, built by the pupils of Bernini in the eighteenth century, and enter the right transept. Here on the wall is a picture of S. Augustine by Bartolommeo Vivarini, painted in 1478. Close by is the tomb of Niccolô Orsini the general, with his equestrian statue. He faced the League of Cambrai and lost. Over the first altar there is a charming Lotto, the Apotheosis of S. Antonino of Florence. Over the door is the tomb of Dionigi Naldo, the general, by Lorenzo Bregno.
In the first choir chapel is the tomb of an Englishman, Baron Windsor, who died in 1574. In the choir are the tombs of Doge Michele Morosini (1382), a fine Gothic work with mosaic in the lunette; of Doge Leonardo Loredan (1521) of Doge Andrea Vendramin (1478), one of the loveliest of all Venetian monuments spoiled by Lorenzo Bregno ; and of Doge Marco Corner (1368), another fine Gothic work. In the second chapel, to the left of the choir, is the fine Gothic tomb of Jacopo Cavalli, condottiere of the Republic, who died in 1384. It is the work of Massegne.
The battle of Lepanto is here commemorated in the Cappella del Rosario, which was founded in memory of that victory in 1571. The Doge Antonio Venier (1400) lies in the tomb over the entrance ; his wife and daughters lie in the church in the left transept. The chapel was destroyed by fire in 1867.
The left aisle, too, is full of monuments. There we have those of Doge Pasquale Malipiero (1462), Doge Michele Steno (1413), the splendid monument of Florentine work to Doge Tommaso Mocenigo (1423), and the tomb of Doge Niccolô Marcello (1474), the last by Pietro Lombardo. Close by is the equestrian statue of Orazio Baglioni (1617).
In the sacristy, to the left of the altar, is a work by Alvise Vivarini of Christ bearing His Cross, a fine work by this rather rare master.