THE localities adjacent to the Rialto are those in which the larger mercantile affairs of the city are carried on. But although it is so especially the resort of business men, it must be understood that the entire neighbourhood is not lacking in objects of rich architectural interest. One of the most remarkable of these is the Church of the Madonna dei Miracoli, to which we may now direct our steps. In itself it is so complete, that, with respect to its purity alike of form and style, it may almost be said to stand alone.
The church dates from the early Renaissance, and shows at the same time some slight tendency towards the mediaeval Byzantine style. The name of the original architect is uncertain, but the design was no doubt carried out faithfully in 1481 under the supervision of Pietro Lombardo. Many of the paintings in the interior are of the highest value, but besides these the elaborate perforations and exquisite finish of the stonework demand a careful inspection. From an artistic point of view, the Church ” dei Miracoli ” must be reckoned amongst the most striking of the architectural works that ever were accomplished by the genius and energy of the Lombardi family. Its charm lies primarily in the perfect harmony of its proportion, and this has been more completely revealed since the cultivated taste of modern days has insisted on the removal of the various altars, statues and other erections, which had so encroached upon the area as to mar the purity of the proper outlines. As it is seen at present, it is the pearl of Venetian churches.
Only a short distance from the Church dei Miracoli, we shall come upon another architectural gem of the days of old. This is the pointed arabesque archway that forms the entrance to what is known as the ” Corte della Monache.” It is a happy combination of the Moorish with the Gothic style.
Almost close by this is the ” Campo Tiziano,” in which is situated the house which Titian occupied from 1531 to 1576. Going on straight ahead or, as the Venetians say, sempre dritto we soon arrive at the Piazza San Giovanni e Paolo, and there we find ourselves in full view both of the church of the same name and of the Municipal Hospital. Opposite is an equestrian statue to the memory of Bartolomeo Colleoni, who was a general of high renown in the time of the Re-public. Adjoining the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo is the Scuola di San Marco, remarkable for the singular reliefs in perspective of two lions which adorn it. This is now a hospital.
Opposite San Giovanni e Paolo the road leads towards San Lorenzo, whence we proceed towards the Greek Church and the treasury of San Giorzio dei Greci. This is no doubt one of the most curious and striking quarters of Venice, being in a large degree made up of palatial residences, often beautiful in themselves, but almost all deserted.
The Church of San Lorenzo was originally a convent belonging to the Benedictine Order. Its history dates from about woo A. D., but the fabric itself was not built till 1595, when it was proceeded with under very favourable auspices. The singular circumstance is recorded that, at the very commencement of the undertaking, the workmen who were digging out the excavations for the foundation came upon two of the huge jars known as ” tare,” and which are still in use for holding water. These were found to be full up to the brim of gold coins. There was no doubt as to how the treasure had come there. The money had been the property of Angela Michiel, an abbess of the convent, who had thus buried her wealth for security after the murder of her brother, the Doge Vicenzo Michiel.
As we are strolling about, we shall be sure to find ourselves before long opposite the Church of San Giorgio dei Greci, and we may well pause for a while to look at it. It was in 1498 that the Greeks resident in Venice, some merchants, others fugitives from the Turks, formed a resolution to erect a Greek church, and obtained the requisite permission to carry out the design.
One of the other passages close by is the Calle San Antonino, and leads to the church after which it is named. This church was founded in the Ninth Century; but the ancient structure was removed and the edifice rebuilt in the Sixteenth Century, so that it now presents comparatively little of interest.
On the right, the Fondamenta leads to another church that of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni,where besides a bas-relief by Pietro da Salo bearing date 1551, there is preserved the noteworthy series, by Carpaccio, of scenes illustrating the lives of the saintly patrons of Dalmatia and Albania. We need only retrace our steps for a short way, leaving this little church of San Antonino, and we shall come to the Campo della Bragola, and nearly opposite to us we shall see the Palazzo Badoer, bearing one of the oldest names in Venetian history. The building is Fourteenth Century pointed work, and the walls still retain traces of fresco-paintings. The Campo altogether may be justly regarded as a type of mediaeval Venice. It contains a church dedicated to San Giovanni in Bragola.
Leading from the Zattere are several ways into the labyrinthine passages of Venice. We decide to turn into the Calle del Vento, and so reach the Fondamenta San Sebastiano, in which of course, we also find the Church of San Sebastiano. It was here the Paolo Veronese was buried, and the church can boast of possessing a goodly number of his most valued paintings. From the twenty-seventh to the thirty-first year of his age he was employed by the prior to adorn the walls of the building. It was very probably due to this commission that Paolo Caliario came from Verona to Venice, where he depicted the city in its glory and gained for himself a worldwide reputation. Seen from the outside the church is quite unpretentious, but some of the pictures that embellish the interior are masterpieces by Veronese.
From this church we pass through a little piazza that has almost a rural character, and brings us to the Church of San Angelo Raffaelle, which is another monument of art. The sculptured fountain in the middle of the Campo San Raffaelle is by Marco Arian, of the date of 1349, and is one of the only two authenticated works by him in Venice. Hardly any church enjoys a greater popularity than San Angelo, and the piazza is from time to time bright with the festival processions crossing it. The ceremonial observed with the keenest zest, and therefore the most attractive, takes place on St. John the Baptist’s Day, which falls on the 24th of June. A considerable number of little children from two to four years of age are dressed up in lambskins, lavishly adorned with flowers, and each provided with a candle that, like themselves, is gay with blossoms and coloured ribbons. Many of them wear dazzling crowns upon their heads, and personate the infant Baptist. In this way they form a leading feature in the procession, which is certainly very imposing.
The neighbourhood round San Raffaelle and near S. Nicolo dei Mendicanti is one of the poorest, and at the same time one of the most characteristic, in Venice. The little church of S. Nicolo has not been without its significance in the history of the lagoons, inasmuch as it gave the name of the ” Nicolotti ” to the residents within its parochial bounds, the sworn foes of the Castellani, and the eager partakers in the Herculean sports there described.
At this end of the city more than anywhere else we realise that Venice is actually an island traversed by navigable canals which the great and mighty have at intervals adorned with buildings, most of them ranking as works of art.
Here, as so often happens, we find as we go along either from San Sebastiano, or San Raffaelle that the monotony of the long and cleanly kept Fondamenta is relieved by some small piazza. On one of these stands a church of high repute known as ” I Carmini,” whence both the Campo and the adjacent bridge have derived their name. The popularity that the church enjoys is exceptionally great, and is to be largely, if not entirely, attributed to the circumstance of its being dedicated to the Madonna del Carmelo, who is generally supposed to be identical with the Madonna di Loretto. The yearly festival of the Madonna, which is held in the month of July, is observed with especial honour, and is an occasion when the Patriarch of Venice, generally attends and himself celebrates High Mass.
From the Marittima we cross a bridge and come upon a pretty piazza that is almost Dutch in its aspect; this is the Campo Sant’ Andrea, the church having the same name and facing the Canal di Marittima. It is only on Sundays and festivals that this church is open for service, and it is at-tended almost exclusively by sailors.
The Frari Church is the Pantheon of Venice. For even the most cursory and superficial inspection of it a quiet uninterrupted hour is required. Not only does it contain the monuments of many eminent men who are buried here, but there are numerous portraits and pictures that must detain attention. First we must name the Mausoleums of Pesaro and Titian, and what, perhaps, in an artistic sense will be accounted more important still, the Monument to Canova.