Chiesa di San Zaccaria


When 15th-century Venetian girls showed more interest in sailors than saints, they were sent to the convent adjoining San Zaccaria. The wealth showered on the church by their grateful parents is evident. Masterpieces by Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Van Dyck crowd the walls. The star of the show is undoubtedly Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints (1505), which graces an altar on the left as you enter, and glows like it's plugged into an outlet.

Bellini was in his 70s when he painted his glowing Madonna and had already been confronted by the first achievements of Giorgione (1477–1510), with his softer sfumato (‘smokey’) technique. Bellini’s assimilation of the technique is clear in the sunlight that illuminates the saintly arrangement, infusing it with a sense of devout spirituality. The painting is such a treasure that Napoleon whisked it away to Paris for 20 years when he plundered the city in 1797.

To your right, as you enter, the Cappella di Sant'Atanasio (admission €1.50) holds Tintoretto’s Birth of St John the Baptist, while Tiepolo depicts the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt in a typically Venetian boat. Both hang above magnificently crafted choir stalls. Behind this chapel you'll find the Gothic Cappella di San Tarasio (also called the Cappella d'Oro, the golden chapel), with impressive Renaissance-style frescoes by Andrea del Castagno and Francesco da Faenza from the 1440s. Some original 12th-century mosaics can be seen by the altar, while a section of the original 9th-century mosaic floor is preserved under glass. Make sure you step down to the eerie flooded crypt, which houses the bodies of eight doges.

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