Museums in Venice

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Church of San Giovanni Elemosinaro

By Cat Bauer

After years in the Accademia Galleries, Titian's dynamic altarpiece, "St. John the Almsgiver" (c.1545) is back in its original position inside the Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario, which was reopened to the public in 2002, freshly restored.

The earliest record for the church dates back to 1051, although nothing remains of the early structure, destroyed in the calamitous fire that ruined most of the Rialto area in 1513. The Senate of the Republic commissioned Antonio Abbondi, called Scarpagnino, who was then working on reconstruction of the east wing of the ducal palace, to redesign the entire district of the Rialto. Also responsible for the Fabbriche Vecchie, the porticoed buildings to the left of the Rialto Bridge, Scarpagnino tightly incorporated the present church into the surrounding buildings, making it easy to overlook. Work was concluded sometime before 1531, during the time of Doge Andrea Gritti. The Doge visited it annually on Ash Wednesday, one of the most important ecclesiastical holidays.

Many guilds were based in the small church, located in the commercial heart of the city, and the classic Renaissance interior reflects the wealthy merchants' generosity. One guild, the corrieri (messengers) commissioned various paintings representing their patron saints, St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Rocco. Most notable is the panel by Pordenone, "Saints Catherine, Sebastian and Rocco" (c. 1530-35). Two paintings by Jacopo Palma the younger, "The Martyrdom of St. Catherine" (c. 1595-99) and "Saint Rocco heals the sick" (1535) also depict the saints.

Believed lost, the frescoes of the central dome attributed to Pordenone representing "The Holy Father in Glory" (c. 1531) were uncovered during restoration.

To the side of the entrance stands the late Gothic bell tower, which was rebuilt between 1398-1410 after collapsing in 1361 for the second time.

Cat Bauer has lived in Venice, Italy since 1998, and was a regular contributor to the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily
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