I’ve put off writing this post for a week now because, quite frankly, I have no idea where to start. I loved every part of my time in Venice, but I think I would have to call the Frari Church my favorite. Now, where to begin…

Like Burano, the Frari church is largely unknown by most of Venice’s visitors. This is criminal in my mind, for it really is an important place. This Romanesque hall of worship, which was built as the Franciscan “Church of the Brothers”, offers its guests a unique opportunity. It allows one see the works of three important Renaissance artists in the original, intended venue. Here one can find Donatello’s woodcarving of St. John the Baptist, Bellini’s Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels, and (most notably) Titian’s The Assumption of Mary. I absolutely loved that place.

Stepping out of the warm morning sunshine and into the cool shade of the church was made all the more exhilarating by its impressive décor. Typical to Romanesque churches, it was quite lofty and had piers, giant order columns, and pointed domes galore. Incense burners hung down from the high roof, suspended by thin chains, and added a certain air of religious significance to the building.

And there, in the main room, was Titian’s tomb. I was tickled pink to be standing before the tomb of such an important artist, who is also one of my

Titians Final Resting Place

personal favorites. With his vibrant colors and elaborate usage of compositional elements, I have always found Titian’s works to be some of the most powerful from the High Renaissance period of art. In fact, he was recognized by his contemporaries as “the Sun among small stars,” that’s how fantastic his works are. However somber and powerful standing before the grave of such an important man is, God still has a sense of humor and he finds ways to make us laugh even in such a grandiose setting. You see, directly across the room from Titian’s tomb sits another ossuary that contains the remains of the ARCHITECT Canova. I say it is comical because of the story behind these two gravesites.

Back in the day, the church leaders commissioned Canova, an important architect of the period, to construct a tomb for their beloved Titian. He immediately set about the task but, upon its completion, the patriarchs

Canova in his "Modern Monstrosity"

decided it was too modern for Titian and had another burial chamber built. However, they still had a large, “too modern” eyesore sitting unused directly across the room from Titian’s place of rest. So, when Canova passed away, they had him buried there so that the mausoleum would not be a total waste. I couldn’t help but laugh when my friend, Felix, explained this to me. I began to envision a large group of clergymen, in ceremonial robes, huddling around the tomb saying “Great! What do we do with that thing!” followed by a messenger running in and shouting “Canova’s dead!” at which point all the clergymen look to each other and say “Well. We could stick him in that thing” while making a nonchalant gesture to the crypt.

After my little chuckle, I began to peruse the building. Sadly, I had to do so with a time limit. Nonetheless, I still got to gaze at most of the art there, including Donatello’s incredible John the Baptist. Clad in robes of animal hair, and thin as a rail I was quite pleased with Donatello’s ability to depict the nomadic and malnourished prophet. With a think beard, ragged clothing and sunken cheeks due to a diet of locusts and honey, Donatello’s John seemed to step straight out of the scriptures. I found Bellini to lack certain qualities of greatness that Donatello and Titian possess, but his portrayal of Mary and Jesus with the angels was still quite interesting and thought provoking.

As pleasant as Donatello and Bellini were, the highlight of the cathedral’s art collection was undoubtedly Titian’s The Assumption of Mary. Towering above the apse of the church, Titian’s scene reigns supreme throughout the airy building. I was stunned by its size when I approached the altar, and was driven to the point of awe by its powerful portrayal of the scene. I had no choice but to send up a little prayer in response to the sight.  With the clouds and heavenly hosts successfully separating the heavenly scene of Mary being united with her son from the men of the world below her, the work is a nice commentary on the division of the things of heaven and of earth. Color also plays a central role in communicating this idea by using a blue sky for earth

Frari's Apse and Titian's Painting

and a golden glow for the heavenly setting.

I also loved how Titian used the element of line in the form of the angel’s postures, the arms and movements of those left on earth, and the clouds to draw his viewer’s eyes directly to Mary. Once their eyes are there, he also used the “U” shape of the clouds and the heavenly host to create a type of frame, or nest, around Mary to keep his audience’s gaze focused on her; his main subject.

 

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