Basilica di San Zanipolo


  • Building: Basilica di San Zanipolo
  • Neighbourhood: Castello
  • Affiliation: N/A
  • Opening Times: Mon-Sun 7.30am-6.30pm
  • Entry Cost: €2.50

This church is known as the burial church of the doges - and indeed there are twenty five buried here. Also buried here are Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, and Palma il Giovane - three of the greatest painters the world has ever known. Palma il Vecchio is buried here too, and some would put him in that pantheon, as is Giulia Lama.

The church is named after two 4th century Roman saints - the legend is that John and Paul were servants of Emperor Constantine's daughter Constance. When she died, she left her wealth to them. They put the money to charitable use as good Christians; but Constantine's nephew, emperor Julian (known these days as Julian the Apostate) heard of them and wanted the money. John and Paul said that they would only be loyal to Julian if he converted to Christianity... but he decided to have them beheaded and take the money anyway. The two martyrs were buried at the site of the Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo in Rome.

A word on the neighbourhood - the Scuola Grande di San Marco is now the main entrance to the hospital, right by the church. Also here is the fabulous statue of the famous Condottieri (mercenary general) Bartolomeo Colleoni, designed by Verrocchio, teacher of Leonardo, among other things - the statue was cast after Verrocchio's death by the Venetian Alessandro Leopardi, who also designed the pedestal on which it stands. Guide books often describe the placement of the statue as a fudge on the part of the Venetians, as Colleoni left a generous inheritance to Venice and asked for a statue to be build to him 'outside San Marco'. This request was not, as the guides say, a condition of the will - it was just a request... and the position outside the Scuola di San Marco, rather than the Basilica, is certainly a prominent location worthy of the man.

Every Thursday there are free guided visits to the church in collaboration with "Venezia Arte" Associatione: at 4.30pm in Italian and at 5.30pm in English

It's worth recounting here the story of the horrible death of Marco Antonio Bragadin, the Venetian General charged with defending the Cypriot city of Famagusta. With 6,000 men he held out for almost a year against an army of 100,000. Finally he negotiated a surrender with the Turks, to save the Christian inhabitants of the city. The Ottoman general agreed and allowed evacuation over the next four days.

On the 5th, however, at the surrender ceremony, the general had Bragadin arrested and cut off his ear, ordering his guards to cut off his nose and other ear. The remaining Christians were also slaughtered, while Bragadin's wounds festered in prison. Eventually he was brought out, dragged around the city, hoisted to the yardarm of a Turkish ship, and eventually, flayed alive. His skin was stuffed and paraded through the city riding an ox. Why do I tell this horrible story? Well a Venetian merchant recovered his skin in 1580 and brought it home to Venice, where a full state funeral was held. It was placed in an urn and can be seen to this day in this church.

Doge Leonardo Loredan is among the doges buried here - his portrait by Giovanni Bellini is in the National Gallery in London. Pietro Mocenigo's is probably the most impressive monument - it's by Pietro Lombardo and has two bas reliefs telling the story of his achievements on either side - note the 'consigning of the keys of Famagusta to Caterina Cornaro'. In terms of monuments, I am also fond of Orazio Baglioni's horse...


The Alms of Saint Anthony

  • Lorenzo Lotto

Found towards the front of the church on the right, and requiring a coin to light up. Lotto completed this, according to his own account book, on March 28th, 1482. He was charging the monks of San Giovanni E Paolo 125 Ducats; but he gave them a 35 Ducat discount on condition that he receive permission to be buried in the habit of the monks. They accepted and upon his death, he was.

The rug underneath the saint is now known as a 'Lotto carpet' - being a style from Byzantium brought to Venice around Lotto's time and recorded for posterity in this painting. Rugs in the style of carpets featured in Renaissance paintings were much in demand in the 19th century. The cleric receiving the petitions to St Anthony is considered to be among the finest figures ever painted by Lotto and the painting as a whole is thought to be one of his best. The Saint is not the St Anthony of Padua/Lisbon fame, this Saint is Antonio Pierozzi, known as Antoninus of Florence, who was archbishop of Florence in the 15th century - he was an influential writer who felt that the State had an obligation to help the poor and needy.

The Adoration of the Shepherds

  • Veronese
  • (Paolo Caliari)

On the wall of the Capella del Rosario -a good example of Veronese's work. It's worth mentioning that my favourite Veronese of all - the 'Feast in the House of Levi'- was painted for the refectory of this church, though it's now in the Accademia.

Jesus the Navigator

  • Giovanni Battista Lorenzetti

A painting that has been popular among Venetians since it was first completed - Jesus as the navigator of a Venetian boat was a comforting image for this marine superpower.


  • Giuseppe Salviati
  • (Giuseppe Porta)

This work, found in the Presbytery, was inspired by Titian's Assumption, and spent over a century hanging in its place in the Frari when Titian's masterpiece was displayed in the Accademia.

St Joseph and the infant Christ

  • Guido Reni

Sometimes considered a 'school of' work -it's a good enough representation of Reni's work to be considered an original.

Louis of Toulouse and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross

  • Libertino
  • (Pietro Liberi)

I've described Louis of Toulouse in the entry for the picture of him in the Angelo Raffaele church.

Martyrdom of Saint Peter of Verona

  • Carlo Lotti/Carlotto
  • (Carl Loth)

A copy by Carlotto of the masterpiece by Titian that was destroyed in a fire here in this church in 1867. This work was restored in 1989 by Save Venice

Christ carrying the Cross

  • Alvise Vivarini

In the sacristy

Saint Hyacinth walking on the waters of the river Dnieper

  • Leandro Del Ponte
  • (Leandro Bassano)

In the Cappella della Madonna della Pace

Saints Vincent Ferrer, Christopher and Sebastian

  • Giovanni Bellini

In the second altar, on the right. Some questions have been raised as to its attribution - though as far as the church's own material is concerned "In 1914 Roberto Longhi put an end to the question of the authorship". That's us told then. In fairness, most modern scholars agree - in the past it was variously attributed to Carpaccio, the Vivarinis and some more minor alternatives. It was restored by Save Venice in 1995 and they've done a good job - WR Rearick, writing for Save Venice is convinced that it is indeed an original Bellini and that the "six major panels are entirely [Bellini's]" Vincent Ferrer was a 15th century Dominican from Valencia - he's somewhat controversial for forcibly converting Jews to Christianity. In the centre of this piece, the power of his preaching is raising two people from the dead.

Three Saints

  • Bartolomeo Vivarini

Under the choir - St. Dominic, St. Augustine and St. Lawrence, painted in 1473 by Bartolomeo Vivarini, the remains of an altarpiece in nine compartments dedicated to St. Augustine.

Coronation of the Virgin

  • Cima da Conegliano
  • (Giovanni Battista Cima)

Some guides list this as a 'school of' work.

St Dominic in Glory

  • Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

On the ceiling of the Capella di San Domenico - considered on of Piazzetta's best, and one of the best works of eighteenth-century Venice overall.

The Assumption, The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi

  • Veronese
  • (Paolo Caliari)

On the ceiling of the Capella del Rosario -these were taken from the demolished church of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà and brought here after a dreadful fire attributed to anti-religious arson in 1867, that destroyed works by Tintoretto and Palma il Giovane, 34 other paintings, and especially the martyrdom of St. Peter by Titian and the Madonna and Saints by Giovanni Bellini.

St Jerome

  • Alessandro Vittoria

Christ at the Pillar - 'Flagellation'

  • L'Aliense
  • (Antonio Vassilacchi)

Ceiling painting

  • Giovanni Battista Lorenzetti

James Salomoni (Giacomo Salomoni) was an Italian Dominican priest of the 13th century, who gained a reputation for healing the paralysed. His remains are preserved in this chapel and he is often invoked as a protection from tumours. This work, on the ceiling, is about the different names given to Christ - Salvator, Filius Sirach, Filius Josedech, Nave e Puttini.

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