Hidden treasures in the Frari Church: the stained-glass windows of the Corner Chapel
Upon entering the Frari church, visitors are breathtaken by the immense space and overwhelmed by the number of masterpieces hanging on the walls, enriching the altars and the chapels of this church.
There is a small treasure, however, hidden in one of the most beautiful chapels of this basilica, hardly noticed by visitors and neglected by scholars that is worth discovering: the stained-glass windows of the Corner chapel.
Twelve historiated glass panels, so different in style and subjects, that significantly depart from the Venetian tradition of clear-glass windows composed of circular disks. The six panels filling the lower register of the windows had been designed, executed and installed by the Milanese artist Giovanni Beltrami in 1912.
They are a unique example of Liberty-style windows undertaken after the restoration of the chapel and inspired by the rediscovery of the Mantegna-style frescoes of the Monument to Federico Corner on the left side of the chapel. The iconographic programme elaborated by Beltrami to celebrate Saint Mark, to whom the chapel was dedicated, is based on floral, fruit and vegetable motifs. Six green plants with olives, pomegranates, grapes, wheat ears, lilium and roses, wrapped around by scrolls inscribed with Latin words to glorify Saint Mark as evangelist (Filii tuis sicut novella olivarum, Princeps super terram nostram, Quasi leo fortissimus, Salve volumen nobile, Germinabit sicut lilium) and as patron saint of Venice (Tibi marce evangelista meus).
The six glass panels filling the upper register of the windows, are the only surviving original stained-glass windows of the church.
The old panels, seriously deteriorated, depict six saints recognizable by their attributes: St. Jerome and St. John the Evangelist on the left side, the Virgin Mary with Child and St. Lucia in the centre, St. Peter and St. Catherine on the right side.
All the saints represented in these windows are eponymous as they depict the namesakes of two of the most important branches of the Corner family: the Corner Piscopia (left side and centre) and the Corner della Regina (right side). In this case the iconographic project elaborated by the artist, whose identity is still unknown, glorifies Caterina Corner, the famous Queen of Cyprus and the members of the Corner family who commissioned the windows and the altarpiece dedicated to St. Mark, still preserved in the chapel.
A wonderful tryptic painted by Bartolomeo Vivarini in 1474 which represents St. Mark in the act of blessing, sitting on a Renaissance throne in white marble decorated with fine Lombardesque arabesques. On the left St. John the Baptist and St. Jerome, and on the right, St. Nicholas and St. Peter. The iconography of both windows and the tryptic, involving the genealogy of the Corner family has enabled to attribute the old panels to Bartolomeo Vivarini’s school.