the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice: a shrine of treasures – part one
In one’s peregrination across Venice, it is usual to include the district of Cannaregio, which in the past was a buzzing artisanal and mercantile area. The area has a lot to offer: in this blog we will focus on the beautiful church of the Madonna dell’Orto, which is widely recognized as a must-see sight in Venice among the off-the-beaten options.
This post offers a selected group of artworks to guide the visitors in this shrine of beauty.
Founded in the mid-14th century in the extreme north of Cannaregio district, where the easiest connections with the mercantile routes to the North of Italy and rest of Europe occured, this church was not by case first dedicated to Saint Christopher.
According to the Golden Legend (a collection of hagiographies of the most important Christian Saints), Christopher was a giant good man, who used to take people across the rivers by carrying them on his shoulders. One day he met a child meaning to cross the river. Christopher started walking with the child on his shoulders but, he had to stop: the young boy was too heavy. Then he understood that the child couldn’t but be Jesus, the Worldbearer. Due to this legendary episode, Christopher is chosen as a patron saint for boatmen, travelers, merchants and many other groups.
Not a long time after the construction, something noticeable happened and prompted the co-dedication of the Church with Virgin Mary.
In 1377 sculptor Giovanni Santi had realized a stone statue of a Madonna and Child for the Church of Santa Maria Formosa, but the priest refused it.
The artist was obliged to take the statue back to his studio. He decided to keep it in his orchard, and there the Madonna started showing its supernatural essence. It became translucent at night and the faithful started thinking it could perform miracles.
Therefore, the guild of the merchants offered to purchase the statue for 150 ducats, a considerable sum, and Giovanni De Santi consented to sell the miraculous artwork in exchange for his burial in the new site of display of his Madonna.
You can see the statue today by entering San Mauro Chapel, at the end of the right-hand nave wall of the church.
Jacopo Robusti, nicknamed Tintoretto, one of the greatest Renaissance painters in Europe, settled near the Madonna dell’Orto Church in 1548.
He had his studio here till the end of his life, in 1594. In that house, he lived together with his wife Faustina and eight children, some of whom great painters as well, like Domenico and Marietta.
You can still see his house, with little effort, by getting across one bridge from the Church and turn left along Fondamenta dei Mori.
Being the Church where he baptized his children, and where he probably attended regular services, Tintoretto left several artworks to this place of faith.
The first paintings he realized for the church were the organ shutters, now dismantled and assembled in three different paintings.
When the organ shutters were closed, the faithful could admired a stunning Presentation of Virgin Mary to the Temple.
Another episode derived from the Golden Legend, it narrated that Child Mary, aged three, was accompanied by her parents Anne and Joachin to the temple to receive education. She had to climb a bunch of 15 steps to get to the temple, and she did not want any help by her parents, as she was already aware of her destiny.
Tintoretto, also considering the very limited amount of space he had to realized the stairway, created a beautiful foreshortening of the architecture. He also paid homage to the city of Venice, by decorating the stairs like the Stairway of Giants in the Doge’s Palace, which back then had the motives of the steps guilt.
When the shutters were open, believers got to see the two apostolic saints Peter and Paul.
Peter, wearing pontifical garments, is kneeling while having a vision of the Cross, anticipation of his own crucifixion.
Paul is also represented a moment before his martyrdom, praying while his executioner is about to behead him with a sword.
The former painting attracted several criticism, for the inconvenient gesture of St. Peter depicted with the golden key between his thighs. It even possibly inspired the satyr La Chiave by Anton Francesco Doni.
If you want to learn more about the other pieces by Tintoretto in this Church, please continue the church of the Madonna dell’Orto: The temple of Tintoretto’s art – part two.
Do not forget to book a BestVeniceGuide when visiting this sight.