Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Quietest Room in Venice: at S. Francesco della Vigna

The Capella Santa of San Francesco della Vigna
I apologize for my second absolutist title in a row, but I've discovered that once you get started making absolute statements (no matter how dubious) it's hard to stop. This explains a lot about politics and religion, I think.

But cloistered as the above-pictured chapel is by, well, on one side quite literally a cloister, on another by a church, and on its two others by the structures of the monastery of San Francesco della Vigna, it's perfectly positioned at the northern edges of Castello to be among the quietest interiors in the city.

While the beautiful church of San Francesco della Vigna is often during its official visiting hours polluted with the noise of recorded classical music--since when do churches and great art require an obnoxious piped-in soundtrack?--the Capella Santa, separated from the church by a broad hallway and closed doors, is always blissfully quiet, and usually unoccupied.

I've sat there alone and literally strained to hear something. 

I've also sat looking at the late Giovanni Bellini painting in there, trying to figure out which parts of it were done by the master and which by his workshop. A full account of this painting and the church as a whole can be found on the excellent website The Churches of Venice:

Perhaps it's not among the greatest of Gio Bellini's works, and as you'll find on the above link, Giorgio Vasari claimed it was painted mostly by one of his pupils, and yet there are elements (like the gaze of San Sebastiano out upon you) that won't quite let you go, and its hushed composure makes the chapel seem all the more intensely quiet.



  1. Yes, The Churches Of Venice is doing a good job but this description of the painting from your previous post is puzzling.

    Also an odd Madonna and child by Brother Negroponte. It's his only work, and although it was painted in the mid 15th century it's eccentrically gothic with a sumptuously-painted gown on the Virgin, painted paper inserts and some quirky figures and architecture.

    Odd? Eccentric? Quirky? I can show the author at least a couple dozen of Madonna and the Child Enthroned paintings in the same style and from the same period. The fact that he is unfamiliar with that school of painting doesn't make this visual manner odd, eccentric and quirky.

    1. I don't know the exact meaning of the author's use of those terms, Sasha, but I suspect he wasn't thinking in art historical terms as he or she typed them. I assumed he or she meant to suggest that Antonio's work is distinct from anything else one will see in Venice, but I didn't assume any broader claims than that. And I don't in fact think there's any other work in Venice that I've seen that looks similar in the broadest most immediate sense (not in the art historical more analytical sense). Outside of Venice: well, that's a whole other story...

    2. Thank you very much, Sasha, for gathering a number of other examples together on one page. All of them are very interesting, some quite striking, but I have to say my favorite of the lot remains the one in S Francesco della Vigna. A purely idiosyncratic personal judgement, this is.

      As for how one reacts to art, well, I'm willing to accept a blog as a blog, not a critical art historical study--which mine certainly cannot claim or even pretend to be. I spent some time in the scholarly world and for however much it may sometime interest me, I'm generally glad to be out of it.

  2. I am enjoying your absolutist statements and your experience of Venice! Thanks for another interesting post!

    1. I'm happy to hear that you liked the post, and relieved that my absolute statements are not starting any big battles, as absolute statements have a tendency to do. I should have noted that I'd be curious to find out what other people think is the quietest spot or most beautiful painting in Venice.

  3. That's what I enjoy about reading the many Venice/ Venezia blogs: sharing other people's experiences/ knowledge/ enjoyment of Venice. quietest spot is the little square behind Scuola di San Rocco (I wrote about it recently:

    Favorite painting? Golly that is much harder...I have never gotten over seeing Carpaccio's cycle at San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. I worked at the Peggy Guggenheim collection many years ago, and I feel a great sense of attachment to the works in her collection. The ones I still go to bed thinking of are Magritte's Empire of light ( and Picasso's On the beach (

    Regards, Karen

  4. Karen, I really liked and appreciated your post on that campo behind San Rocco--and the Sargent painting you posted was beautiful. It's a marvelous spot: so close to a major destination, and yet hidden and little visited.

    I'm embarrassed to admit I've yet to see the Carpaccio. I pass it by often, but always decide I must wait to see it with Jen. Next time I will simply go in, whether she's with me or not.

    I also remember very clearly the 2 Guggenheim pieces you mention. In particular, for a long time I though that haunting Magritte was another of his uncanny paintings, of a phenomenon not actually to be found in the real world. But one recent evening I saw, for the 2nd time in my life, just that type of scene, with the bright blue evening sky background, the almost pitch black foreground and the lamp light. I agree, that is a painting one does not forget.