Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Great Painting, Both Accessible and Obscure in S. Gio Grisostomo

Sebastiano del Piombo's Santi Giovanni Grisostomo, etc in the church by the same name
It's understandable that some great paintings in Venice don't get the attention they merit because of how far afield they are from the well-trodden routes, but I suspect that other works--not necessarily the most famous ones, but still extraordinary--tend to get slighted precisely because of their proximity to the busiest calli in the city.

For example, when we first came to Venice I often found myself swept blindly along by the heavy stream of pedestrians between Strada Nova and the Rialto right past the little church of San Giovanni Grisostomo, though its rosy facade is among the more charming ones in the city. 

Of course Giovanni Bellini's great late altarpiece of Saints Jerome and Two Saints is the big draw inside the church, but it seems to me that people, including myself, never linger as long in front of that painting as might be expected--as if the ceaseless flow of humanity past the church's two doors exerts a pull to keep moving that's hard to resist.

And for a long time I almost completely ignored Sebastiano del Piombo's main altarpiece pictured above. For one thing, no matter when one visits it's almost always in deep shadow. For another, an altar rail prevents one from getting anywhere close to it.

But after repeated visits, I've found that it's become one of my favorite works in the city--almost a companion piece in my mind to Giovanni Bellini's masterpiece in the church of San Zaccaria (which I can never see often enough):

In any case, we're still in the midst of traveling and I have little time to write--and even less to think about what I'm writing--so for more on this little church and its two great paintings I refer you to The Churches in Venice website post on it, which includes the interesting opinions of both Ruskin and Henry James on these paintings:

The ease with which one can visit the Sebastiano del Piombo belies the great effort it takes to really see it, but I've found the effort to be well worth it.

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