Venice's Hidden Art Treasures, Venice

Venice's Hidden Art Treasures (Self Guided), Venice

Among the first things springing to mind when talking about Venice, apart from the canals and gondolas, of course, is Art and Architecture. Indeed, Venice is one of the few cities in the world where Art and Architecture have merged in a stunning multiplicity of forms. The city is even renowned for its unique (Venetian) pictorial school famed by the likes of Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese, Castagno and other grands, whose influence had given rise to a plethora of other remarkable painters like Damasceno, El Greco and more.

Home to some of the world’s most iconic sights, the incredible floating settlement in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon can hardly leave anyone indifferent. The ancient artistic legacy and watery beauty of Venice has long attracted tourists (nowadays up to 20 million per year) from all over the world, which, particularly in summer, can get the city really clogged up with them. Even to an experienced traveler, Venice's enormous art scene, going back 1600 years, can be mind-boggling and expensive exercise to indulge in.

Yet, although for the most part you will have to pay handsomely to explore the visual side of Venice, there’s a lot more to this city, in terms of hidden art gems, than meets the eye. An ancient city with a mysterious history, Venice is packed with secret locations and unbeaten paths waiting to be uncovered, if you know where to look. And it won’t cost you a penny!

Here are some of the lesser-known attractions in Venice housing amazing works of art that are well worth seeking out:

Scuola Grande di San Rocco – the former religious confraternity, whose ornate ceiling is an astonishing masterpiece by Tintoretto;

Church of Santa Maria dei Carmini – home to one of the early works by Tintoretto (the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple) still extant;

Santa Maria della Salute – Venice's most famous church by image, emblematic of the city, with a small art gallery in its sacristy;

Saint George of the Greeks' Church and Museum of Icons – home to Damasceno frescoes and a wealth of ancient Greek-Byzantine icons and Orthodox sacred vestments.

If you want to beat the crowds in Venice and enjoy some of its hidden yet fascinating gems for free, get off the beaten track and lose yourself without getting lost on this self-guided walking tour!
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Venice's Hidden Art Treasures Map

Guide Name: Venice's Hidden Art Treasures
Guide Location: Italy » Venice (See other walking tours in Venice)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: naomi
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Scuola Grande di San Rocco
  • Carmini (Church of Santa Maria dei Carmini)
  • San Maurizio Church. Music Museum
  • Santa Maria della Salute
  • Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Basilica)
  • Saint George of the Greeks' and The Museum of Icons
Scuola Grande di San Rocco

1) Scuola Grande di San Rocco (must see)

The religious fraternity (scuola) of Saint Roch, or Rocco, was set up in Venice in 1478. Seven years later, the body of the saint was brought from Germany, which ensued a boom of donations so great that in 1489 the fraternity acquired the status of “scuola grande”. In 1527, the city was hit by an outbreak of plague and the scuola’s revenue rocketed to record highs with the money pouring in from those desperate to secure St Rocco's protection from the disease. This financial intake eventually paid for the construction of the current building complete with the amazing paintings inside.

Indeed, no other Venetian fraternity is as richly decorated as Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The man responsible for it is Venice's own 16th-century artist Tintoretto. Born Jacopo Robusti, the painter got this nickname, which means "little dyer" or "dyer's boy", because of his father, who was a dyer (tintore). Also nicknamed Il Furioso ("The Furious") for his phenomenal energy in painting, Tintoretto was admired and equally criticized by his contemporaries for the unprecedented boldness of his brushwork as well as for the speed with which he painted. Nonetheless, it took him three decades to complete this project – from its inception, when Tintoretto was 46, until his death, in 1594, at the age of 76.

Over the said period, the artist had created more than 50 epic canvases for the walls and ceilings of the scuola, earning it a hyperbole reference among critics as “one of the three most precious buildings in Italy” for the overwhelming effect it produced. Although the Tintoretto cycle begins with the “Annunciation”, located in the lower room, to appreciate his progression as an artist, it is best to start in the smaller room, on the upper floor, called Sala dell’Albergo, housing the “Crucifixion” painting, which truly reveals the full magnitude of Tintoretto's masterhood.

Among other highlights here are the New Testament scenes, in the main upper hall, defying every convention of perspective, lighting, and color – a feat of relentless inventiveness that has very few equals in the Western art. Notwithstanding that Tintoretto was in his late 60s when he came to paint these scenes, they prove to be some of his finest creations.

Why You Should Visit:
Rarely busy or crowded – an oasis of peace, culture and Venetian history.
Photos don't do it justice. You can't help being overwhelmed by what you see.

Make sure to get an audio guide as there are no descriptions.
Wear warm clothes (it gets quite cold inside) and take your camera.
The mirrors in the chapter room allow you to study the ceiling art without having to strain your neck.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5:30pm
Ticket office closes at 5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Carmini (Church of Santa Maria dei Carmini)

2) Carmini (Church of Santa Maria dei Carmini)

Santa Maria dei Carmini, also known as Santa Maria del Carmelo or simply the Carmini, is a large Roman Catholic church nestled against the former Scuola Grande di Santa Maria del Carmelo, aka the Scuola dei Carmini. The latter sorority, founded in 1597, arose from a lay women's charitable association, the Pinzocchere dei Carmini, whose members were responsible for sewing scapulars for the neighboring Carmelite monastery.

Inside the church, in the fourth altar to the left, past the entry to the sacristy, is one of the early works by Tintoretto, the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (1541–1542). This altarpiece for the Chapel of the Presentation was commissioned by the Confraternity of Fishmongers, the chapel’s patrons; its frame, inscribed with the year 1548, also carries a fish relief, on the bottom right.

The painting adheres to Luke’s narrative in which three distinct events are combined. The first-born son is presented in the Temple, the child’s mother is purified, and the old man Simeon encounters the child and his mother (which is usually showed as happening at the Temple's entrance). In this work, however, Tintoretto follows the common 16th-century Venetian practice of depicting the child passed from Mary into the hands of Simeon (at the center) and demonstrating a “church-like” Temple setting with an altar at which the child was presented.

The blaze of white (pale skin of the child surrounded by the white of the altar cloth, the doves and Simeon’s sleeves and beard) is surrounded by darker tones and then darkness. This contrast looks particularly stunning during a Mass, when the painting is lit by candles on the altar beneath it, thus evoking in the beholder an easy connection between the child on the altar above and the sacrament on the altar below.

Still, one of the most interesting things about this image is in the background detail – twelve men, two of whom bear lit processional candles. At the time of Tintoretto, on the Feast of the Presentation every parish in Venice would have had the blessing of lit candles and a procession along the surrounding streets. The Feast of the Presentation was a particularly significant day for the Confraternity of Fishmongers, whose rule obliged all members to attend Mass at their chapel. The group in charge of the confraternity were 12 in number and, if you look closely at the faces emerging from the darkness, you can see that they might be their portraits.

The Glorification of the Scapular (1709), on the nave ceiling, was frescoed by Sebastiano Ricci. The second altar on the left has two statues, depicting prophets Elijah (holding a flaming sword) and Elisha, by Tommaso Rues.

The upper register of the nave is lined with 24 large canvases from the 1660s-1730s, painted by artists such as Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Gaspare Diziani, Girolamo Brusaferro and Pietro Liberi. The choirs includes three paintings (c. 1545) by Andrea Meldolla. Near the entrance to the cloister is a relief of the Madonna and Child (1340) by Arduino Tagliapietra.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
San Maurizio Church. Music Museum

3) San Maurizio Church. Music Museum

Formerly the church of San Maurizio in Venice nowadays is a small music museum.

Originally, a house of worship on this site had stood since as early as 699 AD. The current church, now deconsecrated, was built in 1806. The Neoclassical building was designed by architect Giovanni Antonio (Giannantonio) Selva, also responsible for the design of the world-famous local theater La Fenice.

The Museo della Musica (Museum of Musical Instruments) is one of the few museums in the city that is free. The exhibits, all displayed in a single room, include old period instruments, documents and other artifacts related to the music personalities of Baroque Venice. Among them are Antonio Vivaldi (the world-famous virtuoso violinist and composer, born in Venice in 1678), Amati (the renowned dynasty of violin makers, one of whom, Nicolò Amati, was the teacher of Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri), Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (an Italian luthier, one of the finest craftsmen of string instruments in history, widely considered the third greatest maker after Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri ("del Gesù")), Francesco and Matteo Goffriller (master violin, viola and cello makers of the Venetian school) and others.

There are some 150 instruments in the collection, dated from the 16th to 19th centuries, including nearly 40 violins, 20 violas, some cellos and double basses, as well as about 10 mandolins. You can also see some historical flutes, harps and other interesting musical instruments, like e.g. the 17th-century psalterium, that had later transformed into a zither and dulcimer.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Santa Maria della Salute

4) Santa Maria della Salute (must see)

San Marco may be Venice's most famous church by name, but Santa Maria della Salute is by far its most famous by image and silhouette! Commonly known simply as La Salute, this grand historic church is largely recognized as the pinnacle of the city's Baroque movement.

La Salute is the most recent of the so-called “plague” churches. Back in the early 1630s, Venice was devastated by a plague that exterminated nearly 100,000 people, roughly one-third of the lagoon’s population. As a votive offering for deliverance from this pestilence, the Republic of Venice vowed to build and dedicate a church to Our Lady of Good Health (or Deliverance) which means “Salute” in Italian. Resting on a platform of more than 100,000 wooden piles, the church was designed in the then fashionable Baroque style, by Baldassare Longhena, who dedicated half a century to working on this project and lived just long enough to see it finished, in 1681.

The dome of the Salute was an important addition to the Venetian skyline and soon became emblematic of the city, inspiring painters both local, such as Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, and foreign, such as J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent.

The basilica makes for an interesting visit, too. It houses a small art gallery in its sacristy, which includes a Marriage Feast of Cana by Tintoretto, along with the allegorical ceiling paintings by Titian (the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school) such as David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac and Cain and Abel, and eight tondi of the eight Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists, all in the great sacristy, and Pentecost in the nave. Also by Titian are The Descent of the Holy Ghost, in the third altar to the left of the entrance, as well as St. Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Sebastian and Roch, the altarpiece of the sacristy.

Of a particular note is a highly symbolic statuary group at the high altar, called The Queen of Heaven expelling the Plague (1670), by the Flemish sculptor Josse de Corte. This theatrical Baroque masterpiece features the Virgin and Child rescuing Venice (depicted as a kneeling young woman) from the plague (depicted as an old woman).

Entrance to the Basilica is always free during the opening hours, however to enter the main sacristy (museum), a ticket is required. Whenever you choose to visit, do get your tickets in advance to skip the long lines. Once inside, you can treat yourself to a unique view of the adjoining plaza from the balcony and, perhaps, also a 30-minute organ recital after the service... so do check the events program in advance – and enjoy!

Bring a drink with you as there are hardly any cafes around.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-12pm / 3-5:30pm
During festive Masses, times may be subject to change
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Basilica)

5) Basilica di San Marco (St Mark's Basilica) (must see)

By far the main draw for tourists visiting Venice is the Basilica di San Marco. It was built in 832 AD to house the remains of the city’s patron, Saint Mark. The holy man’s body was brought from Alexandria, Egypt by two Venetian merchants who smuggled it concealed in the barrels of pork meat, which they rightly regarded the Muslim guards would never touch. According to legend, the night the body arrived in the lagoon, St Mark was greeted by an angel, saying, “Peace be with you Mark, my Evangelist. Here shall your body rest”. Over the centuries, this legend has inspired many works of art.

200 years later, a sumptuous temple was built upon the foundations of an earlier church, and was consecrated when St Mark’s body was interred beneath the high altar. The new basilica was modeled after the celebrated Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. To enhance its opulence, the structure was subsequently clothed in marble and mosaics depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the lives of Christ, Virgin Mary and St Mark himself.

Many of the mosaics were later retouched or remade, as artistic tastes changed and the damaged mosaics had to be replaced, so the ones currently in place represent 800 years of artistic styles. Some of them derive from traditional Byzantine representations and are masterworks of Medieval art; others are based on preparatory drawings made by prominent Renaissance artists from Venice and Florence, such as Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, Titian, Paolo Uccello, and Andrea del Castagno.

Andrea del Castagno was active at San Marco in the mid-15th century, introducing a sense of perspective largely achieved with architectural settings. Attributed to him is the mosaic in the Mascoli Chapel, depicting the Dormition of the Virgin. Tintoretto, in his turn, created the mosaic in the central nave depicting the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (16th century), while Titian designed and executed, between 1524 and 1530, the mosaic decoration of the Sacristy vault depicting Old-Testament prophets.

Inside, there are also a number of things you can see for a separate fee, such as the Golden Altar, the Museum, the Treasury, and the Crypt. It is also definitely worth paying to go up to the first level just to gaze at the interior and the square outside from an elevated point, or you might as well want to come on a night tour when the basilica is closed to the public and you can have the entire place to yourself.

Entry to the basilica is free but you can pay a small fee just to skip the line and book a time slot.

Why You Should Visit:
Exceptionally beautiful blend of Byzantine and Western art!
The grandiosity of the mosaics and the wealth of the 'treasure room' will make you realize how powerful Venice was in its golden days.

The best time to visit the basilica is around midday when all the golden mosaics adorning the vaults, walls and cupolas are illuminated and are most spectacular. The lights are on only for limited times (11:30-12:30), so make sure to schedule your visit accordingly, so as to see/appreciate the mosaic at its best.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm; Sun: 2-4pm (until 5pm during the summer months)
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint George of the Greeks' and The Museum of Icons

6) Saint George of the Greeks' and The Museum of Icons

The San Giorgio dei Greci (Saint George of the Greeks) church in the sestiere (neighborhood) of Castello is the former center of the Scuola dei Greci (Confraternity of the Greeks) in Venice. In 1498, the Venetian Greek community gained the right to found a confraternity to aid the members of their community. In 1539, the papacy allowed the construction of the church, financed by a tax on all ships coming from the Orthodox world.

Among the local treasures there are three icons brought from the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire before 1453, including that of Christ in His glory, surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists and the figures of Twelve Apostles; the Christ Pantokrator created by an anonymous 14th-century painter; and the third, clad in silver, of the Virgin Hodegetria, the oldest icon in the church, dating circa the 13th-14th centuries.

The iconostasis is characterized by marble decorations and paintings by Michele Damasceno, a prominent exponent of the 16th-century Cretan school (an almost contemporary of his fellow countryman El Greco). Despite having emigrated to Italy and been influenced by the Venetian painting of Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, Damasceno remained more tied to the Greek-Byzantine stylistic roots. His paintings depict various saints and, on the architrave, the Twelve Feasts.

Also in the hieron is another fresco by Damasceno (“Apostles and Greek Saints”), on the small apse above the main altar, while the apse and the triumphal arch are covered with mosaics from the early 17th century. Other pictorial works here include yet another one by Michele Damasceno (“Deposition”), “Ascension” by Giovanni Ciprioto and “The Last Supper” by the Cretan Benedetto Emporios.

In the building adjacent to the church is a small museum of Greek-Byzantine icons and Orthodox sacred vestments, housing a collection of 300 icons and numerous manuscripts, including, most notably, a copy of the Alexander Romance (an account of the life and exploits of Alexander the Great).
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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