Indulge in a real aesthetic hunt of the beautiful Venetian Gothic style
Exterior of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Venice) from Campo San Zanipolo (by CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The Gothic style not only distinguishes the facades of Venetian patrician palaces but also animates the city’s churches.
The Basilica of Saints John and Paul in the Castle district is one of the most impressive medieval religious buildings in Venice, along with the basilica of Sainte Mary the Glorious of the Frari. It is considered the pantheon of Venice because of the large number of Venetian doges and other important figures who have been buried there since the 13th century.
According to legend, the basilica’s origins are connected to a vision of Doge Jacopo Tiepolo, who donated the oratory of St. Daniel in 1234 to the Dominican friars, who had been present in the city for more than ten years. Immediately the thirteenth-century church, dedicated to the fourth-century Roman martyrs’ John and Paul, was built. The increased activity of the Dominican friars soon forced an expansion, which was directed by the two Dominican friars Benvenuto from Bologna and Nicolò from Imola; the building site was closed in 1343, but the embellishment work still lasted almost a century: on November 14, 1430, the church was solemnly consecrated. From then on, it was continually enriched with sepulchral monuments, paintings and sculptures by leading Venetian artists, until in 1807. At the height of the Napoleonic era, the Dominicans were removed from their convent, which was turned into a hospital, and the church was deprived of numerous works of art. On the night of August 15-16, 1867, a fire completely destroyed the adjoining Great School of the Rosary (now a chapel), along with the paintings stored there. The restoration of this chapel was completed in 1959.
The church has a high salient facade, opened by a central rose window and two side eyes. The lower part is characterised by four Gothic niches, which hold some sepulchres, and by the large portal, adorned with six columns of Proconnesian marble (a variety of white marble, also used extensively in antiquity by the Romans) transported here in 1459. The authors of the work are Bartolomeo Bono, for the lower part, master Domenico Florentine for the frieze, and master Luce for the top part. Three tempietto spires crown the central body of the facade: inside, they house the effigies of the three major Dominican saints, while statues of other dedicatees are arranged at the four corners of the spires. In the centre is St. Dominic with four saints of the order above him and the Eternal Father at the top, to the left St. Peter the Martyr with the evangelists and the eagle of John, to the right St. Thomas Aquinas with four doctors of the church and the lion of St. Mark.
On the side facing the field, various buildings and chapels lean against each other:
A low rectangular structure, the School of the Name of Jesus, a Gothic-style chapel of the Name of Jesus, the semicircular apse of the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace, and the chapel of St. Dominic, the present Dominican convent building (originally the School of St. Ursula).
At the back is the complex of apses, opened by soaring Gothic stained glass windows. The double dome was added at the end of the 15th century.
The plan is a Latin cross with transept and three naves divided by massive cylindrical columns (except for the fourth on the left and right, which are pillars formed by joining three thinner cylindrical columns). The very high Gothic vaults are connected by wooden tie-rods, whose function is to counteract the thrusts generated by the cross vaults and arches. The dimensions are truly grand. To the walls, entirely decorated with faux brick, of the naves are leaning numerous monuments, and to the right are chapels. The transept also has two chapels on each side, flanking the chancel. Until the seventeenth century, the nave was divided transversely into two parts by the friars’ choir, which was demolished to make room for the solemn celebrations that took place in this church, such as the funerals of doges. The only remnants of this monumental structure are the two altars (of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Joseph) located at the intersection of the nave and transept, to the right and left, respectively.