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The Frari’s Funerary Monuments (the big ones)

The Frari has seventeen funerary monuments. Some weedy, and others very very big. That Titian has a massive tomb is not surprising. Claudio Monteverdi, on the other hand, has a dinky, easily missable, little tomb, while Doge Giovanni Pesaro went all out, new money feel, with his. Here, I want to look at just the big three: Titian; Doge Pesaro; and Canova. 

Canova’s pyramidal piece seems to be either loved or hated (mainly hated if my anecdotal evidence is reflective of common responses. I very much belong to the minority, and think it’s a really groovy piece of neoclassical work). It has a funny history in that in 1794 Canova designed it himself, but for Titian. Then he went feet up, and his disciples decided to erect it for their mentor (handily conceived and promoted by Count Leopoldo Cicognara, the then president of Venice’s Accademia di Belle Arti). It was erected in 1827, five years after Canova’s death, all in shiny Carrara marble.

On the left of the monument we find Genius, represented by the sleepy looking angel with the unlit torch, alongside an even sleepier looking lion, representing… Venice. On the right we have three women personifying Sculpture (the very weepy one on the top step), Painting, and Architecture (Also weepy, but slightly less so, holding the garland). The snake framing Canova’s head above the open doorway is supposed to be a symbol of immortality.  

Apparently (thank you google), Canova was a member of the Freemasons, hence the pyramidal structure of the whole thing.  

Fun fact 1: For shits and giggles, Canova’s heart is said to still be in there. It’s held, not inside, but in the urn in the hands of Sculpture. Almost all of the rest of him is in the Tempio Canoviano in his hometown of Possagno, while his right hand is in the Accademia di Belle Art in Venice (nice). 

Fun fact 2: The design was also used for the tomb of Maria Cristina of Austria in the church of the Agostiniani in Vienna. 


Domenico Fadiga – Pyramid

Luigi Zandomeneghi – Painting and Architecture

Bartolomeo Ferrari – Sculpture

Rinaldo Rinaldi – Lion of St Mark and the ‘Little Genius’ (the boy next to Sculpture carrying the torch)

Antonio Bosa – Relief medallion with Canova’s profile

Giuseppe Fabris – Genius

Titian did get his tomb in the Frari in the end, right across Canova’s. 

It is also entirely made out of Carrara marble.

Titian died in 1576, with a request to be buried in the Frari. It was only at the end of the 18th century, however, that serious discussions were had about erecting a monument for him. The commission went to Canova, but was never realised due to a lack of funds and, inconveniently, the fall of the Republic. Upon visiting the church in 1836, Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria, decided he was having none of it. 

Soon after, a competition was held for the structure. It was won by Luigi Zandomeneghi, one of Canova’s pupils (and the chap who did his boss’s statues of Sculpture and Architecture). He worked on the monument along with his sons, Pietro and Andrea, completing it in 1852. The design generally makes sense: the enormous statue right bang in the middle is Titian himself. The two figs next to him are Universal Knowledge and Genius of Knowledge. And, he too, has a possy of PaintingArchitecture, and Sculpture, here also accompanied by Graphic Art (wohoo!).

Titian’s most important works are represented by five bass-reliefs. These are: The Martyrdom of St. Peter from Verona; The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, The Deposition; The Visitation; and The Assumption of the Virgin, which allows you to do a spot-the-differece exercise right in the Frari. There is, of course, the lion of St. Mark crowning the whole thing (but this time with the Habsburg coat of arms). 

Even Mr. Zandomeneghi got his own little memorial, his portrait appearing on the back of the tablet held by the younger, musclier figure at its base (the inscription on the front, TITIANO MONUMENTUM ERECTUM SIT, is a fine example of stating the obvious). The other tablet, held by the older, yet still quite muscly, man, refers to Titian’s knighthood, given to him by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (#thankyouforthecounciloftrent).  

Unlike our other two protagonists, this one needs some introduction, even for the art historian. Giovanni Pesaro was the Doge of Venice between 1658 and 1659. He was a bit of a cad with an easy start in life. Son to the very wealthy Vettor Pesaro, he came from a well-established Venetian family.  He was successful in his pursuit of power despite repeatedly misbehaving: in 1642, he abandoned his garrison (he was the commander) in the face of the enemy; he was implicated in embezzlement and abuse of office; as a rector, he appropriated land owned by someone else for himself; and after his wife died he married his housekeeper who was the sister of a known criminal. 

He was elected Doge in 1658, partly because his relatively young age promised a longer and more stable reign than that of some of his predecessors. Tough luck. He soon became ill and died a year later. He seemed to have been pretty much hated by Venetians. Not really surprising considering his track record. Despite Venice struggling financially at the time, when he died, he was buried with great pomp. 

About the tomb, here are the facts: it was designed by Baldassarre Longhena, and erected in 1669. 

As to personal opinion, I think Mark Twain said it best in The Innocents Abroad:

‘The monument to the doge Giovanni Pesaro, in this church, is a curiosity in the way of mortuary adornment. It is eighty feet high and is fronted like some fantastic pagan temple. Against it stand four colossal Nubians, as black as night, dressed in white marble garments. The black legs are bare, and through rents in sleeves and breeches, the skin, of shiny black marble, shows. The artist was as ingenious as his funeral designs were absurd. There are two bronze skeletons bearing scrolls, and two great dragons uphold the sarcophagus. On high, amid all this grotesqueness, sits the departed doge.’


A Western Art History blog by someone who sometimes gets paid  to read and write about Western Art History. Mostly Old Masters. Mostly Italian. Hopefully accurate.

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