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I Gesuiti aka La chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta


Going into the Gesuiti is like being wrapped in an enormous Recency carpet. On acid.

There are spirally bits, and creamy bits, and marbly bits, and velvety bits. And mostly those bits that look like one thing are rarely that very thing. The whole interior is so lavishly swirly that it’s at times hard to locate a calm, uniform, flat block of a non-enticing colour.

To top it all off, the church is in possession of a truly fantastically gruesome Martyrdom of St. Lawrence by Titian. This sixteenth-century masterpiece, squished into an almost corner, looks even weirder in its current fancy-psychedelic eighteenth-century setting.

But what is this place, you ask, and why does it look like a flavour-confused Viennetta?

Well, it all started in the sixteenth century: 

Cue the Jesuits.

For the justifiably uninformed, the Jesuits are a Catholic religious congregation, founded (sort of) by St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spain in 1540. They expanded pretty promptly, as successful religious groups are wont to do, and became heavily involved in the Council of Trent, swiftly spreading their influence all over Europe.

Before this rapid rise to the giddy heights of celibate fame, St. Ignatius had been pilgrimaging all over the shop, which, in the early decades of the sixteenth century, had first led him Venice. He must have thought; ‘hmm. I like this lagoon. I can make my mark in this lagoon’, for he was to return once more in 1535, accompanied by a cosy gathering of future (albeit already self-recognised) Jesuits. Ignatius and his personal flavour of Catholicism proved a local hit.

And so, Ignatius thought: job done, I’m off to Rome.

And off he waddled to Rome

Fast forward a hundred years or so, via Venice’s quarrels with the odd pope, a decision to exile the Order, and the occasional war, the Jesuits waddled back into Venice, this time with a more permanent intention to stay.  

They had a nosy around in search of the ideal location for their Church, and settled upon the Crosechieri.

But, as is true of any person who ever owned an extra cardi, the Jesuits looked at their storage solutions and thought:

‘Nah. Too small…’




Down the Crosechieri crumbled.

With no structure within which to confine their decorative plans the Venetian Jesuits could finally let loose and go wild.

And go wild (within the parameters of Catholic moral health and safety regulations) they did.

They hired an architect called Domenico Rossi who had previously designed the Church of San Stae. According to the internet, Rossi had to accommodate his creative output to adhere to guidelines set out by the Council of Trent. Based on the surviving visual evidence these guidelines were: ‘More is More!’. 

(For those not familiar with the Jesuit Church in Rome, although vastly different in decoration, it does emit a similar bling camp vibe. And contains an enormous silver and gold statue of Ignatius, coyly hidden in the daytime, and theatrically unveiled each afternoon at 5:30pm to the beat of a recorded hardcore classical orchestra).

Back to Venice…

I Gesuiti was finally consecrated in all its glory in 1728.

The façade was built by Giovanni Battista Fattoretto, based on Rossi’s designs. Upon facing it, one can note a tonne of statues:

We’ve got the Virgin, by Giuseppe Torretto, in peak position at the very top, assumptioning, surrounded by her crew of angels.

Below, on plinths and in niches, are the twelve apostles, by various sculptors, looking somewhat calmer

In direct juxtaposition to this cool white of the facade – in hue rather than sentiment – is the quasi-kaleidoscopic interior. (This picture doesn’t do it justice). The whole thing is decorated with marble inlay made to look like heavy velvet wallpaper. The layout is pretty standard for Jesuit churches: a Latin cross with three chapels in the longest wings. The six little chapels on the sides of the nave are divided by small rooms likely once used for confession.

There’s far too much to mention for today’s post, so I’ll briefly focus on two bits which I liked the best: the pulpit and the altar.



This ridiculous jewel of a safety violation was created by Francesco Bonazza. And made entirely of marble inlay.

Every ‘glass pane’, every ‘tassel’, every ‘fringe’, every ‘drape’, every ‘fold’.

Entirely. In. Marble.


The altar has, surprise, a pretend carpet made out of marble inlay too. Its walls are decorated with faux textured marble. Its ten spiral baldachin supports are made of speckled marble. Its textured dome is made of light marble. Its four cross vault supporting pillars are made of emerald green and white marble. I suspect so is everything in between (it’s hard to notice intricate details nestled among intricate details).

The altar is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and is said to have been partly designed by the Jesuit father, Giuseppe Pozzo.

At its centre is a charming little tabernacle inlaid with lapis lazuli (by Pozzo), above which is a marble sculpture group of the Eternal Father and Christ, with angels, resting on a globe. The sculpture’s inscription sufficit sola fidetranslates to; ‘faith is all that you need’.

The Jesuits: The Beatles before the Beatles.

Lastly, it would be impossible to wax lyrical about I Gesuiti without mention of some of its artist treasures. Many of these were conveniently saved from the church’s predecessor, which explains how a number of Cinquecento masterpieces found their way into their current nooks. The most important of these include:

  • Titian’s Martyrdom of St. L (above)
  • Tintoretto’s Assumption of the Virgin
  • Andrea dall’Acquila’s, Virgin and Child
  • Sansovino’s Da Lezze family funerary monument 
  • Palma il Giovane’s Bunch of paintings on various subjects 

I’m not in the mood to discuss the above in any great detail, or the ceiling, which is being completely and unfairly ignored (another day, another post). Except to say that I laahv laahv laaaaahv the Titian. The Palmas not so much.

That being said, it has been known to happen that my mind has been changed upon subsequent inspections of previously dismissed works of art.



Next week…

I return.


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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