Known simply as "i Frari," this immense 13th- to 14th-century Gothic church is easily found around the corner from the Scuola Grande di San Rocco -- make sure you visit both when you're in this area. Built by the Franciscans (frari is a dialectal distortion of "frati," or brothers), it is the largest church in Venice after the Basilica of San Marco. The Frari has long been considered something of a memorial to the ancient glories of Venice. Since St. Francis and the order he founded emphasized prayer and poverty, it is not surprising that the church is austere both inside and out. Yet it houses a number of important works, including two Titian masterpieces. The more striking is his Assumption of the Virgin over the main altar, painted when the artist was only in his late 20s. His Virgin of the Pesaro Family is in the left nave; for this work commissioned by one of Venice's most powerful families, Titian's wife posed for the figure of Mary (and then died soon afterward in childbirth).
The church's other masterwork is Giovanni Bellini's important triptych on wood, the Madonna and Child, displayed in the sacristy; it is one of his finest portraits of the Madonna. There is also an almost primitive-looking woodcarving by Donatello of St. John the Baptist. The grandiose tombs of two famous Venetians are also here: Canova (d. 1822), the Italian sculptor who led the revival of classicism, and Titian, who died in 1576 during a deadly plague.
Free tours in English are sometimes offered by church volunteers during the high-season months; check at the church.
- © Frommer's 2013
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