After visiting Rome and witnessing the wealth of top-notch art and architecture that one finds throughout the city, it’s hard to imagine that you another city could impress as being even more full of art. But that was just the sort of experience I was having after being in Venice for a few days. The Wednesday of our first week there was a case in point. The Frari Church and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco are each bursting with amazing art, and any city (in the United States, for example) would give everything they had to have either within their borders. But of course, in Venice they are just a short walk from each other. Unreal!
So yes, we started our day that Wednesday by taking the Vaporetto to the San Tomà (or S. Tomà) stop, and from there walked a few short blocks to the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, commonly known as the Frari. The previous day, when we visited the Gallerie dell’ Accademia (also within walking distance of the Frari, by the way), we learned that for Francesco Hayez and the other Venetian art luminaries of the nineteenth century, Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin was considered to be the greatest painting of all time. As a matter of fact, the painting was moved to the Accademia museum at one time, before being returned to the Frari.
As you can imagine, after hearing that, I was extra pumped to see Titian’s painting in the flesh. And yes, it is quite marvelous, but I wouldn’t personally say it is the best painting I have ever seen (in fact, I saw another painting later that day that may hold that distinction in my mind). Either way, Titian’s painting is just one of an unbelievable wealth of extraordinary art in the church. The Bellini altar that I have inserted at the top of this post is just another of the extraordinary Virgin and Child paintings by this artist that I saw and loved all over Venice. The many tombs and monuments to the Doges that line the walls under most circumstances would draw a lot of my attention. But there was just so much art that I found myself drawn to instead. Just incredible.
I haven’t told you up to this point that in creating an itinerary for our two week Venice trip, I had some help. I asked my nephew Neil Bender, artist and professor at the University of South Florida, if he had any tips for us on what to do in Venice. He generously wrote me several pages of ideas on this subject (well, it was an email so I don’t know how many pages, but if he had written it on paper, it would’ve been that long). For example, he told me a lot about the Scuola Grande di San Rocco that we went to later that day. And he gave me a great tip on where to eat lunch after visiting the Frari.
Trattoria Dona Onesta has a great setting – you can sit outside and be right up next to a small canal. It was a little too chilly for us to sit outside, but no problem, since the interior is lovely as well.
I took the route of least resistance in what I ordered, going for an octopus salad and cuttlefish pasta (as you know, the latter was my favorite dish to order in Venice). Great food, though maybe a little too much of it (I would soon take to ordering only one dish at lunch, in the interest of not having my afternoons be too sleepy).
So from there to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was a short walk. The ground floor room, or Sala Inferiore, has a bunch of Tintoretto paintings covering its walls. But it is kinda dark, and besides, I knew from my nephew’s notes that the real glorious works are upstairs.
Not only the Tintoretto paintings covering the ceilings of the Sala Superiore and Sala dell’ Albergo are incredible. There are also a couple dozen carved wooden human figures lining the walls that are also quite intriguing. But the best thing there by far, in my opinion, is the Crucifixion that covers the far wall of the Sala dell’ Albergo. It may be the greatest work of art that I saw while we were in Italy. But I usually think giving titles like that to works of art – or people – “greatest” this and that – is stupid, so I will just say that I could have staying and stared at that artwork for at least the rest of the day.
The fact that I was able to pull myself away from the great artwork of the Scuola Grande was very fortunate, for that afternoon, unbeknownst to us, there was a military band concert in the square right in front of the Scuola. We hurriedly found a spot to place our rumps on the stone stairs, and the music began. Wow, they were first-rate – they played lots of great band music, and when they played John Philip Sousa, I got chills.
The concert lasted maybe an hour, and when it was done, I was ready for some refreshment. Having afternoon gelato was becoming a thing for us, and for me, it was a chance to see who in Venice made the best vegan gelato. Not too far from where we were was another place that made it to lists of best vegan gelato in Venice – Gelateria il Doge, which is just south of Campo Santa Margherita, one of Venice’s great places to hang out.
Their gelato was indeed first-rate – the strawberry that I had was creamy, not icy at all, and full of a ton of fruit flavor. I wish they had had some flavors other than fruit that were vegan, but what they did offer for me was a wonderful treat. So as they say, I can’t complain. Did I sound like I was complaining? To complain while in Venice would be the height of rudeness.