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Gesuati (Santa Maria del Rosario)

A Rococo masterpiece

Gesuati, from a Greek ferry boat

Just down the Zattere from little Santa Maria della Visitazione stands the 'other' Gesuati, Santa Maria del Rosario, a Rococo masterpiece built for the Dominicans between 1726 and 1743 by Giorgio Massari. It would be the biggest conventual complex erected in 18th-century Venice.

Some 270 piles had to be sunk into the mud to support the weight of the white façade alone, which with its giant half Corinthian columns and classical tympanum echoes Palladio’s Redentore across the water; the interior, too is an 18th-century compliment to Palladio, in its illumination, grey and white contrasts and the plasticity of its walls, that embrace the congregation in an elipse.

What sets Gesuati apart as a shining example of 18th-century Venetian art and architecture was the collaboration of Massari with two of the city's greatest Rococo masters. In the 1730s, Giambattista Tiepolo frescoed the ceiling with the The Apparition of the Virgin to St Dominic, The Institution of the Rosary, and The Glory of St Dominic—in the last one, the stern saint gets hauled up by angels to his heavenly reward amid suitably soaring perspectives. Tiepolo also painted the monochromes and the first altar on the right, the Virgin in Glory with three female Dominican saints, well lit in front but with an unusually haughty Virgin in the background.

The sculptures in the niches along the nave are the masterpieces of Giovanni Maria Morlaiter, who spent so much time working on the church (from 1738-55) that it contains nearly all of his life's work.

  • First niche right: Abraham and The Centurion begs Jesus to save his son.
  • Second niche right: Aaron and Jesus healing of the blind man.
  • Second altar right: Angles in Glory (and Giambattista Piazzetta's painting of St Dominic, 1743).
  • Third niche right: St Paul and Christ with the Magdalen.
  • Fourth niche right, before the altar: Jesus appears to Thomas. The third altar holds Piazzetta's The Vision of the Saints Louis Bertrand, Vincent Ferrer and Hyacinth, one of his best and most luminous works, from 1738.

And there's more by Morlaiter:

  • First niche left: Melchisedek and St Peter walks on the water. The first altar on the left holds Sebastiano Ricci's St Pius V, St Thomas and St Peter the Martyr (1733), the first painting commissioned for the church.
  • Second niche left: Moses and Jesus' healing of the paralytic
  • Third niche left: St Peter and Christ and the Samaritan.
  • Fourth niche left, before the altar: The Baptism of Christ
  • The third altar left has an excellent Crucifixion from around 1565 by Tintoretto, a work taken from Santa Maria della Visitazione and restored by Piazzetta.

Tiepolo's ceiling's painting of David playing the harp crowns the high altar, although for all of its pounds of lapis lazuli and coloured marbles, its seems sombre fare compared to the large Madonna and Child dolls in a little chapel off to the left, dressed on feast days in dazzling jewels and costumes (including, it is rumoured, a pair of proper lace knickers for the Bambino).

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Fondamenta Zattere ai Gesuati

vaporetto Zattere


Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls