The unfinished façade of San Pantalon (the Venetian for San Pantaleone) is a slightly outrageous gift that someone forgot to wrap, for inside it contains The Miracles and Apotheosis of San Pantalon, the most extraordinary trompe l’œil ceiling in Italy.
This was the life’s work of Gian Antonio Fumiani – although the story that he died in 1704, falling off the scaffolding after 24 years on the job may be baloney, as some sources say he survived another six years. Rather than paint in fresco, Fumiani used 60 panels, which all put together make not one of the world’s greatest paintings, but certainly one of the largest.
San Pantalon, martyred under Diocletian, was a healer like St Roch, and as such was very popular in plague-torn Venice. One of his miracles was the subject of one of Veronese’s last paintings, St Pantalon Healing a Child (1587), in the second chapel on the right; it is sombre, twilit and melancholy in tone, and you can sense Veronese’s foreboding of his own death (and perhaps not a whole lot of confidence in Pantalon’s ability to do anything about it).
Another painting to look for is in the chapel to the left of the high altar: Antonio Vivarini and his brother-in-law, Giovanni d’Alemagna’s glossy Coronation of the Virgin, in an elaborate tabernacle, next to golden 14th-century works by Paolo Veneziano.
One oddity is a charming fragment of a fresco by Pietro Longhi of the Virgin and Child hanging out in a cloud with a pair of angels, a rare church commission by the master of daily life in Venice. Another is the strikingly phallic-looking campanile, rebuilt in the early 18th century, and a plaque with the minimum measurements for different kinds of fish, embedded in the church wall to keep market traders honest.
As you leave the church, turn left for Campiello da Ca’ Angaran, which preserves something you’ll probably never see in any other tiny square in Italy, or anywhere else: built into a simple house wall, a 12th-century rondel in bas-relief, portraying a Byzantine emperor, holding a sceptre and a symbol of the world he still pretended to rule.
Images by: Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls