Known by all simply as the Frari, this huge, plain Gothic church dwarfs the eastern section of San Polo. The first church here was built by Franciscan friars in 1250 – 1338, but was replaced by a larger building completed in the mid-15th century.
The interior is striking for its works of art, including masterpieces by Giovanni Bellini and Titian, a statue by Donatello, and a number of imposing monuments to famous Venetians. The principal work is Titian’s Assumption of Mary, a masterpiece depicting the ascension of the Madonna on a cloud supported by floating cherubs, located over the main altar.
Rather than wandering around, it’s best to make a methodical tour counter-clockwise from the main entrance. To see it all thoroughly, you should allow an hour to 90 minutes.
On the first altar to the right as you enter, is another of Titian’s major works, the Madonna Enthroned, painted for the Pesaro family in 1526. Although lacking the power and drama of the Assumption, it remains brilliant in its use of light and colour.
On the opposite wall is the monument to Titian. Distinguished by size rather than artistic merit, it was erected in the mid-19th century as a gift from Ferdinand I of Austria, who was then ruler of the Veneto.
Facing the tomb is a memorial to Canova, the Italian sculptor who led the revival of classicism. There is also one of Bellini’s finest portraits of the Virgin, the cool and serene Madonna. Also to be seen is an almost primitive-looking woodcarving by Donatello of St. John the Baptist.
In the centre of the main hall, a marvellous stereophonic pipe organ is located in a carved and inlaid wooden choir , accommodating around 100 seats.
The church building is half surrounded by a wide monastic complex, now functioning as the Historic State Archive, which preserves documents up to the golden age of the Venetian Republic. The monastery had many fine cloisters, three of which are open to tourists.