When visiting Campo Santa Maria Formosa, located in the Castello sestiere, visit this elegant church. It might not be the most decorated church in the city, but its history is fascinating.
Santa Maria Formosa is one of the ancient Venice churches, and the first one dedicated to Virgin Mary. The legend says that the Virgin Mary appeared to San Magno Bishop of Oderzo. The church, built in the 7th century, was one of the eight earliest churches of Venice. But the church we see today was finished in 1492 by a Renaissance architect Mauro Codussi.
It’s interesting to know that Santa Maria Formosa links to the Festa delle Marie. Inspired by the olden days tradition, it is now part of the Carnival events. Twelve Venetian girls dress up in period costumes and parade to Piazza San Marco. The jury picks the prettiest participant and awards her the title of Maria of The Year.
History & architecture
In terms of architecture, the church is very exciting to explore. The original building had a Greek cross plan. Yet, the current one has the Latin Cross plan, which creates a unique appearance.
There are also two facades, different in style and even age. The Renaissance-style facade, built in 1542, faces the canal. It pays tribute to Vincenzo Cappello, a sea captain, who was great in his service to Venice. On this facade you won’t see many decorations, just simple and elegant lines. But the significant part of it is a monument of the captain, designed by Domenico di Pietro Grazioli.
The other facade, built in 1604, is of Baroque style and faces the square. It contains portraits of the Cappello family as well as statues depicting the Virgin Mary and the Four Virtues. In 1688, the earthquake destroyed the dome. Later, in 1916 it suffered from the Austrian bombing, and only in 1921 it was rebuilt.
A priest Francesco Zucconi started the design of the current campanile in 1611, and it took 77 years to complete. The interior of the church is interesting too. In 1689, the merchant Torrino Tononi financed its renovation.
If you travel to Venice for the art, don’t hesitate and look this church up on the Venice map. There are a few major and valuable pieces by most renowned Italian painters. At the entrance you’ll notice the Approval of the Order of the Holy Trinity by Baldassare d'Anna. There’s also a small tondo of The Circumcision of Christ by Catena behind the Chorus Desk.
But the most famous paintings are at the Chapels. At the Chapel of the Bombardier School, there is a painting of St. Barbara by Palma the Elder. The Chapel of the Conception is home to Madonna of Misericordia by Bartolomeo Vivarini.
The altarpiece of Santa Maria Formosa is a painting by Giovanni Segala. It depicts The Presentation to the Doge of the Brides Kidnapped by Narentine Pirates. It’s an important piece historically connected to the abovementioned festival.
In the church you can also enjoy the Last Supper by Leandro Bassano and Madonna with Child and St. Dominic by Giambattista Tiepolo.