Santa Maria Formosa

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North facade of the Santa Maria Formosa church
Main facade of the Santa Maria Formosa church
The polyptych Saint Barbara with Pietà and saints is considered a major work by Palma il Vecchio .
Mask relief on the campanile

Santa Maria Formosa is a Catholic Church in Venice . It is located in the Castello district ( Sestiere ) on Campo Santa Maria Formosa. In its current form, it dates from the Renaissance period.


The church is said to have been founded in the 7th century by Bishop Magnus , who came from Oderzo , after the well-formed ( formosa , hence the name) Virgin Mary appeared to him in a dream, who asked him to have a church dedicated to her at this point. The building was redesigned several times in the 9th and 12th centuries. A Byzantine type central dome was built over the plan of a Greek cross . It was about half the size of St. Mark's Basilica .

After the medieval church was already in a bad state of construction, it was decided in 1492 to have a new building built by Mauro Codussi . This was carried out in forms of the early Renaissance . Since Codussi died in 1504 before the facade was finished, the Capello family had it erected in 1542 by an unknown master for their glorification and as a funerary monument. In 1604 the same family had the north facade facing the Campo built. Many scuole (brotherhoods) had their altars and chapels in the church. For example, the Brotherhood of the Offering (founded in 933), that of the box maker, the fruit trader, the gun foundry and the Holy Trinity, which was founded in 1604 to collect alms for the ransom of slaves. In 1668 the dome had to be replaced because it collapsed in an earthquake. The campanile was built in the middle of the 17th century. Every year on February 2nd ( Mariä Candlemas ), Doge and Signoria went to the church in a solemn boat procession. They were accompanied by 12 adorned young women. This festival marked the liberation of the brides, who had been stolen by Istrian pirates in 944, by the box makers of Santa Maria Formosa.

During the First World War, the church suffered severe damage from an Austrian bomb in 1916, so that the dome had to be rebuilt in 1921.

Building description

Codussi's design of a three - aisled cross- domed church above a Latin cross fits harmoniously into the ground plan of the Greek cross of the previous church, which was rebuilt in the 12th century. The main facade by Domenico di Pietro Grazioli da Salò facing the canal still has the portal of the previous church from the 12th century. It is framed by Ionic columns and carries a sarcophagus with the statue of Capitane Generale da Mar, Vincenzo Capello, who died in 1541. Weapons belonging to the Capello family can be seen along the entire length of the facade. The baroque north facade, built in 1604, is structured by Corinthian pillars and Ionic columns. There is a rose window and the gable above the portal. Three members of the family are also immortalized here by busts. At the entrance to the Campanile there is a relief of a grimacing mask, which John Ruskin particularly disliked: “Large, inhuman and monstrous - with a lascivious and animal grin - too repulsive to be drawn or written on ... this head carries the evil spirit in himself, to which Venice fell ”.


The interior of the church captivates with the light effect of its white and gray tones and the expanse of the room that opens up on all sides. Important works of art in the church are the Triptych of Mercy by Bartolomeo Vivarini (1473), influenced by Andrea Mantegna , the polyptych Saint Barbara with Pieta and saints from 1523 is considered a major work by Palma il Vecchio , opposite is Leandro Bassano's Last Supper from the end of the 16th century Century, furthermore a Madonna with St. Francis of Assisi of Palma il Giovane and Our Lady of Consolation or Lepanto , a Veneto-Cretan icon of the 16th century. The painting "Madonna with Child and Saint Domenicus" by Domenico Tiepolo is still in the church oratory .

The church is part of the chorus , an association of over 15 churches in Venice.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa. In: Retrieved December 7, 2019 (Italian).


  • The churches of Venice - a museum in the city . Marsilio, Venice 2002
  • DuMont visual travel guide Venice . DuMont, Cologne 2003
  • The Towers of Venice , Tudy Sammartini, Daniele Resini, Hirmer Verlag 2002, ISBN 3-7774-9440-2

Web links

Commons : Santa Maria Formosa (Venice)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 45 ° 26 ′ 13 ″  N , 12 ° 20 ′ 28 ″  E