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Venice > Sightseeing > Madonna dell'Orto

Madonna dell'Orto

Madonna dell'Orto church

ABOVE: Madonna dell'Orto  has been described as "the finest Gothic church in Venice."

Madonna dell'Orto is a church and a parish that most Venice tourists never see. In Venice: A Literary Companion, Ian Littlewood explains what they're missing:

Venice follows the usual law law of tourist cities: the least frequented areas are among the most agreeable. The heart of Cannaregio, into which we are about to step, is still a somewhat isolated region with its own unmistakable atmosphere. As one moves farther north, towards the Madonna dell'Orto, the canals and fondamente grow wider. There is more space, more light, and yet a sense of diminished prosperity. The rhythms of life are slower and more communal than in the swirl of the city centre.

Tintoretto's Church [the Madonna dell'Orto] has a noble brick façade and a graceful interior....but it is probably the church's paintings that draw most visitors out to this northern reach of the city--as they have done for over a hundred years.

The paintings are by Tintoretto, who lived and worked just a few blocks away on the Fondamenta dei Mori.  Hugh Honour, art historian and author of The Companion Guide to Venice, describes Tintoretto's connection to the church:

This was Tintoretto's parish church--he is buried with his family in the chapel to the right of the high altar--and it is rich in his works. On either side of the high altar there are vast paintings of The Worship of the Golden Calf and The Last Judgment, each about fifty feet high. Tintoretto, his fingers itching to fill the empty spaces on these chancel walls, is said to have asked no recompense other than the cost of the materials."

John Ruskin, the 19th Century art critic and social commentator, painted this evocative verbal portrait of The Last Judgment:

...the river of the wrath of God, roaring down into the gulf where the world has melted with its fervent heat, choked with the ruin of nations, and the limbs of its corpses tossed out of its whirling, like water-wheels. Bat-like, out of the holes and caverns and shadows of the earth, the bones gather, and the clay heaps heave, rattling and adhering into half-kneaded anatomies, that crawl, and startle, and struggle up among the putrid weeds, with clay clinging to their clotted hair, and their heavy eyes sealed by the earth-darkness."

Other notable features of the church (besides a plethora of fine paintings) include Tintoretto's tomb (see above) and a statue of a "Madonna of the Garden" (Madonno dell'Orto) in the chapel of San Mauro, which was discovered in a neighboring garden in the late 1300s and was said to possess miraculous powers. The statue served as an excuse to renovate the church, which originally was dedicated to St. Christopher and has been used as a gunpowder magazine, a barn for storing straw, and a stable at various times in its nearly 650 years of existence.

Transportation, hours, and surroundings

See the next two pages for information on how to reach Madonna dell'Orto, when the church is open, and things to see in the vicinity (with photos).

Next page: Visitor information

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden has written about Venice, Italy since 1996. He covered Venice and European travel at for 4-1/2 years before launching Europe for Visitors (including Venice for Visitors) with Cheryl Imboden in 2001.

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