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An Old Altarpiece for a New Saint: The

An Old Altarpiece for a New Saint:
The Canonization of Santa Maria
Maddalena de’ Pazzi and the
Decoration of
Santa Maria dei Carmini in Venice
Joseph Hammond
n Sunday, 1 September 1669, Pietro Colombina, the Reverend
Father of the Carmini in Venice, led his church in a solemn mass
in commemoration of the canonization of St. Maria Maddalena
de’ Pazzi (Tomada 16, 19). This was the commencement of an octave
of celebrations, which was completed the following Sunday when
Padre Vitto Lepori of the Franciscans officiated.1 De’ Pazzi had been
canonized in Rome on 28 April earlier that year. In the interval between
the canonization and the solennizzazione in September, the Carmelites in
Venice had been preparing for the octave of celebrations that coincided
with the beginning of an indulgence issued by Pope Clement ix.
This article will discuss the decoration of the Carmelite church
in Venice that accompanied the celebrations in honor of de’ Pazzi in
September 1669 and will focus on the foundation and decoration of a
new altar for the new saint.2 The decorations at the Carmini in Venice
for this event were extensive: the church was decked in silks; the pews
were removed so more people could attend; and new works of art
were commissioned that effectively began a generation of renovation
(Tomada 14). A cycle of paintings on the history of the Carmelite Order
had already been started in 1666 when Pietro Liberi’s Presentation of the
Scapular was hung on the clerestory, but it was ultimately completed
by Giustino Menescardi’s Martyrdom of St. Albert of Vercelli in 1745.3 In
1669 for the solemnization of de’ Pazzi, when only Liberi’s work had
so far been installed, the rest of the clerestory walls were filled with a
temporary cycle of paintings on her life. In anticipation of the events in
September, a new side altar was built with accompanying decorations,
and this structure was the focus of the events in September. It was
decorated with a wooden statue of de’ Pazzi by Antonio Rafaelli Forlano,
laterali by Pietro Negri and Pietro Liberi, and two flanking statues in
marble of Elijah and Elisha by Tommaso Rues; all but the last have been
lost. Interestingly, however, the first altarpiece to be installed was not
recorded until 1675, six years after de’ Pazzi’s canonization, and it was a
Renaissance painting originally created and used for another altar with
a different dedication more than 150 years earlier (Mondini 68). This
curious disjuncture between the dedication and the decoration of the de’
Pazzi altar is the focus of my discussion.
EIRC 38 Double Issue (Summer & Winter 2012): 149–168
Fig. 1. Chiesa dei Carmini, eastward view of the nave. Venice.
Photo: Cameraphoto Arte, Venice / Art Resource, NY.
The interesting history of this particular altar has been overlooked
in the art historical literature. This omission is perhaps unsurprising
when we consider that the post-canonization festivities in honor of
Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi as a whole have themselves been entirely
overlooked in the English-language literature, while the Italian literature
has examined only those that occurred in Rome and Florence.4 The
form of canonization and solennizzazione celebrations for new saints
outside Rome in the sixteenth century is a subject that deserves greater
attention, particularly with regards to events that affected or enriched
the visual culture of a given community. The solennizzazione of a recently
canonized saint was a common occurrence across Italy and frequently
involved public processions, special masses, and the commissioning of
ephemera and more permanent works of art (Fagiolo dell’Arco; Casale).
Since the early 1990s, a great deal of literature has been written on
the altarpiece as a format and on its function as a liturgical object.5 The
last twenty years of research have focused on the altarpiece as a type that
is defined by its function, and that function is in turn conditioned by our
understanding of the users. This approach owes much to the work of
anthropologists, such as Arnold van Gennep and Clifford Geertz, who
understood objects, ritual, and the sacred as a means of coming to terms
with troubling times (Gennep; Geertz 3–33; Gell 10–11). Altarpieces
helped users to negotiate perceived power structures between God,
man, and justice and thus to navigate the vicissitudes of life, disease,
accident, and death. The literature has thus focused on the patron as the
main recipient of the salvation offered by the altar and its related events.
This paradigm, in which an altarpiece is understood through its patron
(plural or singular, institutional or individual) who commissioned the
work on behalf of it/him/herself or others, is narrowly concentrated on
the conception of the work and also on relationships that are set at the
beginning between the visual imagery of the altarpiece, the patron and
dedication, as well as the possibilities of intervention in this life and
salvation in the next. Cumulatively, the weight of this literature, like
the weight of customs that guided the use of altarpieces themselves,
is such that it structures our approach to further investigation. Few
scholars have been as radical as Martin Kemp in his recent invention of
a hypothetical typical altarpiece commission to explain the usual pattern.
He constructed this model while apologizing that no two commissions
are exactly alike and none probably looked precisely like the situation
he describes (Kemp 39–41). Nevertheless, his attempt to describe the
standard commission suggests that the paradigm has become so broadly
accepted that it is in danger of obscuring other interpretations and
investigation into objects that do not fit the pattern.
The decoration of the de’ Pazzi altar presents us with an example
of an altarpiece that does not fit the pattern established in the literature:
the patrons and the dedications of the altarpiece and the altar do not
appear to correspond and are separated by 150 years. The community
at the Carmini in the late-seventeenth century was using an altarpiece
that made no formal references to the dedication at all and whose patron
(a confraternity) had long since been defunct.6 This altarpiece did not
mediate the relationship between the devout and their intercessor;
it did not express the characteristics of the saint, illustrate her vita or,
indeed, refer to her at all; nor does it represent or refer to the patron of
this new altar or help to mediate the relationship between patron and
titulus. Finally, as this altarpiece does not visually reference those that
participated in the establishment and endowment of the altar, the usual
implications and benefits of such an action (good works, generosity, and
other devotions conducive to salvation) are not made manifest in the
Fig. 2. Title page, Giuseppe Tomada, Delle sacre pompe carmelitane.
Venice 1669. Institutum Carmelitanum, Rome. Photo: Joseph Hammond.
altarpiece. Is there an art historical (and thus visual) paradigm for
interpreting an altarpiece that bears no connection to its patron or its
altar? As yet, there is none, but a few tentative remarks will be made on
this issue in the concluding section of this article.
We turn now to a closer look of the de’ Pazzi solennizzazione and the
foundation of the altar in 1669. The decorative arrangements made at the
Carmini in the autumn of 1669 are recorded in a pamphlet written by
one of Venice’s Carmelite friars, Giuseppe Tomada. His small book, Delle
sacre pompe Carmelitane, solennizate in Venezia per la Santificazione della Beata
Maria Maddalena de Pazzi, describes the church and its decoration, with
an emphasis on the new works and the ceremonies that commemorated
the new saint. No contemporary or nearly contemporary manuscript
sources have been found that concern the body of works considered in
this article. Tomada’s text, however, provides some fascinating insights
into the church’s decoration and its use in the late 1660s, specifically
for the ceremonies in September that year, but also for the subsequent
generation. Tomada’s pamphlet has not been discussed in the scholarly
work on the Carmini, perhaps due to the fact that very few were likely
printed; there is a single copy at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in
Venice (Misc 2783.005) and another at the Institutum Carmelitanum in
Tomada’s pamphlet is dedicated to the aforementioned Reverend
Father of the Carmini, Pietro Colombina, and was published on 15
September 1669, just after the events it describes occurred. The pamphlet
is bound in paper and is a mere forty-four pages of large type.8 The second
half of the text records hymns and sonetti sung during the celebrations,
many of them composed by Tomada himself, with text borrowed
heavily from various biblical and classical sources (St. Augustine among
them). Unsurprisingly, these dwell on de’ Pazzi’s humility, virginity, and
privileged position as a recipient of divine ecstasy, but none of them are
included in the official Carmelite liturgy that was later written for the
saint, and here they concern us less than the first half of the pamphlet
(Boyce 387–9).
The first half of Tomada’s document is in prose and describes the
decoration of the church and the ceremonies that occurred during the
solennizzazione in early September 1669. It is clearly intended both as
a record of the event and a celebration of the (according to Tomada)
lavish pomp and spectacle. Clearly, too, it is used as a vehicle to praise
the various virtues of the saint, the order as a whole, and the Carmini
in Venice.9 It is hard to know who the intended audience was, but we
may speculate that it was other Carmelite communities, particularly
other foundations across Europe, amongst whom the pamphlet would
surely have been distributed as an encouragement to celebrate their most
recently canonized saint with appropriate pomp.10 The style is one of
reportage, and the content is didactic and promotional of the Venetian
Carmini and de’ Pazzi. In the seventeenth century a large body of
literature describing public events existed. These include canonizations,
solennizazione, and other occasions such as the election of a pope, the
official arrival of important foreigners, the birth of important heirs,
coronations of dukes and kings, or large funerals of dignitaries, and
Tomada’s pamphlet falls into this genre (Fagiolo dell’Arco, Bibliografia
della festa Barocca 12). Probably, it was distributed as a keepsake of the
event to other friaries and convents in Venice that had participated in the
events described. The involvement of other religious communities from
across the city could be interpreted as an intention to spread the cult of
de’ Pazzi beyond the parish of the Carmini.
The Arrangements of the Carmini Before and
After the Canonization
The best account of the arrangement of altarpieces and other church
furniture in the Carmini prior to the canonization of de’ Pazzi is gathered
from the Apostolic Visitation conducted in 1581 (preserved in the
Archivio Segreto Vaticano) and from contemporary printed guidebooks
to the city of Venice, which describe the Carmini as one of the city’s
many attractions. Here these sources will be examined, with Tomada’s
testimony, to establish the arrangement on the north wall before and
after the de’ Pazzi’s altar was added, and to see what light they can shed
on the early history of the altar.
The Carmini was founded in 1286 and was consecrated on 6 April
1348.11 Following the format of mendicant churches across Italy, it was
a three-nave, brick-built Gothic basilica, in this case without transepts.
Early sources describe its Greek marble columns (which resemble those
dated 1361 and 1364 in the nearby church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli,
Venice), and it was distinguished by a fourteenth-century protiro on the
north-east door that is now unique in the city (Ruskin 1:21). Over the
centuries, it had undergone various decorative interventions: the apses
of the east-end were given the semblance of Renaissance styling when
they were clad in classical motifs (which failed to hide their essentially
Gothic proportions and construction), and the façade was similarly, but
more successfully, adapted to a classical vocabulary in the first decade
of the sixteenth century. The biggest change in the appearance of the
church was the 1653 removal of the tramezzo that once filled the upper
church and the construction of a retro-choir and cantarie at the east-end.12
The renovations had been anticipated in the 1630s by the opening of
Diocletian windows on the south wall to allow in more light. Giustiniani
Martinioni comments that these alterations brought much needed light
and clarity to the church, and Tomada also remarked approvingly upon
the new lights (Sansovino and Martinioni 265; Tomada 6). The removal
of the choir-stalls and tramezzo and the opening of more windows—
following the pattern of churches across Italy—moved the Carmini
forcefully from the dark compartmentalized Gothic church it had been
to a lighter, more open and unified one in the Renaissance fashion.
Although the complex was originally Gothic in design, at least four of
the Carmini chapels had been remodeled all’antica by 1600. Half a dozen
confraternities at the church had altarpieces in the western lower-nave
where the tramezzo had stood, and they had a number of patrician tombs
and altars as well.
Figure 1
Santa Maria dei Carmini, Venice.
Approximately 1600
Altar of St Peter
Decoration and patronage
Altar of the Crucifixion
Marble Crucifix
Patronage unknown
Tramezzo and
Choir -stalls
Altar of St Nicholas
Lorenzo Lotto, 1529
Scuola di San Nicolò
Altar of St Albert
Cima da Conegliano,
c. 1512
Scuola di San Alberto
Altar of the Death of the Virgin
Lazzaro Bastiani, c. 1500
Scuola della Speranza
Fig. 3. Plan of Santa Maria dei Carmini, 1600. Copyright: Joseph Hammond.
Figure 2
Santa Maria dei Carmini, Venice.
Approximately 1700
Altar of St Peter
Decoration and patronage
Cantarie, built to replace
the tramezzo and
choir-stalls, 1653.
Altar of the Crucifixion
Marble Crucifix
Patronage unknown
Altar of St Marina
Palma Giovane,
early 17th century.
Altar of de’ Pazzi
Various artists
Altar of St Nicholas
Lorenzo Lotto, 1529
Scuola di San Nicolò
Altar of St Albert
Cima da Conegliano, c.
Scuola di San Alberto
Altar of St Liberale
Andrea Vicentino, 1612
Scuola di San Liberale
Fig. 4. Plan of Santa Maria dei Carmini, 1700. Copyright: Joseph Hammond.
In 1581, according to an apostolic visitation, the altars on the north
side of the church were dedicated in the following manner: on the
counter-façade next to the main door was an altar dedicated to the Death
of the Virgin; the first altar on the north wall was dedicated to St. Albert,
followed by a second dedicated to St. Nicholas and then another dedicated
to the Crucifixion; and the last (in the apse chapel at the west end) was
dedicated to St. Peter. The altar dedicated to the Virgin was decorated by
Lazzaro Bastiani’s Madonna della Misericordia with San Rocco (lost); the St.
Nicholas altarpiece was painted by Lorenzo Lotto and remains in situ;
the Crucifixion altar had a marble crucifix, now lost; and the author of
the St. Peter altarpiece was unrecorded until its redecoration in 1733.
In 1628, a new altar dedicated to St. Marina and decorated by Palma
Giovane was added between the altars of St. Nicholas and the Crucifix,
and this addition was followed in 1653 by the dismantling of the tramezzo
that had divided the nave (Sansovino and Martinioni 263; Boschini, Le
minere della pittura 370).13
The altar dedicated to de’ Pazzi was constructed between the altar
of St. Nicholas and the altar of St. Marina,14 becoming (when counting
west-east) the third altar on the north wall. Prior to 1669, there was no
altar recorded on that site, and the Apostolic Visitation of 1581 describes
only the tramezzo between the St. Nicholas and Crucifix altars (Visita
Apostolica 27v). No mention of an altar or artworks occupying this site
occurs in accounts from the early seventeenth century. Marco Boschini
is especially clear when he described the church in a clockwise manner
after the removal of the barrier in 1664: “opera molto esquisita, di Lorenzo
Lotto Bergamasco. Segue un’altra tavola del Palma” [A most exquisite work
of Lorenzo Lotto Bergamasco. Another painting of Palma follows] (Le
minere della pittura 369). Clearly, Boschini moves from the Lotto to the
Palma without recording anything in between. In fact, the first recorded
description of the use of this site for any artwork is in Tomada’s 1669
pamphlet. Tomada describes the works clustered between the St.
Nicholas and St. Marina altarpieces as follows:
Gl’ Altari tutti riccamente vestiti, e pomposamente adobbati con
candelieri, e lampade d’argento, che continuamente con viue lingue
di fiamma eccitauao [sic] ardori di diuozione. L’Altare della Santa
eretto dalla pietà, e generosità diuota del R. P. Zaccaria Vai à proprie
spese è bellissimo situato dalla parte sinistra della Chiesa dirimpetto di
quello della Madonna d’architettura moderna di finissimi marmi con
colonne di Affricano d’ordine Corinto. Questo era douiziosamente
ornato dal frontespicio fino all’vltimo bassamento con diuersi pezzi
d’argento lauorati d’intaglio; ventiquattro candelieri pur d’argento,
che sostentando ventiquattro candelotti di due libre l’vno, che sempre
ardeuano, formauano ricco, e splendidissimo abellimento, da lati dritto,
e sinistro due bellissimi quadri, nell’vno il Crocifisso / dipinto, che
togliendosi dal costato il cuore; lo donaua regalo diuino alla sua Sposa
Maddalena, che spasimando per amore del suo Dio quasi suenuta veniua
sostentata da vn’Angelo, che nell’ilarilà [sic]del sembiante esprimeua il
contento, che godea in seruir [sic] di bracciere all’innamorata del suo
Giesù. / Nell’altro compariua la Santa sostenuta pure da vn Serafino, & il
gran Padre S. Agostino, che nel foglio del cuore con penna della colomba
del Giordano gli scriueua. Verbum caro factum est. (Tomada 15–16)15
This energetic description is clearly intended to inspire the reader
with the sumptuousness of the altar and its provisions. The large number
of candles is especially impressive. What is really striking, however, is
that while Tomada documents the presence of a previously unrecorded
altar, its patron, and its lateral decorations, he omits any description of
the altarpiece.
The altar was not without an altarpiece for long, however. In 1675
Francesco Mondini, another friar of the Carmini, describes the sequence
of paintings heading east along the north wall and is even thoughtful
enough to provide (rather unreliable) dates (Mondini 68–9).16 After
Lorenzo Lotto’s St. Nicholas altarpiece, he writes:
La tauola detta la Speranza hoggi altare dedicato a S. M. Maddalena è
di Lazzaro Sebastiani / 1669. La statua di S. M. Maddalena è d’antonio
Rafaelli Forlano. / 1673. Il quadro alla destra di detto altare è del Cau:
Liberi. / 1674 Il quadro alla Sinistra di detto Altare con Christo, & la
Santa è di Pietro negri Veneto. (Mondini 68–9)17
A second report of this arrangement is found in a guidebook to
Venice written by Piero Pacifico in 1697; he states that “La misericordia
sù l’altar di S Maria Maddalena è opera di Lazaro Sebastiani” (Pacifico
455–6).18 Lazzaro Bastiani (aka Sebastiani), who died in 1512, was not
miraculously resurrected to fulfill this commission as the dates might
initially suggest (Ridolfi 1:49–51; Zampetti 1:24; di Giampaolo). Rather,
an old altarpiece (sadly now lost) was re-used to decorate a new altar.
Bastiani’s altarpiece was later replaced following a rededication in 1815
of Lattanzio Querena’s St. Anthony of Padua altarpiece (Paoletti 3:118;
Niero 50).
An altarpiece by Bastiani was described in the Carmini in 1581 by
Sansovino who provides an uncustomarily long description: “Vi dipinse
anco Lazaro de Sebastiani la Misericordia col Dio Padre, che lancia saette con S.
Rocco à guazzo” (Sansovino and Martinioni 262). According to Mondini,
the altarpiece used on the de’ Pazzi altar had been called “la Speranza”
and we know a confraternity called the Scuola di Speranza, dei tedeschi
tessitori di fustagno had used an altar dedicated to the Death of the Virgin
on the counter-façade to the north of the main door (Vio 823). The
confraternity had gone bankrupt in 1583, and in 1612 their altar was
taken over by a new society dedicated to St. Liberale, who promptly
redecorated their altar with a work by Andrea Vicentino that year.19 Aside
from Mondini and Piero Pacifico, no one records an altarpiece being
present until Querena’s canvas is installed in 1815.
It would appear that in 1612 Bastiani’s altarpiece was removed from
its location on the counter-façade and by 1675, when it is recorded by
Mondini, had been placed on the altar recently dedicated to de’ Pazzi.
From at least 1675, the altar was decorated with a painting that did not
depict the titulus and made no obvious reference to her cult, vita, devotions
or patronage; Bastiani’s altarpiece featured a misericordia with St. Rocco
lancing a boil with God the Father and not the Florentine saint.
The Celebrations
In accounts of the celebrations in September 1669, no mention of an
altarpiece appears at all. The obvious conclusion is that when Tomada’s
Delle sacre pompe carmelitane went to print just four months after de’
Pazzi’s canonization, the friars of the Carmini simply had not yet
commissioned one; and as we have seen, they had still not commissioned
one almost thirty years later. Although not an essential component of
altars, altarpieces were nevertheless amongst the most important items
decorating and used with altars, and the custom was such that they were
virtually indispensable (Humfrey, The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 62;
Gardner 10–11; Williamson 370–71). That the Carmelites would have
commissioned dozens of works for the rest of the church but not the
keystone of the altar’s decoration, and that this major liturgical event
would have gone on without it seem incredible.The placement of the
Bastiani remains problematic for another reason: a principle function
(though not strictly a requirement of canon law) of an altarpiece was
to declare unambiguously the dedication of the altar (Humfrey, The
Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 62; Gardner 10–11; Williamson 370–71).
Similarly, the role of the altarpiece was to guide the prayers and thoughts
of the devoted, to act as a focus for their minds when contemplating
the mysteries of their faith and when engaging in the mass. Bastiani’s
Misericordia with St. Roch, because it makes no reference to de’ Pazzi,
could not achieve either of these goals during its tenure on the altar.
Why, when so much of the rest of the church is being lavishly
decorated, when a new altar is founded with “finissimi marmi” (Tomada
15), do they not commission a new altarpiece? Clearly, the Bastiani
altarpiece was too valuable and useful an object to simply throw away,
but the Carmelites had only a few years earlier donated a number of
works to a new church (founded 1647) dedicated to St. Theresa just a
stone’s throw away, and they could have done the same with the Bastiani
(Zanetti 245; Zanotto 418–19; Schulz 133; Bassi 233–42). Perhaps
there was no altarpiece for the solennizzazione because there had not
been time to have one commissioned and installed. The three months
between the canonization in April and the solennizzazione in September
are not sufficient for an altarpiece to be commissioned, completed, and
installed, as this process could take as long as a year or more (Humfrey,
The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 137), but the short time period does
not explain why, decades later in 1697, they still had not installed a new
Quite possibly, the Carmelites had hoped to inspire the foundation of
a new confraternity in honor of their new saint (Black 23–57; Boaga 655–
716). No record in the archives of the Consiglio di dieci of a confraternity
dedicated to de’ Pazzi being established at the Carmini exists, but
Tomada does imply that one had existed when he uses the phrase “della
nostra Confraternità” on page twenty.20 Perhaps, the Carmelites waited in
vain for a new confraternity to take up responsibility for the permanent
decoration and maintenance of the altar.21 In the meanwhile, the Bastiani
panel was used.
Nevertheless, the dedication of the altar, the vita of de’ Pazzi, and
her special intercessionary powers and claims to sanctity were indicated
via other means. In the descriptions quoted above, three other art
works decorated the altar. There were two laterali by Pietro Negri and
Pietro Liberi of the Eternal Father, the Virgin and Child and de’ Pazzi and
Christ Writing ‘Et Verbum Caro factum’ on the heart of Maria Maddalena de’
Pazzi, respectively. However, the principle focus for the devotions of
the faithful may have been more centrally placed. The wooden statue
of de’ Pazzi made by Antonio Rafaelli Forlano, as recorded in 1675 in
Mondini, is likely to have been the focus of the ceremonies and prayers
of the faithful because it stood on the altar, almost certainly in a central
position (Mondini 69; Moschini 2:262).22 The portability of the statue
must also have been a boon since the statue could continue to be the
focus of the ceremonies as it was paraded around the western half of the
city. This artist is of such a minor stature that he is entirely unmentioned
in any of the major sources on Venetian Seicento sculpture (see especially
Bacchi; Semenzato). Both Mondini and Tomada mention works that
were created by the friars themselves, and likely, Forlano was one such
amateur. The wooden statue remained on the altar until at least 1815,
when it was seen there by Giannantonio Moschini, who commented
that it was not a good work (Moschini 2:262).
Regardless of its perceived artistic merit, Forlano’s lost statue had
an important function in addition to representing the titulus of the
altar. It was used prominently in the procession on the final day of the
Carmini’s octave of celebrations on Sunday, 8 September 1669 (Tomada
21). Tomada describes how “vn numero innumerabile di popolo formaua la
Processione” round the western end of the city, first going north past the
Friary to San Simeon Grande, then heading west to San Andrea della
Ziranda and south again to San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, stopping at Santa
Teresa before returning via San Raffaele to the Carmini (20–24). The
procession was led first by a standard painted with an image of the Virgin
Mary and then by a statue of de’ Pazzi carried aloft by the gonfaloniere of a
confraternity (Tomada does not say which confraternity).23
Forlano’s statue no doubt began and ended its peregrinations at the
altar of the mystic. This lost work thus had a central role, if not the
most important role in the octave of ceremonies. Not only did it stand in
place of an altarpiece, declaring the dedication, it also led the procession
through the city and was thus amongst the first point of contact with the
cult of the saint for many of the people who, Tomada records, turned
out to watch:
Le strade, e finestre per doue passò la Processione, comparuero tutte
adornate di tapezzarie di Fiandra, di Tapeti di seta, e di tanti quadri
d’esquisiti pennelli, che ben si conobbe quanto di prezioso conferui ne’suoi
recinti Venezia . . . Fù poi così grande la frequenza del popolo nel giorno
della processione, che le gran piazze, le molte strade, le finestre di case, e
palazzi non era capace di riceuerlo, onde si vedeuano fino sopra i tetti; Tutti
i canali occupati da gondole ripiene di Dame, e Cauallieri, In fine fù così
dire infinita.24
The statue was carried in front of a series of relics held by the church
(relics of Sts. Simon Stock, Albert, Elisha, and Cordelia).25 The statue
of the newly canonized Florentine mystic might have been called upon
to perform a similar function as the relics, in cases where no relics were
available. Processions of relics were common in Renaissance Venice;
for corroboration one need only recall how often the miraculous
occurrences that accompanied them have been commemorated in art.26
These processions were public events that can be understood as an
outreach program to the people of the city and as a public act of worship
that helped secure the benevolence of God, as well as the intercession of
the saints in this life and the next.
Tomada, Mondini, Pacifico, and Moschini are the only writers
who record the wooden statue of de’ Pazzi (Moschini 2:262; but see
also Pacifico 456; Niero 51; Semenzato 89). After Pacifico’s description,
none of the sources mention the altarpiece by Bastiani again, but it likely
remained on the altar until it was replaced by Querena’s St. Anthony of
Padua in 1815, following the rededication of the altar. The descriptive
accounts of Venetian churches that began with Sansovino’s Venetia città
nobilissima were in various guises a celebration of the city. Sansovino’s
book says relatively little about paintings and even less about statuary,
and is more a portrait of the institutions of the city and its famed
constitution. The intention is to demonstrate political stability and
justice, as well as the commercial, religious, and intellectual wealth of the
Serenissima. With these motivations in mind, one is perhaps not surprised
that interest in recording works of great artists and of the recent fashion
continues. At the time of Sansovino’s writing in 1581, the churches of
Venice would still have been filled with a veritable profusion of Gothic
decoration and medieval art works, but he consistently overlooks these
to concentrate instead on the works of the Venetian Renaissance of
the generation before him. Each subsequent generation of writers and
their work, including Carlo Ridolfi’s response to Vasari, Le maravaglie
dell’Arte, demonstrates a similar concern to privilege modern and painted
works over medieval and sculpted pieces. It thus comes as no surprise
that a work by Lazzaro Bastiani, a lesser artist working in the shadow of
Bellini, and a wooden statue by the otherwise unknown Forlano should
be overlooked by the writers of later centuries. The partiality of previous
writers has obscured the role that the altarpiece and its figurative partner
played in the decoration of de’ Pazzi’s altar.
Despite the wealth of literature that has been written in the last twenty
years on altarpieces, on their function, format, structure, patronage,
and iconography, no paradigm exists for the use of an altarpiece over an
altar to which it has no previous connection. Indeed, most functional
interpretations rely on the specificity of the imagery to the cult.
Similarly, most interpretations that examine patronage are concerned
with the specificity of the iconography, and the sort of anthropological
interpretation inspired by the work of Alfred Gell usually seeks to
contextualize the art work with issues of faith or society that are highly
specific (Gell 16–20). The example examined here has few, if any,
published precedents.
The inevitable conclusion is that there were other methods of
achieving the purposes that altarpieces were intended to fulfill. Clearly,
altarpieces functioned in co-operation with other art works, which may
have been of lesser artistic merit but were highly appreciated by the
devoted community they served. A great deal of excellent literature on
Venetian altarpieces and their relationship to the dedication and structure
of altars exists, but relatively little has been done on what have heretofore
been considered peripheral items. A few prominent exceptions occur,
but even these studies have considered each aspect and its relationship
to the altar largely independently of other items.27 Perhaps, the time has
come for sources such as Tomada’s to be reconsidered for what they can
tell us about the combined artifacts around an altar and their combined
uses, in the regular mass, in divine offices and in extra-liturgical events.
Perhaps, we need look no further than the Carmelites, an order
dedicated to poverty and accustomed to arguing about its antiquity, for a
simple reason why an old altarpiece may have been re-used. They may
have hoped to indicate their poverty by demonstrably not commissioning
new decoration, although the costly marbles and lavish ephemera would
surely have revealed to any critical observer the true cost of the endowment.
No confraternity took over the decoration of the altar, although one is
likely to have been intended. After 1650, no new confraternities were
founded at the Carmini, and no private patronage of an altarpiece, chapel
or tomb occurred between 1620 and the suppression of the monastery
in 1806. During the seventeenth century, the Carmelites themselves
undertook the decoration of the church and its altars. They did so to
create an increasingly unified church interior with matching altarframes
and altarpieces and to promote their own saints. Their achievement is
most obvious in the two apse chapels that flank the high altar. They
make an impressive pair with matching altarframes, and both altarpieces
display prominent Carmelite coats-of-arms in the foreground (Pandolfo
69–70). The altar of de’ Pazzi was also commissioned and decorated by
a friar-priest; the Carmelite Zaccaria Vai is reported by Tomada to have
endowed the altar and paid for its decoration. The rise of institutional selfpatronage in this period is matched by the decline of private and corporate
patronage as the personal and civic wealth of the city declined following
international developments in trade and markets.28 This development
appears to have affected the other mendicant orders equally, as they too
faced increasing competition for patronage from the new orders and
organizations established in the wake of the Counter-Reformation. The
fledgling Jesuits in particular were increasingly assuming center stage as
the great preachers and spiritualists of the Church Militant.
The figure of the Virgin of Charity represented by the Misericordia
type (in this case accompanied by St. Roch) is employed here as the great
mediatrix; in the process, she displaces de’ Pazzi: a highly problematic
development according to the current discourse on altarpiece imagery.
The history of the altarpiece dedicated to de’ Pazzi at the Venice
Carmini has been outlined above for the first time, and new sources
have been brought to the attention of the scholarly community. The
relationship between altar dedication and altarpiece at the de’ Pazzi
altar does not fit neatly into the usual paradigm for understanding how
these objects interacted, and suggests that our reliance on the model of
function and patronage needs to be expanded to include a wider variety
of situations. The importance of altar objects other than the altarpiece as a
means of identification, dedication, and devotion has also been discussed
here. The situation at the Carmini in 1669 was unlikely unique, and
further study of such altar-altarpiece pairings will surely reveal many
similar situations found repeated at altars elsewhere in Venice and across
Thanks for this article are due to Arnold Witte, Guendalina Serafinelli,
and Sarah Schell for their help, as well as to the National Gallery of Art’s
Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C. I was
welcomed by both the Institutum Carmelitana in Rome and the Carmelite
Institute in Washington, D.C. The libraries of these three institutions and the
advice of these scholars proved invaluable in shaping this article.
1. Menzies 304–05; Butler, Thurston, and Attwater 2:416–19; Bibliotheca Sanctorum
8:1107–31; Saggi 276–94; Farmer 270; Boyce 387.
2. For a discussion of her iconography, see Emond 1:181–5; Bibliotheca Sanctorum
8:1129; Pacini, “Contributi per l’iconografia di Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi” 279–
350; Pacini, “Fasto barocco” 375–8; Pacini, Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi 35–48; Saggi 292–4.
3. These are recorded in early accounts from Boschini onwards: Boschini, Le
ricche minere D46. See also the more recent publications: Ivanoff 65–9; Niero 57–8;
Moretti and Savini Branca 28; Ruggeri 172, cat. no. 129. None of these accounts has
noted the existence of an earlier temporary cycle dedicated to de’ Pazzi that preceded the
permanent one currently in situ.
4. For this fascinating and growing area of study, see Tassini; Padoan Urban 145–
55; Tamassia Mazzarotto; Muir; Bella, Zompini, and Busetto; Fenlon, The Ceremonial
City; Fenlon, Piazza San Marco 87–107.
5. A sample of only the most significant would include: Os; Hope; Humfrey, The
Altarpiece 57–87; Gardner 5–40; Williamson 341–406. There has, since Jacob Burckhardt,
always been some interest in the format and a steady trickle of publications that dealt
with it directly: Burckhardt; Bishop 20–39.
6. For the patronage of confraternities, and especially scuole piccole, in Venice,
see the important articles by Humfrey, “The Venetian Altarpiece” and “Competitive
Devotions”; Humfrey and MacKenney.
7. Tomada describes himself in the text as a Carmelite friar of Venice, beyond
which nothing is known of him.
8. Although this is fairly large for this genre of text, which were commonly only
eight to sixteen pages long, occasionally examples can be found that were as long as 100
pages or more (Fagiolo dell’Arco, Bibliografia della festa Barocca 12).
9. He praises his home church on three counts, firstly that it was ancient (he
claims it was 500 years, when in fact it was only 383); secondly for the large number of
great and holy men buried within its walls; and finally because it was the home of works
by the “primi pennelli” of the city (Tomada 6).
10. De’ Pazzi, following St. Teresa of Avila, was only the second saint of the order
to be canonized.
11. A plaque on the north wall records:
anno d[omi]ni mcccxlviii ind/icio’e sexta decima die / sexta aprilis
[con]secrata avit/ i[nfra]s[cripta]ta eclesia p[er] rev[e]r[e]ndu/m
p[er] rem d[omi]n[u]m fr[atr]em marchu/m marello ep[iscopu]m
dome[nes]ce/ssem ord[in]is carmeli s/ex alios ep[isc]o[po]s t[em]p[o]
r[e] priorat/us a[nim]ar[um] catherini de ve/neciis (Cicogna 2:902).
From the sixteenth century onwards, the foundation date is recorded in chronicles
and histories too numerous to recount here.
12. Sansovino and Martinioni 265; Niero 22; Libera 220; Moretti and Savini
Branca 23.
13. Palma Giovane’s altar of St. Marina has also been lost, but see the entries in
Ivanoff and Zampetti 579, cat. no. 330; Mason Rinaldi 127, cat. no. 437.
14. Brown, Humfrey, and Lucco 165–7; Aikema and Brown 466, cat. no. 127; Villa
124, cat. no. 11.
15. The common long “s,” has been rendered here as a modern “s,” but the casual
application of “u” and “v” has been maintained as it is in the original. Translation:
The altars, richly embellished and pompously adorned with candlesticks
and silver lamps, which with tongues of flame continually roused ardors of
devotion. The altar of the saint, erected through the piety and generosity
of the Reverend Father Zaccaria Vai at his own expense, is very beautiful,
situated on the right side of the church, directly in front of that of the
Madonna, a product of modern architecture with fine Corinthian columns
of African marble. This was richly adorned from the frontispiece [i.e., the
pediment over the altar] to the very bottom, engraved with various pieces
of silver; 24 candlesticks, also of marble, which supported 24 candles, each
weighing two pounds, which were always burning, formed a rich and
splendid ornament on the right side. And on the left there were two very
beautiful paintings, one of the crucified Christ, removing his heart from
his side and giving it as a divine gift to his spouse, Mary Magdalen, who,
languishing with love for her God and almost swooning, is supported by an
angel, who in the joyfulness of his countenance expressed the contentment
he enjoyed in serving as escort to the beloved of Jesus. In the other
painting the Saint was again supported by a seraph, and the great father, St.
Augustine, who in the center of the page was writing with a feather from the
dove that appeared at the Jordan: Verbum caro factum est [the Word was made
flesh]. (All translations from Italian in this article by Charles Fantazzi.)
16. Mondini claims that Jacopo Tintoretto’s Presentation of Christ in the Temple was
painted in 1512, a date which would be very remarkable considering his birth date is
usually placed around 1519.
17. (“The painting called ‘Hope’ today on the altar dedicated to Saint Mary
Magdalen, is by Lazzaro Sebastiani. 1699. The statue of Saint Mary Magdalen is by
Antonio Rafaellin Forlano. 1670. The painting on the right side of the said altar is by
Cau. Liberi. 1674. The painting on the left side of the altar with Christ and saints is by
Pietro [N]egri Veneto”).
18. Pacifico goes on to add on the following page: “quello di s. Maria Maddalena
de Pazzi, che oltre la finezza de marmi macchiati, vi sono due bellissime figure di marmo
ai lati di esso, l’vna d’Elia, l’altra d’Eliseo, e sù l’altar quella della Santa ben intagliata di
legno” (Pacifico 455–6) (“that of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, which besides the
refinement of the dappled marble, there are two very beautiful marble figures around it,
one of Elijah, the other of Elisha, and on the altar the figure of Santa Maria Maddalena,
well carved in wood”).
This is the only pre-twentieth century description of the statues of Elijah and Elisha
that flank the altar. See also: Niero 51; Semenzato 89; Moretti and Savini Branca 25.
19. This work, now on the north wall and thus also no longer over the altar on
the counter façade, is well described in the accounts and is signed and dated “Andrea
Vicentino f. mdcxii.”
20. This may refer to the Confraternity of the Carmelite Scapular established at
the end of the sixteenth century.
21. The Carmelites could have commissioned an altarpiece earlier than the
canonization, after she was beatified, or even earlier in anticipation that she would soon
be so honored. Beatification usually meant that certain communities or nations/citystates were permitted to venerate a saint and that canonization was merely a universal
acceptance of the cult. Nevertheless, dedicating altars to individuals who are not
canonized or otherwise permitted contravened canon law, but this law was occasionally
ignored (Williamson 361). For further examples, see Buckton and Osborne 45; Meilman
77–8; Leone de Castris 176; Gilbert.
22. We know it was small enough to have occupied this position because it is
described being carried in procession by Tomada; see below.
23. “Precedeua vn bellissimo Stendardo bianco, nel quale come in campo di
Gigli fra diuersi groppi di Angioletti si vedeua la nostra Santa Vergine . . . della nostra
Confraternità . . . il Confalone . . . con la statua nel mezo della Santissima Vergine con
la pacienza in mano” (Tomada 20) (“a beautiful white standard was at the head of the
procession, in which in a field of lilies among groups of angels one could see the Virgin
with a scapular in her hand”).
24. Translation:
The streets and windows where the procession passed appeared to be all
adorned with Flemish tapestries, silk carpets, and many painting of excellent
workmanship, so that one could well see how many treasures Venice
preserves within its boundaries. Moreover, the crowds of people along the
route were so great that the large piazzas, the many streets, the windows of
the houses, and the palazzi were not capable of containing them, and you
could see them even on the rooftops. All the canals were crowded with
gondolas, filled with damsels and noblemen. It was, so to speak, endless.
25. Given the importance of relics for the foundation of altars, it is perhaps
noteworthy that nowhere is the church recorded possessing a relic of de’ Pazzi.
26. See especially the major narrative cycles of the late fifteenth century in the
Accademia and in the Scuola Grande di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Also, see P. F.
Brown’s Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio.
27. We should acknowledge some excellent examples of attempts to synthesize
other items with the decorative scheme and function of the altarpiece: Dendy passim;
Nova 177–89; Worthen 707–32; Matile passim.
28. This trend, however, is probably also linked to the increasing demands of
theological orthodoxy in the wake of the Counter-Reformation.
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