Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari ★★

"The Madonna Enthroned with Saint Andrew, Saint Nicolas, Saint Paul, and Saint Peter" (1487) a polyptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
'The Madonna Enthroned with Saint Andrew, Saint Nicolas, Saint Paul, and Saint Peter' (1487) a polyptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini

The Titians, Bellini, and Donatello in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Nothing against the "St. Mary in Glory" part of the name, but Venetians usually just call this famous church "I Frari."

That's because it was built by the frari (Venetian dialect for frati, or "brothers") of the Franciscan order.

Done in the 13th/14th–century Gothic style (and rebuilt in the middle 1400s), the interior of the church is plain and cavernous (90m long!) in the style typical of the simple Franciscans.

The carved marble rood screen in the center of the church and the 124 elaborate wooden stalls of the Monk's Choir beyond both date to late 15th century.

I Frari does manage, despite its spareness, to house several artistic masterpieces.

The Titian paintings

There are two great works by Titian in the Frari. As there are surprisingly few true masterpieces by Titian anywhere in his own hometown, this is significant. It is also quite nice, since the painter himself is buried here (we'll get to that).

The most striking of the two is the Assumption of the Virgin, over the main altar, glowing with gold and painted in 1518.

In Titian's Madonna di Ca' Pesaro (1519/26), on the left aisle, Titian broke with tradition (and presaged the baroque style) by not planting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the center of the painting surrounded by others, but rather placing them among the swirl of all the figures, allowing for a more dynamic composition.

Touchingly, Titian's wife actually posed for the figure of Mary, but sadly died soon afterward in childbirth.

Titian painted this work for the Pesaro family, long one of the richest in Venice (as a visit to their family palace, Ca' Pesaro, will prove).

This painting was commissioned by Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos and commander of the Vatican fleet under Pope Alexander VI. (One assumes he is the man in the red robe kneeling before the gaggle of Pesaro family members in the bottom right corner—casting patrons as bystanders to holy events like this was a classic Renaissance fashion of simultaneously emphasizing their piousness while also showing off who paid for the painting.)

However, it was a later scion of the family, Giovanni Pesaro, who would eventually become doge (albeit breifly: September 1658–March 1659), and his ornate tomb now decorates the third bay on the left aisle of the church.

Bellini, Donatello, and Vivarini

The church's other masterworks include Giovanni Bellini's 1488 Madonna and Child triptych, in the sacristy (take the door on the right as you face the altar).

There are also several nice works by the Vivarini clan, and the only sculpture by Donatello in Venice: A very human-looking painted wood St. John the Baptist in the chapel just to the right of the main altar.

The tombs of Titian and Canova

The grandiose tombs of two famous Venetians are also here.

In the second bay on the left aisle is an un-missable cenotaph (monumental pyramid) honoring the Italian sculptor Canova, who died in 1822 after leading the Neoclassical revolution in art. His mummified heart is preserved in a porphyry urn inside. 

Ironically, this tomb design was adapted, by Canova's students, from a monument the sculptor had intended for Titian's tomb—which is located directly across the nave. (Titian died in 1576 during a plague.)

However, the great painter's memorial—also designed by Canova's pupils—ended up instead as a classical-style archway topped by the winged lion of St. Mark.

Photo gallery
  • The Glorious Basilica of St. Mary of Frari, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • The nave, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by ho visto nina volare)
  • Monument to Doge Giovanni Pesaro (1665–69). The monument was commissioned by the Doge Leonardo Pesaro nephew. It was built from 1665 to 1669. The Doge had left 12,000 ducats for its realization. The Project Manager was chosen Baldassarre Longhena. The man, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Didier Descouens)
  • Monument to Canova. In 1794 Antonio Canova designed and built a model for the tomb of Titian, but there were many difficulties in raising the necessary funds for the construction, so that in 1822, the year of Canova
  • The entrance in Istrian stone to the choir of the brothers. 1475 work from the workshop of Pietro Lombardo. In frames, bas-reliefs, representing Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament. The last frame on the bottom right is the sponsor, Giacomo Moros, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Didier Descouens)
  • The Monk
  • Monk
  • Monument dedicated to Titian (1843–52) by Luigi, Andrea & Pietro Zandomeneghi, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Dimitris Kamaras)
  • The cloisters, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton)
  • , Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Mister No)
  • Monument to Doge Tron by Antonio Rizzo, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • Presbytery of the Glorious Basilica of St. Mary of Frari, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • The apse, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
  • Tomb of the Doge Francesco Foscari, Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Italy (Photo by Zairon)
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Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long does I Frari take?

Visiting the church only takes about 20 minutes, but it makes for a cool and relaxing respite from the jostle and crowds of Venetian alleys and famous sights, so you might want to just sit and relax on a pew.

Free tours in summer

In the summer high season, volunteers sometimes offer free tours in English; check ahead of time.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).