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Titian in the Church of the Madonna della Salute

itinerari

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Each 21 November since 1687 the Venetians have faithfully crossed the bridge of boats on the Grand Canal leading to the Madonna della Salute. Through a quirk of the liturgical calendar, the day of the 'Salute' is always bitterly cold, so no matter how well wrapped up we are, it's quite usual to light an extra candle so we don't catch something during the pilgrimage. The atmosphere of sincere devotion, and especially the festive lighting enhances the beauty of the interior of the temple and its very rich furnishings.
Among the many works of art we might point out this time is a masterpiece by the young Titian. It is a panel, positioned above the altar of the main sacristy, of St Mark enthroned and Saints, executed for the Church of San Spirito in Isola, but transferred here in the late 17th century. On the basis of documentary and iconographic evidence the work has been dated in relation to the plague of 1510, an epidemic so worrying as to justify the placing together of even four saints who could ward off evil (the oft invoked Rocco and Sebastian, with the more unusual doctor saints, Cosma and Damiano).


The majesty of St Mark, who unquestionably reigns over the whole composition, would suggest that the work was commissioned by the Serenissima Republic itself, revealing at the same time its great trust in Titian, then only just turned twenty. This circumstance has inevitably raised questions as to the symbolic value to be assigned to the figure of the patron saint which seems to have been considered by the State as the maximum representative of the Republic. St Mark's obvious authority and his position of superiority over the other saints suggests on Venice's part a voluntary and intentional use, substantially trading on its own religious policy: uninhibited, often intolerant, and always detached from the ecclesiastical hierarchy. But beyond these considerations, what enraptures the spectator are the enchanting colours, the strength of the composition and the physiognomic variations that rise to absolute heights in the unforgettable beauty of St Sebastian. A treasure to discover.

 

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