This painting by Paolo Veneziano is in the Chapter Hall of the Frari. From the main sanctuary, walk through the Sacristy (where the great Bellini altarpiece is) and into this Hall which has windows overlooking the former monastery’s cloisters. The painting is over the funeral monument for Doge Francesco Dandolo and shows the Doge and his wife being presented to the Virgin and Child by Saints Francis and Elizabeth. The Christ Child’s hand is raised, blessing the Doge. Painted in 1339, this is probably the first portrait of a Doge that was painted from real life and also might be the oldest painting in Venice that remains “in situ” (in the place for which the artist painted it).
Paolo Veneziano (Paul the Venetian) isn’t the first Venetian artist but he’s the first with a name and a recognizable style. Before him, there were a number of anonymous artists making mosaics, and painting frescoes and icons. He lived from 1290-1362 and was a contemporary of the Tuscan artist Giotto who revolutionized painting a few miles away in Padua.
Paolo’s paintings are colorful with lots of gold and brocade and show elements of both the older Byzantine and the emerging Gothic styles. He was one of the first artists in Venice to paint on panel and make altarpieces and polyptychs instead of painting frescoes right on the church walls. He painted lots of "Madonna and Childs" and "Virgins Enthroneds" as well as crucifixions on panels in the shape of a cross.
Under the painting, there are two busts, and every time I go back to this Chapter Hall, I do a double take when I see the bust on the right because it looks so much like JFK! It’s not though – it’s San Pio X who was Patriarch of Venice from 1893-1903 and then Pope from 1903-1914. He became a saint in 1954 and was the first pope to be canonized since the 17th century. He’s quite loved in Venice and you see his image all over the churches there, but it’s only this Frari bust that looks like JFK.
A couple of other quirky resemblances in the Frari. Gary Wills, author of Venice: Lion City, noted that the Saint Dominic in the Bellini painting looks like Sean Connery (and he does!). And the Time Out guidebook points out that the lion on Canova’s tomb looks just like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz (and it does!). Check them out next time you're in the Frari.
Here’s another work by Paolo Veneziano – his Virgin and Child Enthroned in the Accademia.
And here's a close-up of JFK (for Kim!):