There are a bunch of churches in Venice that look so beautiful from the side or back but not so hot from the front, and this is one of them. Jan Morris (The World of Venice) wrote, “The back of San Nicolo da Tolentino looks like an Edwardian battleship, with barbettes, bulwarks, flying bridges, and catwalks” so in December, I went to check and took the photo above. I have no clue what she’s talking about, maybe because I’ve never seen an Edwardian battleship, but I think the church is lovely from this angle with that pinkish glow and nice campanile. The façade is a different story.
After the Sack of Rome in 1527, many refugees fled to the safety of Venice including the Theatine Order (which included a future saint and a future pope). They settled in an oratory and then later in the century, built this church (1591-1602).
The façade, a majestic neo-classical temple front, wasn’t added until about a hundred years later and it was never finished as you can see by that brick part sticking up from the top. This is one of a number of Venetian churches with unfinished façades – most of these were 17th century or so when the Republic was in full scale decline; I’m guessing that they just ran out of money. This could have been a gorgeous facade but it just looks tacked on to me.
Even so, the inside is impressive with some good art and “super-abundant stucco ornaments” as Lorenzetti said. There’s a high altar by Longhena (the architect who built Santa Maria della Salute) with lots of angel sculptures, and a funeral monument for Patriarch Francesco Morosini (died in 1678) that several art historians call the best Baroque monument in Venice (a nice work, in other words, not baroque-gone-awry like many others).
Some interesting paintings too. 17th century art in Venice was in a bit of a post-Renaissance slump and the best works were done by non-Venetians who’d moved there, and several of them are in this church:
“Vision of St. Jerome” by Johann Liss (an artist from Germany)
“Annunciation” by Luca Giordano (an artist from Naples)
“St. Lawrence” by Bernardo Strozzi (an artist from Genoa).
The story of Johann (or Jan) Liss is rather sad. He came to Venice from Germany when he was around 25 years old and died a short nine years later from the plague. One of the many “what might have been” stories in the history of art. This painting is beautiful.
To Visit this Church
It’s not far from Piazzale Roma and the Papadopoli Gardens.
Hours are 8:30- noon and 4:30-6:30 Monday-Saturday.
Sunday from 4:30-6:30.
Full name of the church is San Nicolo da Tolentino but its nickname is “I Tolentini” which is a combination of the saint’s name and the Theatine order that founded the church. Interesting saint – he’s not the more famous St. Nicholas but rather a 13th century Italian saint. Here’s a summary of his miracles from Wikipedia:
Reported to have resurrected over one hundred dead children, including several who had drowned…A vegetarian, Nicholas was once served a roasted fowl; he made the sign of the cross over it, and it flew out a window. An apparition of the saint once saved the burning palace of the Doge of Venice by throwing a piece of blessed bread on the flames.
Saving the Doge Palace with some blessed bread probably explains why he got a church of his own in Venice.
I really like this cross on the top of the church; it looks like a jack (from the game). And that bell tower is a beauty.