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The Pesaro Altarpiece in the Frari

celestia catI found this sweet story in E.V. Lucas’ A Wanderer in Venice (published in 1914), and since it combines three of my favorite things (churches, cats, and art), I had to share it on the blog.

In his story, Lucas was sitting in front of Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece in the church of the Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari).

As I sat one day looking at this picture, a small grey and white cat sprang on my knee from nowhere and immediately sank into a profound slumber from which I hesitated to wake it. Such ingratiating acts are not common in Venice, where animals are scarce and all dogs must be muzzled.

Whether or not the spirit of Titian had instructed the little creature to keep me there, I cannot say, but the result was that I sat for a quarter of an hour before the altar without a movement, so that every particular of the painting is photographed on my retina.

Six months later the same cat led me to a courtyard opposite the Sacristy door and proudly exhibited three kittens.

Sigh. I haven’t met any cats or kittens during my many visits to the Frari, but I have read that in the former monastery next door (now the Venetian Archives), there’s a much loved colony of cats who keep the mice from nibbling away all the ancient documents of the Republic.

Here's the painting Lucas was looking at when the kitty jumped in his lap.

pesaro3

Titian painted it for the Frari in 1519-26, and it’s called the Pesaro altarpiece (or the Pesaro Madonna) after the noble and wealthy Venetian family who commissioned the painting (the crowd of people hanging out below the Madonna and saints are members of the Pesaro family).

I tend to think of it as the Frari’s “other Titian” since I am much more in love with his Assunta, but this one is a masterpiece too and in fact, many art historians think it’s the better of the two Frari Titians because it was so revolutionary to set the action on an angle and the perspective is so masterful.

It IS a gorgeous painting (and the colors are much much better in real life than they are in this scan). I love the little Pesaro boy who is looking right at us from the bottom right corner, and the Madonna is so very beautiful (Titian’s wife, Cecilia, who died young, was the model for her). And I really love the cherubs at the top – the contrast between that cute fat angel butt and the cross they are carrying is just perfect.

Pesaro boy

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Comments (9)

What a gorgeous story! :)

I envy you going to Venice!

sandrac:

Another excellent post, Annie. I love the story of Lucas and the little cat, and the Pesaro altarpiece is very beautiful. I can just imagine the richness of the colour.

I agree with you, that as gorgeous as this altarpiece is, the Assunta is so much more so. I hadn't realized how much it had travelled, a fascinating story.

I also believe that art means so much more when you can see it in its proper setting. I really am fascinated by churches with art because you can see the work in the way the artist meant it to be seen. Context is so important.

I also envy you your upcoming trip, are you in the planning stage as yet?

Leslie, thanks! I wish you were going to be there too.

Sandra, thanks! I agree completely about the context. Museums are wonderful but I really prefer looking at paintings in churches.

I started a blog post about my Trip Planning (or lack thereof) and I need to finish and post it. I actually have done a bit of planning this past week (finally!).

Stealing wireless (which keeps dropping...the nerve of my neighbor :) to catch up on blogs.

I saw the Assunta back in 1999 during my first trip to Venice. I don't remember seeing thisTitan though. 1999 was my "fast trip" zooming through Venice. After reading your posts on the Frari, my top priority when returning to Venice will be to experience this church again the "slow" way.

I really enjoyed this post, especially the story about the cat! Oh, and I also liked the close up of the Titan.

I am looking forward to hearing more about your trip plans.

Thanks for asking about my shoulder. It is slowly getting better. Still pain after stretching but the range is returning which makes me very happy...worth the pain in the long run.

Girasoli, glad you were able to borrow a bit of wireless! And glad that your shoulder is getting better.

The Frari is so enormous that it's hard to take it all in in one visit. It's such a wonderful church!

Anne:

Maria and I saw this gorgeous painting in October so how wonderful to relive that through your photos! (Although my heart too belongs to his Assunta.)

Anne, that is so cool to think about you and Maria in the Frari. I can't wait to visit that church again!

Fatima Pires Mammoliti:

My husband, my daughter and I visited the Frari last May and we just loved all the wonderful works of Art. There was a life size crucifix on the left side of the Basilica. It was the most amazing and realistic portrayal of the crucifixion that I've ever seen. We were not able to take pictures. If anyone has pictures, or knows where to find them,I'd love to see them.

Annie:

Hi Fatima, you might want to check the website "Museum Planet" which has photos of the interiors of some of the churches. Not sure if this crucifix is pictured there, but it might be.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 12, 2008 3:06 PM.

The previous post in this blog was List of Donna Leon books (in order).

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