09 June, 2006

17. St Mary the Beautiful

This is not the sort of decoration that you would expect to find at the base of the tower of a church dedicated to Santa Maria Formosa – St Mary the Beautiful.

Originally commissioned by the Bishop of Uderzo, following a vision commanding him to build a church dedicated to the Virgin Mother, this church's facades were remodelled in 1542 and 1604. The fact that these renovations were paid for by the Cappello family doesn't explain the origins of the character in the picture, but it does explain why the outside of this church is now little more than a monument to Admiral Vincent Cappello, who must have been something of a bigshot in his day, because his statue appears over the main doorway rather than that of Christ or Mary as would have been more conventional.

John Ruskin, the 19th century writer and art critic, was not impressed at all by this particular grotesque sculpture, and said so in his book, The Stones of Venice:

"A head – huge, inhuman, and monstrous – leering in bestial degradation, too foul to be either pictured or described, or to be beheld for more than an instant; yet let it be endured for more than that instant; for in that head is embodied the type of evil spirit to which Venice was abandoned in the fourth period of her decline; and it is well that we should see and feel the full horror of in on this spot, and know what pestilence it was that came and breathed upon her beauty…"

I think that's a tad harsh. You certainly wouldn't call him beautiful, but he quite brightened up my day when I found him.

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