Madonna dell’Orto

Madonna dell’Orto, situated in the Cannaregio district, is richly decorated in beautiful artworks by Tintoretto and other significant artists.

A church and monastery were founded here around 1350, by the Umiliati order of monks from Lombardy and initially dedicated to Saint Christopher; the patron saint of travellers and the city’s gondoliers.  

Major external reconstruction work and interior decoration was started in 1399 and the church was reconsecrated in 1414; to be known as Madonna dell’Orto. The present facade and its elaborate portal, was completed in the early 1480’s.

The church features ten of Tintoretto’s paintings, works by his son, Domenico. Tintoretto lovers should combine this church, with a visit to the Scuola grande di San Rocco; that has even more of this wonderful artists work.


Madonna dell’Orto – HISTORY


“Madonna and child” by Giovanni De Santi


The naming of the church has quite a tale about it and it’s history is rather complex!

Around 1350, the Umiliati order from Lombardy, founded a church and monastery here and dedicated it to Saint Christopher; the patron saint of travellers and the city’s gondoliers.The original design of the church was thought to be by Fra Tiberio of Parma, the leader of the Order and is buried here.

The Venetian sculptor Giovanni De Santi, was commissioned by the parish priest of Santa Maria Formosa; to provide a statue of the Madonna. Apparently, the priest rejected the work, causing the artist to temporarily place the statue in his “orto” (orchard). Soon after, it is said that the sculpture began to emit a strange glow, especially at night and performed miracles.  As the news spread, the garden became a pilgrimage destination for the citizens, in veneration of the statue.

The bishop of the Venetian cathedral requested De Santi, to place the work in a public church to avoid the proliferation of religious fanaticism and unsuitable forms of worship.  Following this, the artist offered the statue to the friars of the newly formed church of San Cristoforo; provided that they accepted three conditions. Firstly, to be buried at his own expense there, a mass was celebrated in his honour forever and most importantly; a large sum of money.

The friars refused on the basis of the third request, however, it was then purchased by the school of San Cristoforo and finally in 1377, placed on the high altar of the church.

After significant subsidence in the foundations of the church, money was given by the city’s Grand Council, to rebuild.  Reconstruction work from 1399, resulted in interior redecoration, the construction of the new facade and a new larger monastery. In 1414, the sanctuary was definitively consecrated to the Madonna dell’Orto; from a resolution of the Council of Ten.  Since then the church has been known as Madonna dell’Orto.

The Humiliati, due to their “depraved customs”, were ousted in 1462 and the Madonna dell’ Orto was assigned to the congregation of Canons Regular of San Giorgio in Alga.; who completed the restorations and the facade.

The order of Canons Regular was suppressed in 1668 and the following year the Church and convent annexed were handed over to Cistercians, from San Tommaso on the island of Torcello.

Unfortunately in the late 18th century, few monks remained there and things declined, so that in 1787; the church was put under public administration and it became the oratory of the church of San Marziale.

Restoration was begun under Austrian rule in the early1840’s and finished in 1869; by which time Venice had become part of the unified Kingdom of Italy.

Finally in 1931, the church was entrusted to the Congregation of San Giuseppe di San Leonardo Murialdo. Further restoration work was carried out in 1912 and in 1930-1931, when the 19th century interventions where reversed.

During the “Great Flood of 1966”, the church was badly damaged. The church and its paintings, underwent restoration by “Venice in Peril”, between 1970 and 1980.



The exterior facade, built in 1460–1464, has four large pilasters, that stand out for their grandeur, enriched at the very top by five gothic-style “aedicules“; in which the statues of Prudence, Charity, Faith, Hope and Temperance are kept, including that of the central cusp.

The two side parts of the facade, are lower and sloping; characterised by large eight-part windows and above, by 6 arched niches on each side, containing the statues of the Twelve Apostles. The central part of this imposing facade, is dominated by the presence of a central rose window, that allows more light to penetrate inside the church.

The entrance door, is a stylistically mixed sculptural work by Bartolomeo Bon; whose workshop was nearby in San Marziale. The statues of Saint Christopher sit on top, with two lateral statues of the Madonna and of the Archangel Gabriel; attributed to Antonio Rizzo and Giovanni Fiorentino.

The herring-bone patterned brick pavement in front of the church, has survived and is an interesting feature.


















The bell tower in brickwork, was first erected in 1332 and rebuilt in 1503. Further restored in 1819, following a storm; it is 56 metres (182 ft) high.   It has a square plan, with pilasters strips on the sides leading to the belfry with circular mullioned windows. Four semicircular tympani, divides it from the upper cylindrical drum; with an onion dome in Eastern style.  On the sides are four statues of the Evangelists, by Pietro Lombardo’s school. On the summit is a statue of the Redeemer, in white marble. The old bells, the largest being from 1424, were replaced in 1883 and are now rung electro-mechanically.



The interior is characterised by a rectangular plan, without a transept.  Rows of slender columns of wonderful striped Turkish marble with archaic capitals, retained from the original church; separate the nave from the aisles.

The exquisitely chiselled wooden coffered ceiling, columns, wooden tie beams and the polychrome marble floor with geometric designs; create a perfect visual balance The presbytery is spectacular, crowned by a pentagonal apse.



Above: Tintoretto’s memorial stone is in the chapel to the right of the chancel.

This renowned and beautiful church, is strongly linked to the name of the famous painter Tintoretto (Jacobo Robusti); who from 1547, lived with his family in the nearby Fondamenta dei Mori.  The Robusti family bequeathed to the church ten fine works. Only the Scuola di San Rocco, has more works by him –  together, they are a feast for Tintoretto lovers. Furthermore, in the small chapel to the right of the apse, rests the sacred remains of the artist himself.

The church is also enriched by other masterpieces, among which are the painting depicting Saint John the Baptist among Saints Peter, Mark, Jerome and Paul, by Cima da Conegliano (1495) and the poignant Crucifixion by Palma il Giovane; made for the church of Santa Ternita, but moved here.

Of great interest are also the four funerary chapels, built on the left side of the church, which house the remains of four of the most important Venetian patrician families: the Valier chapel, the Vendramin chapel, the Morosini chapel and the Contarini chapel.

Venetian nobility continues on the right side, with the splendid funerary monument of Girolamo Cavazza, diplomat of the Serenissima; built in 1657, to a design by Giuseppe Sardi.

Monument to Gerolamo Cavazza

Above. Funerary monument of Girolamo Cavazza, diplomat of the Serenissima; built in 1657, to a design by Giuseppe Sardi.

The organ over the entrance.

Above. Directly above the entrance door on the interior of the facade, is a marvellous pipe organ built in 1878 and one of the most important in Venice.



Tintoretto’s works in blue.    His son Domenico, in orange.    Other significant artists in dark grey




Right Nave

Sculpture of Madonna with Child, attributed to Antonio Rizzo
Altarpiece of St John Baptist with Saints Peter, Mark, Jerome, and Paul, by Cima da Conegliano.
St Christopher Martyr, copy of original by Cima da Conegliano
Altar of Immaculate conception: built in 1593 to accommodate miraculous statue now in Cappella San Mauro
Monument to Gerolamo Cavazza, by Giuseppe Sardi (1624–1699)
Martrydom of St Lorenzo, by Daniel van den Dyck.
Presentation of Virgin at Temple (1550–1553), Tintoretto.

St Mauro Chapel:

St Leonardo Murialdo (1983), Ernani Costantini
Miraculous Madonna, Giovanni De Santi, 14th century
Pieta, copy of work by Savoldo
Madonna with Child and St Mauro abbot. By Antonio Molinari, the founder of the order which has administered this church since 1931.


Canvas with Madonna with Child and Saints, attributed to school of Paris Bourdon

Apse Chapel – Right

Tomb of Tintoretto, bust by Napoleone Martinuzzi
Saints Augustine and Jerome, by Girolamo Santacroce

Apse – Either side of choir stalls:

The Last Judgement (1563, right), Tintoretto
Idolatry of Golden Calf (1563, left), Tintoretto

Apse – Behind the Altar

St. Peter’s Vision of the Cross (1550–1553) Left, Tintoretto.    The Beheading of St Paul. Right    Annunciation (1590), Jacopo Palma il Giovane, from church of Santa Maria Nuova of Vicenza. Centre

Apse – High Vault:

Five Cardinal virtues: Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Strength, Tintoretto     Faith, by Pietro Ricchi (centre)

Left Nave

St Lorenzo Giustiniani and Saints, altarpiece copy of Il Pordenone original.
St George and the Dragon, by Matteo Ponzone
Flagellation of Christ, by Matteo Ponzone
God the Father in Glory (c. 1590), by Domenico Tintoretto
Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, School of Titian

Contarini Chapel:

Miracle of St Agnes (1575), Tintoretto
Funereal Monument of Contarini Family

Morosini Chapel:

The Nativity and Saint Dominic. Domenico Tintoretto
Angels bearing incense, Domenico Tintoretto
Crucifixion, Jacopo Palma il Giovane, from church of St Ternita

Vendramin Chapel:

Arcangel Raphael and Tobias (1530) Titian, now moved to the sacristy of San Marziale
Painting of St Vincent with St Domenic, Lorenzo Giustiniani, St Elena and Pope Eugenius IV, by Jacopo Palma the Elder. Figures of Saint Helena and St Domenic inserted during restoration in 1867, by Placido Fabris

Valier Chapel:

Colour photograph of Madonna with Child (1480), by Giovanni Bellini (original stolen in 1993).


Above: Palma il Giovanni “Crucifixion” in Chapel Morosini


Above. colour photograph (of Giovanni Bellini’s small panel painting of the Virgin and Child (1480)


Opening Times
Monday to Saturday: 10.00 to 5.00
Sundays: closed
Entrance fee: €3.00  Some oncessions at reduced price
(The church is not part of the Chorus Scheme)

Vaporetto: Madonna dell’Orto


Please click on the links below, to see my other related posts in the category of “History and Architecture”


St Mark’s Basilica

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Santa Maria Formosa

San Pantalon

For a Tintoretto feast, combine this church with a visit to the Scuola grande di San Rocco:

Scuola Grande di San Rocco



Madonna dell’Orto     Madonna dell’Orto     Madonna dell’Orto

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