Santa Maria Formosa

Santa Maria Formosa in the Castello district, designed by Coducci in 1492, was on the site of the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, that was built in the 7th C.

The campo is a fine space for relaxing, with renowned palazzos to admire and several cafe-restaurants; only about 10 minutes walk from St Mark’s Square.




Santa Maria Formosa – HISTORY

Santa Maria Formosa, formally The Church of the Purification of Mary, was erected in 1492 to a design by the renowned Renaissance architect Mauro Codussi. It lies on the site of a previous church dating from the 7th century, which, according to tradition; was one of the eight founded by San Magno (St Magnus), bishop of Oderzo. The name “formosa” relates to an alleged appearance to the bishop of the Holy Virgin; disguised as a voluptuous woman.

According to tradition, the church was built in 639, probably by the Tribuno family; renovated in 864 and after it was damaged by a fire, it was restored again in 1106.

The current church was built by Mauro Codussi, starting in 1492, however, he died before the exterior was finished. The cupola may have been added by Codussi’s son Domenico; to his father’s design.

The plan is on the Latin cross, with a nave and two aisles, essentially respecting the foundations of the original 7th and 12th century churches and has a strong central focus.

Externally, the church has two contrasting two external facades, both gifts of the Cappello family. The Renaissance facade facing the canal, was commissioned in 1542 and commemorates Vincenzo Cappello, a sea captain who was victorious against the Turks. The other later Baroque facade, faces the square and was built in 1604.

The dome of the church was rebuilt in 1688, after falling during an earthquake.  More recently, “Venice in Peril” became involved after the roof was renewed in 1976. Extensive black incrustations of dirt were removed to reveal the bright Istrian stone of the canal facade. Rusting metal cramps were replaced and then the north facade also underwent restoration. The project was completed in 1998.

Below: “The Campo Santa Maria Formosa” (detail). Bernardo Bellotto c.1742.

Photo below: Renaissance facade overlooking the canal














L: Memorial statue to Vincenzo Cappello on Canal frontage; a sea captain who was victorious against the Turks.

R. Grotesque humanised figure over door on the base of the Campanile; facing the canal.



The original campanile can be seen on De Barbari’s 16th century map as a brick construction with four pinnacles. The present campanile, was designed by priest Francesco Zucconi, between 1678-88.

It is 40m (130ft) in height and has electromechanical bells.

On the arch at the base of the campanile is a grotesque “mascherone” – a carved head said to dispel evil spirits. It was absolutely loathed by Ruskin.



You enter through the main door  and behind the Chorus desk, there’s the small circular painting of “The Circumcision of Christ”, by Venetian artist Catena.

The interior is unusually asymmetric, showing the main altar with large communicating archways; to both lateral chapels. (Below)


In the first chapel on the right (photo below), is a triptych in egg tempera by Bartolomeo Vivarini, dated 1473. The central painting depicts “Our Lady of Mercy”, the left one represents the “Meeting of Joachim and Anne”, her parents and  the “Birth of the Virgin on the right.


In the chapel of the Scuola dei Bombardieri, is the “Santa Barbara” polyptych by Jacobo Palma the Elder (c. 1542)  She is the patron saint of the artillerymen. (photo below)

Opposite, can be seen Leandro Bassano’s sombre “Last Supper” (end of the 16th century).


In the Left Transcept, can be seen the “Virgin and Child” 19th C, by Lattanzio Querinia (photo 1). In the church’s oratory over the sacristy is the “Virgin Mary with Child and Saint Domenico” painted in the 18th century by the artist Giandomenico Tiepolo (photo 2).  Also seen is ”St Peter the Apostle”, 18th C by Paolo Pagani (photo 3) and “Mother with Child” 18th C, by Giambettino Cignaroli (photo 4).

1.                                                          2.                                                            3.                                                          4.







The Campo of Santa Maria Formosa.

It is one of the largest squares in Venice, located in the Castello district and taking its name from the church. The campo is a fine space for relaxing, with renowned palazzos to admire and several cafe-restaurants; only about 10 minutes walk from St Mark’s Square.

The square is delimited by three canals – Santa Maria Formosa to the south , Rio del Paradiso to the north and the Rio del Mondo Nuovo to the west.  In the square, there are many buildings of historical and architectural importance.

  • In the northern part of the square, there is the Priuli Ruzzini Palace, built as the residence of the noble Ruzzini family in the late 16th century, on a project attributed to Bartolomeo Manopola. At at the beginning of the 21st century,the thoroughly neglected palace, was completely renovated and currently houses a hotel.
  • To the north-east, there is Palazzo Morosini del Pestrin, built in the 17th century for the patrician family of Morosini del Pestrin. Between 2001 and 2009, the second floor of the palace housed the Honorary Consulate of France and the Cultural Delegation of the French Embassy in Venice.
  • To the east, we have the Donà Palaces (Palazzi Donà), three noble residences built between the 15th and 16th centuries for the Donà family. Currently, the buildings are in good condition and are used partly as public offices, partly as private homes.
  • Next, there is Casa Venier, built in the 15th century in Venetian-Gothic style. The palace was the residence of the Doge Sebastiano Venier, a glorious leader of Venice known for the victory of Lepanto of 1571.
  • Adjacent to Casa Venier, there is Palazzo Vitturi, an ancient structure built in the second half of the 13th century. Today, in a good state of conservation, the building houses a hotel and some shops.
  • In the southern part of the square, we can find the Malipiero Trevisan Palace, the residence of the Malipiero family until the end of the 15th century, when it passed, by marriage, to the Trevisan family.
  • Also in the southern part of the square, there is Palazzo Querini Stampalia, built at the beginning of the 16th century for the noble Querini Stampalia family. The last member of the family, Count Giovanni, ordered that all his possessions will be donated to the city of Venice after his death.


The Campo and its Church, depicted in Art

Above: Engraving by Jacobi Sansonini, date unknown.

Venice: Campo Santa Maria Formosa

Above: CanalettoVenice: Campo Santa Maria Formosa” c.1735-40. Pen and ink on paper.

Also, both Carlevarijs and Lovisa depicted this view in their collections of engravings of 1703 and c.1720.


Opening times: Monday to Saturday: 10.30 to 4.30.  Sundays: closed

Vaporetto: Rialto or San Zaccaria.


This church is a part of the “Chorus Scheme”

See other churches in the “History and Architecture” category.


Santa Maria Formosa    Santa Maria Formosa      Santa Maria Formosa



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