Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or simply the “Frari”, located in the San Polo district; has an interior rich in art and funerary monuments.

Dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, this minor Basilica located in the small Campo dei Frari; is one of the most prominent churches in the city and one of Italy’s most important Franciscan sites. This can be judged, by the numerous pictorial and sculptural representations of St. Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua.

The vast interior is richly decorated in sculpture and several of Titian’s most important paintings; celebrating the glory, wealth and achievements of the Republic of Venice.   Some regard it almost as a church-museum.


Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – HISTORY

The name “Frari”, reflects the fact that this church, has been looked after by Franciscan friars since its founding.

The friars first came to Venice shortly after 1220 and occupied an abandoned Benedictine abbey. Around 1231, a church and a convent were built on plots of marshy land donated to the friars; first by doge Giovanni Badoer and then by doge Jacopo Tiepolo.

Soon deemed to be of inappropriate size, on April 28th, 1250 the Pope’s delegate, Cardinal Ottaviano Ubaldini; laid the foundation stone of the second church, dedicated to “Santa Maria Gloriosa”.

Around 1330, given the increasing flow of pilgrims, the friars commissioned the construction of a third, larger church: the current Basilica, which was consecrated in 1492. Over the centuries the Basilica. On the April 28th 1250, the Pope’s delegate, Cardinal Ottaviano Ubaldini; laid the foundation stone of the second church dedicated to “Santa Maria Gloriosa”. Progress was very slow and in stages and the church was finally consecrated, on 27th May 1492.

The work was started under Jacopo Celega, but completed by his son Pier Paolo. The new church inverted the original orientation, thus placing the facade facing the plaza and small canal. The campanile, the second tallest in the city after that of San Marco, had been completed in 1396. Under the patronage of Giovanni Corner, the Chapel of San Marco was added in 1420. In 1432-1434, the bishop Vicenza Pietro Miani, built the chapel of San Pietro next to the bell-tower. The facade was not completed until 1440, with the cornice is surmounted by three statues (1516) by Lorenzo Bregno. The main altar was consecrated in 1469. In 1478, the Pesaro family commissioned a chapel in the apse.

The monastery dates from 1256, being renovated after a fire in 1390 and has two cloisters; one by Jacopo Sansovino and the other attributed to Andrea Palladio.

The Franciscans had been expelled from the church, during the 19th century and it was not until 1922; that the church was restored to the order.

Over the centuries, the Basilica has been endowed with unique and priceless masterpieces; that take the visitor on a journey through the history of art and devotion, from the 13th to the 21st century.

The Frari, is a parish church of the Vicariate of San Polo-Santa Croce-Dorsoduro.  Other churches of the parish are San Barnaba, San Ludovico Vescovo, Santa Maria del Soccorso and Santa Margherita.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – EXTERIOR

This imposing church is built of brick, in the form of a Latin cross; is one of the city’s three notable churches, still mostly retaining their Venetian Gothic appearance. The Gothic style, can be described as “Franciscan” because it concentrates on simplicity of line; avoiding the pomp and ostentation of the spires, pinnacles and flying buttresses of the usual Gothic style.


The Basilica, externally is 102 metres in length by 32 metres in width.  The height is 28 metres both from the central nave and from the transept. The transept measures 48 metres and is 16 metres wide.

In common with many Franciscan churches, the exterior is rather plain, even on the front facade. The impressive facade of the Basilica, is split into three parts, by simple pilasters in late Gothic style. Each section has circular windows.

The central portal, is flanked by two intricate white pillars. On top of the  arch,  is the “Christ Resurrected” by Alessandro Vittoria (1581). To the left there is the “Virgin Mary with the Child” and on the right, “St. Francis”; carved by Bartolomeo Bon (early 1430’s).  In the lunette, the outline remains of the fresco of Gaetano Zompini (18th century); representing the Virgin among the angels.

From the canal side of the campo, if you look along the long face of the basilica; you can see the entrance to the Chapel of San Pietro, in front of the campanile and behind that the Chapel of San Marco. Both are simply decorated, with a circular window above. (See campanile photo below).  Under the patronage of Giovanni Corner, the Chapel of San Marco was added in 1420. The chapel of San Pietro next to the bell-tower was constructed between 1432 and 1434; by bishop Vicenza Pietro Miani.

At the other end of the building in the Campo San Rocco; you can admire the Gothic apse; with tall, finely carved windows.


The tower is the second tallest in the city after that of San Marco, was completed in 1396 and has fine views over the city and lagoon. It is 69m (224 ft) electromechanical rung. Built to a design by Jacopo Celaga, it was completed by his son Pietro Paolo in 1396 and today, it still looks the same. The tower is made of terracotta brick, apart from the white stones which separate the three vertical orders, columns, arches of the belfry and the smaller columns of the loggia. Above is an octagonal drum. It was restored in 1871 after subsidence, with the foundations further reinforced in 1903.


There are two cloisters of the Frari: the Cloister of the Holy Trinity and the Cloister of Saint Anthony and both are usually closed to visitors.  A view of the Cloister of the Holy Trinity (see photo below); can be seen from the Chapter House, beyond the Sacristy,

Above: the Cloister of the Holy Trinity (exterior to the right nave on entering).



The church is in the shape of a Latin cross and has three naves with a transept. Six massive columns on each side, support ogival arches with substantial wooden tie beams for stability. The church has the open feel of a single space.

The six polygonal chapels in the apses extend along the length of the entire transept. Dominating the centre of the church is  the monumental monks’ choir, in dark wood; erected in 1468. The 124 choir stalls feature fine carving and intarsia by Marco Cozzi. The friars choir, is separated from the congregation in the nave, by Pietro Lombardo’s carved marble screen of 1475.









L: High Altar with  “Assumption of the Virgin” by Titian.  R: Dominating the centre of the church is the monumental monks’ choir; looking back to the main entrance.

The church houses 17 monumental altars, many tombs and funeral monuments of numerous doges and personalities, the latter including the composer Claudio Monteverdi, the painter Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), the sculptor Antonio Canova; together with many invaluable works of art.

Two of the most important paintings in the church are the Assumption of the Virgin on the high altar, the Pesaro Madonna, by Titian and the tryptic altarpiece of Giovanni Bellini (all below); . We can also find works by Antonio and Paolo Bregno, Girolamo Campagna, Donatello, Antonio Rizzo, Jacopo Sansovino, Giambattista Pittoni, Bartolomeo Bon and Alvise Vivarini.

Brief History of the Organs

In 1483, a chronicle of the convent refers to the existence of a “perfectum” organ. Among the most famous organists of the basilica, were Girolamo Diruta and Giovanni Picchi; probably from 1593 to at least 1629.

As depicted in an engraving of 1708, the choir of the basilica had at that time; two organs placed sideways on the perimeter walls, facing each other.

The left organ, one of his first works, was probably built by Giovan Battista Piaggia in 1732. After Gaetano Callido, had built the front Apse organ in 1795; this instrument was progressively abandoned. Fortunately, from 1740 to 1760, he built a similar organ for the Venetian church of San Giovanni Evangelista; that has remained almost unchanged. This allowed it to act as a blueprint, for a future radical reconstruction of the Frari’s Piaggia organ.

The right organ, was built by Gaetano Callido in 1795/96 and fortunately, there is full documentation of its maintenance and restoration; with substantial respect for its authenticity.

In 1928, the new Mascioni organ with electro-pneumatic transmission, was constructed located in the apse close to Titian’s Assumption. The problem of restoring the two ancient organs of the choir, could later be considered and was carried out between 1970 and 2004.

The restoration of the Choir of the Friars two organs; made it possible to appreciate again the round and robust sounds of the Callido organ and the transparent and delicate timbre of the Piaggia organ, closer to Renaissance sound models. The instruments were eventually tuned in unison, to be played together.

The practice of two opposing choirs, each with their own organ; made feasible the authentic reproduction of the musical style; developed and vogue in Venice, in the 16th and 17th centuries.



  1. – Counter-facade
  2. – Chapel of the Crucifix
  3. – Canova Monument
  4. – Doge Pesaro Monument
  5. – Chapel with Pesaro Madonna by Titian
  6. – Chapel of San Pietro
  7. – Chapel of San Marco
  8. – Chapel of the Milanesi
  9. – Chapel of San Michele
  10. – Chapel of the Franciscan Saints
  11. – Choir and Organs
  12. – Presbytery
  13. – Doge Tron Monument
  14. – 12th-century Crucifix
  15. – Assumption of Virgin, main altarpiece by Titian (also main organ)
  16. – Monument to Doge Foscari
  17. – Chapel of San Giovanni Battista
  18. – Chapel of Father Kolbe
  19. – Chapel of Bernardo
  20. – Dead Christ
  21. – Altar of the Sacristy with Giovanni Bellini’s Frari Triptych
  22. – Sacristy
  23. – Altar of the Relics
  24. – Entry to Sala del Capitolo and Convent
  25. – Wall of right transept
  26. – Jacopo Marcello Monument
  27. – Altar of Santa Caterina
  28. – Altar of San Giuseppe da Copertino
  29. – Altar with Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
  30. – Titian Monument
  31. – Altar of Sant’Antonio da Padova




Above: Titian, the Assumption of the Virgin. Main altarpiece.

Above. Altarpiece by Titian, the Pesaro Madonna (1519-26). Left nave.

The third significant art can be found in the Sacristy: the beautiful tryptic altarpiece of Giovanni Bellini of 1488 (above); set in a wonderful inlaid wooden framework by Jacopo da Faenza.


  • Pietro Bernardo (d. 1538) (senator)
  • Antonio Canova (only his heart is buried here; the tomb, realised by his disciples, is based on the drawing of Canova himself, for an unrealised tomb for Titian).
  • Federico Corner.
  • Doge Francesco Dandolo (in the chapter house).
  • Doge Francesco Foscari (d. 1457).
  • Jacopo Marcello.
  • Claudio Monteverdi (one of the greatest composers of the 17th Century).
  • Beato Pacifico (founder of the current church).
  • Alvise Pasqualigo (d. 1528) (Procurator of Venice).
  • Benedetto Pésaro (d. 1503) (General).
  • Doge Giovanni Pesaro.
  • Bishop Jacopo Pésaro (d. 1547).
  • Paolo Savelli (condottiere), the first Venetian monument to include an equestrian statue.
  • Titian (d. 1576) (Renaissance painter).
  • Melchiorre Trevisan (d. 1500) (General).
  • Doge Niccolò Tron.

Above: Monument to Canova.

Above: Monument to Titian.


Basilica of S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Friars Minor Conventual
San Polo 3072 – 30125 VENEZIA
Tel. +39.

From Monday to Saturday: 9am – 6pm
Sunday: 1pm – 6pm
(last admission 5.30pm)
Visiting hours may vary according to liturgical celebrations, concerts and events.(check website).

€ 3,00 full ticket
€ 1,50 students up to 29 years
Children up to 11 years: free entrance.

The audio guide: € 2,00. Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Russian. The tour lasts about 30 minutes.

Vaporetto San Toma

LINKS (internal – external)

Official website of the Basilica dei Frari in English.

Frari – Pdf brochure in English to download.

Please see my other related church posts in the category of “History and Architecture”.

St Mark’s Basilica

 Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Madonna dell’Orto

San Zaccaria

Santa Maria Formosa

San Pantalon



Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari    Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari    Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari


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