Santi Giovanni e Paolo, is in the Castello district and has the status of a minor basilica of the Dominican order.  It is a parish church of the Vicariate of San Marco-Castello. Interestingly it is far apart from the Frari, the main Franciscan centre and also the seat of government.

Also known as San Zanipolo in Venetian, it is one of the biggest churches in the city, built for a large congregation. In contrast to the brick built exterior, the attached Scuola Grandi di San Marco, has a wonderful marble and white Istrian stone facade, which also forms the entrance to one of Venice’s main hospitals. 

After the 15th century, the funeral services of all of Venice’s doges were held here and twenty-five doges are buried in the church, as well as many notables artists, dignitaries and military characters.





The first church here was said to have been built in 983, but was first documented in 1184.

The land for this church, as for the Frari, was presented by order of Doge Jacopo Tiepolo around 1230 and the Dominican first church, was completed during the 13th century.

Soon found to be too small, work on a much larger church began in the early 14th century. By 1368 the apses and transepts were finished, but unfortunately a shortage of funds halted work until 1390; when Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council) gave the Dominicans 10,000 ducats to continue.

By 1430 the nave was completed and the church was consecrated, with Bon’s portal being added between 1458-62.  It was part of a planned marble facade that was never completed.

Rather like the Frari, San Zanipolo is also called a “Venetian Pantheon”; as it has twenty-five tombs of doges.

Contrary to what you might think, the church was not named after the apostles John and Paul (Giovanni and Paolo). The name saints of this church are two obscure soldier-martyr saints of the same names. Images of these saints can be seen in the stained-glass window, standing alongside Saints George and Theodore; two of Venice’s three patron saints.

Both Gentile and Giovanni Bellini were buried here, in February 1507 and November 1516.




The huge west frontage of unfinished brickwork, contrasts with the marble-clad elegance and decorated facade of the adjoining Scuola Grande di San Marco.

The portal is by Bartolomeo Bon, with columns salvaged from a church on Torcello and mixes classical details into its essentially gothic form; said to have been the style’s last flurry in Venice.  Note also, the lack of a separate campanile.

The Renaissance Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni (1483), by Andrea del Verrocchio, is located next to the church.

The small bell-tower has 3 bells tuned to D major.




The grand interior is impressive; cross-vaulted with stout plain columns and wooden tie beams. It shares all these features with the Frari; however, San Zanipolo has lost its wooden choir in 1682 and so seems larger and airier.

The aisles are separated from the nave by 10 wide columns of Istrian stone. The well-lit choir, with all its Gothic windows and its Baroque high altar attributed to Longhena; draws the eyes. The stained-glass windows are rare surviving examples from the period; produced on Murano, to designs mostly by Bartolomeo Vivarini.

The vast interior contains many funerary monuments and paintings.





The Giovanni Bellini “Vincent Ferrer” polyptych, which is in its original frame and an early work. The polyptych was painted around 1465-8, when the influence of the sculptural style of Mantegna, his brother-in-law; was still strong on Giovanni. It was commissioned by the scuola piccolo devoted to the then new saintwho had a reputation as a miraculous healer; which may have increased his popularity in Venice, after the plague outbreak of 1464.

The Capella del Rosario or Chapel of the Rosary (photo below left): was built in 1582 to commemorate the victory of Lepanto, contained paintings by Tintoretto, Palma the Younger, Titian (The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr) and Giovanni Bellini, among others. This chapel was the one destroyed by fire in the August of 1867; attributed to anti-Catholic arsonists. The Veronese ceiling paintings have been brought later from the lost church of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà. They had been taken to Vienna in 1821, following the demolition of the church and only returned to Venice at the end of World War I; being installed here in June 1925.



There is also  in the south transept theAlms of Saint Antoninus of Florence” by Lorenzo Lotto (1542).  It’s notable for depicting a somewhat hierarchical model of charity, with the saint himself having no direct contact with a poor person. Antoninus had been a leading Observant reformer of the Dominican Order, only just canonised in 1523. He had founded the “Società dei Buonuomini”, that met in San Martino in Florence. Amongst the mass of the poor at the base of the painting, the central bearded figure in an orange robe; may have been a portrait of the artist himself. Lotto worked often for Dominicans, but appeared to receive little payment for his work above his future burial costs!

Also to be seen is the “Madonna della Pace, a miraculous Byzantine statue situated in its own chapel in the south aisle and the church’s chief relic – a foot of Saint Catherine of Siena.


Bellini (Saints Vincent Ferrer, Christopher and Sebastian in the south aisle) Photo left:

Bartolomeo Bon (the great west doorway)

Cima da Conegliano or Giovanni Martini da Udine (Coronation of the Virgin in the south transept)

Lorenzo Gramiccia (Madonna del Rosario in Capella di Trinita)

Piero di Niccolò Lamberti and Giovanni di Martino (tomb of Doge Tommaso Mocenigo in the north aisle)

Gregorio Lazzarini (sala S. Tommaso)

Pietro Lombardo (tombs of Doge Pietro Mocenigo on the west wall and Doges Pasquale Malipiero and Nicolo Marcello in the north aisle; tomb of Alvise Diedo in the south aisle)

Tullio Lombardo and ?Alessandro Leopardo (tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin on the north wall of the choir)

Lorenzo Lotto (St Antonine in the south transept)

Rocco Marconi (Christ between SS Peter and Andrew in the south transept)


Giuseppe Maria Mazza (five large bronze reliefs depicting the miracles of Saint Dominic in the Chapel of San Dominico)

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (St Dominic in Glory on the ceiling of the Capella di San Domenico)

Alvise Tagliapietra, (reliefs in the Chapel of the Rosary)

Veronese (The Assumption, The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi on the ceiling of the Capella del Rosario  ; The Adoration of the Shepherds in the Capella del Rosario). The famous The Feast in the House of Levi, painted for the refectory, is now in the Accademia Gallery.

Alessandro Vittoria (St Jerome in the north aisle)

Alvise Vivarini (Christ carrying the Cross in the sacristy)

Bartolomeo Vivarini (Three Saints in the north aisle)



The twenty-five tombs of doges are perhaps a bigger draw. After the 15th century all of their funerals were held here. Especially fine are the three tombs for the Mocinego doges on the west entrance wall interior.

Facing the back wall, the one on the left is Doge Pietro by Pietro Lombardo; with the help of his sons Tullio and Antonio. It glorifies the Doge’s military achievements, with Christian themes only getting a look in towards the top with the relief of “The Three Marys at the Sepulchre”.

The tomb on the right to Doge Giovanni is by Tullio Lombardo, the elder son; probably with the help of his brother Antonio.

The tomb in the middle, of Doge Alvise I and his wife Loredana Marcello; is later and probably Palladio-designed. It is embellished with two saints taken from Doge Pietro’s tomb and incorporates the memorial to Bartolomeo Bragadin; which did not make the Bragadin family very happy.

Marcantonio Bragadin’s tomb, by Scamozzi is also here. He being the Captain of Venetian forces at Famagusta when it was taken by the Turks, who was tortured and flayed alive and his stuffed body paraded around the town seated on a cow. His remains were stolen from the arsenal in Constantinople nine years later, returned to his family and interred here.

The tomb of Doge Giovanni Dolfin is still flanked by fragments of  monochrome frescoes of Virtues by Guariento, the Paduan painter; which were damaged by the moving here of Doge Andrea Vendramin’s tomb from Santa Maria dei Servi.

Below: the tombs of Giovanni (left) and Tomasso  Moconego (right)











Jacopo Tiepolo (d. 1249)

Marco Cornaro (d. 1368)

Michele Morosini (d. 1382)

Antonio Venier (d. 1400)

Michele Steno (d. 1413)

Tommaso Mocenigo (d. 1423)

Marino Morosini (d. 1253)

Reniero Zeno (d. 1268)

Lorenzo Tiepolo (d. 1275)

Giovanni Dolfin (d. 1361)

Pasquale Malipiero (d. 1462)

Nicolo Marcello (d. 1474)

Pietro Mocenigo (d. 1476)

Andrea Vendramin (d. 1478)

Giovanni Mocenigo (d. 1485)

Leonardo Loredan (d. 1521)

Alvise I Mocenigo (d. 1577)

Sebastiano Venier (d. 1578)

Bertucci Valier (d. 1658)

Silvestro Valier (d. 1700)

Tomb of Niccolò Orsini di Pitigliano


Other notable people buried in the church include:

Orazio Baglioni (d. 1617), general

Gentile Bellini (d. 1507), artist

Giovanni Bellini (d. 1516), artist

Gianbattista Bonzi (d. 1508), senator

Bartolomeo Bragadin (poet)

Marco Antonio Bragadin (d.1571), general, flayed alive by the Turks – the tomb contains only his skin

Jacopo Cavalli (d. 1384), general

Alvise Diedo, commander-in-chief

Marino Faliero (d. 1355), the 55th Doge of Venice, beheaded

Marco Giustiniani (d. 1346), sea captain

Pompeo Giustiniani (d. 1616), condottiere

Palma the Younger (d. 1628), artist

Vettor Pisani (d. 1380), admiral

Niccolò Orsini, (d. 1510), commander-in-chief (photo left)

Leonardo da Prato (d.1511), condottiere

Alvise Trevisan (d. 1528)

Edward Windsor, 3rd Baron Windsor (d. 1574)

Vincenzo Benedetti, (d. 1658)



Significant lost art

A Bellini altarpiece of “The Virgin and Child with Saints”, called the “Saint Catherine of Siena” altarpiece was one of three paintings destroyed in a fire in the Capella del Rosario, on August 16th 1867. The other two were Tintoretto’s “Crucifixion” and Titian’s mid-period masterpiece “The Death of St Peter Martyr”; which had only been returned from Napoleon’s looting fifty years before. The Titian is now only to be seen in copies, like the one by Johann Carl Loth.

The Bellini was in poor condition, but was an early and innovatory work, being probably the first unified pala produced in Venice. It was usually sited above the first altar on the right as you enter the church, where its original frame remains, but had been moved temporarily to the Capella del Rosario.

Veronese’s enormous “Feast in the House of Levi” of 1573, was looted by Napoleon and later returned to the Accademia. It was famously painted for the refectory here, to replace a Last Supper (c.1557) by Titian; destroyed in a fire in 1571. Originally titled as “Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee”, the feast where Mary Magdalene had washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and hair.  It had to be renamed, after the church authorities objected to the liberties Veronese had taken with the peripheral figures and his having forgotten to include Mary Magdalene!

Another work by Veronese painted for San Zanipolo, “Lamentation” (for the altar dedicated to the Pietà), found its way to France in the early 17th century and is now in the Hermitage.

Tintoretto’s “Virgin and Saints Sebastian, Mark and Theodore with Camerlenghi” (1566) is now in the Accademia. It came here from the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in 1817 and was moved to the Accademia in 1883.

A figure of “Adam” by Tullio Lombardo taken from the tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin here, is now in the Met in New York.


Lost graves
It is said that the painter Vincenzo Catena, a talented associate of Bellini and Giorgione is buried here; but no trace or formal record has ever been found.

The church in art
There are many views by artists such as Guardi, Bellotto and Canaletto. The Canaletto of 1738-9 shows the earlier (17-18th century) semi-circular triple-light windows down the side. Also there is a watercolour by Sargent, called “Rio dei Mendicanti”, Venice, (c.1899). David Roberts did a watercolour of the interior in 1851.

Opening times
Monday to Saturday: 8.00 to 10.00 for the parish,
10.00 to 6.00 with entry fee.
Sunday: 1.00 to 6.00

Vaporetto: Ospedale


Scuola Grandi di San Marco (photo left).


Please see my post “Scuola Grandi di San Marco”: HERE

Back to the “My Favourite Churches” category: HERE











Santi Giovanni e Paolo    Santi Giovanni e Paolo    Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Santi Giovanni e Paolo    Santi Giovanni e Paolo    Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This