Tradition says that this church was founded in the 9th
century, but the earliest written record is dated 1101. It was dedicated
to Saints Pantaleon (the name means ‘all-compassionate’) and Giuliana, but became plain San Pantalon
in Venetian dialect. The
church was rebuilt, and reconsecrated in 1305. The Barbari map of 1500
shows its façade facing Rio de San Pantalon, as does the Merian map of
1635 (see below).
Later an entrance facing onto the campo was
added, but when the church was rebuilt in 1668-86 by Francesco Comino the
church's orientation was rotated by 90 degrees so that the (still
unfinished, looming brick) façade faced the campo, which was long used as
a fish market. It is said that Comino's plans for the façade had been
inspired by the church of the Redentore and San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti.
Saint Pantaleon, a martyr saint more popular in the East, was a 3rd-century
doctor from Nicomedia and became famous in Venice in the 18th century due
to a play written by Goldoni.
The church is big and tall and aisleless, with three
deep chapels on each side down the nave. To the left of the high altar there
is access to two highlight chapels. The first is the Capella del Chiodo which contains a mighty impressive large
panel of The Coronation
of the Virgin by Antonio Vivarini (see right) which
formerly hung to the left of the high altar and is said to have been a
collaboration with Giovanni d'Alemagna. There's also the Capella della
Santa Casa di Loretta. This is medium-sized, dark and brick-walled (see
far right) with some sweet fragments of fresco by Pietro Longhi.
The big problem with this church is gloom, it has to be said - it's a dark
church with very sparse lighting, a situation made worse when it was only
open in the evening. But once your eyes acclimatise the ceiling reveals itself
as something very special.
This is a very
Baroque ceiling by Giovanni Antonio Fumiani, done between 1680 and 1704,
depicting scenes from The Martyrdom and Glorification of St Pantalon
amongst looming illusionistic architectural perspectives. It's the largest
oil painting in the world, supposedly, measuring around 443 square
feet and made up of 40 canvases sewn together. Ruskin found it vulgar,
unsurprisingly. The artist is said to have fallen to his death from the
scaffolding here whilst painting, but this may just be a story.
The fact that he died in 1710, six years after the painting
was completed, would seem to refute it.
More of his work can be found in some of the other chapels here
and he was buried in this church, although a recent
(October 2016) visitor was told by an attendant that he wasn't.
There's also a Paolo Veronese
altarpiece here (see
right) The Miracle of San Pantalon
which he began painting a year before he died
and which is his last known work. It was commissioned by Bartolomeo Borghi,
the pievano (parish priest) in 1587 and includes his portrait as
the priest supporting the boy who has been killed by a snake bite. The
saint is shown curing the boy with prayer whilst ignoring the proffered
medicine box. The snake, looking more like a small dragon, is seen making off
the bottom right-hand corner. Although commissioning such a work may
strike us now as an act smacking of self-importance and vanity it would
probably have been seen more as an act of piety at the time. When the axis
of the church was twisted through
in the 17th century this painting, which had been over the high altar,
kept its west-facing orientation, now being in a chapel in the centre of the
right-hand aisle. It was restored by Venice in Peril for the
Genius of Venice exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1983 and
it came over for the big Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery in
2014. If you saw it then, lucky you - you saw it closer and better lit
than you do in the church.
Ridolfi mentions another work by Veronese,
painted for the Lanaiuoli, depicting San Bernardino, which I've
never noticed, but which is said to still be here.
Campanile 47m (153ft) manual bells
The original church's tower was restored 1225 and demolished in 1511 after
an earthquake. The current tower built 1704-32 by
Giovanni Scalfarotto. It has a neo-classical belfry with a tall circular
drum above and an
elongated dome. To me it looks a lot like a vibrator, I'm sorry. It has
had scaffolding covering it in recent years, but is now scaff-free and
Monday to Saturday:
10.00 - 12.00, 1.00 - 3.00
This detail from the Merian map of 1635 shows
the old San Pantalon facing the canal,
Santa Margherita (left foreground) still with its campanile.