advertisement

Known simply as “i Frari,” this immense 14th-century Gothic church is easily found around the corner from the Scuola Grande di San Rocco—make sure you visit both when you’re in this area. Built by the Franciscans (frari is a dialectal distortion of frati, or “brothers”), it is the largest church in Venice after San Marco. Since St. Francis and the order he founded emphasized prayer and poverty, it is not surprising that the church is austere both inside and out. Yet it houses a number of important works, including two Titian masterpieces. The more striking is his “Assumption of the Virgin” ★★ over the main altar, painted when the artist was only in his late 20s. His “Virgin of the Pesaro Family” is in the left nave; for this work commissioned by one of Venice’s most powerful families, Titian’s wife posed for the figure of Mary (and then died soon afterward in childbirth). Don’t miss Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna & Child” ★★ over the altar in the sacristy; novelist Henry James was struck dumb by it, writing “it is as solemn as it is gorgeous.”