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An old altarpiece for a new saint: the canonization of Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi and the decoration of Santa Maria dei Carmini in Venice.


On Sunday, 1 September 1669, Pietro Colombina, the Reverend Father of the Carmini in Venice, led his church in a solemn mass in commemoration of the canonization of St. Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi (Tomada 16, 19). This was the commencement of an octave of celebrations, which was completed the following Sunday when Padre Vitro Lepori of the Franciscans officiated. (1) De' Pazzi had been canonized in Rome on 28 April earlier that year. In the interval between the canonization and the solennizzazione in September, the Carmelites in Venice had been preparing for the octave of celebrations that coincided with the beginning of an indulgence issued by Pope Clement IX.

This article will discuss the decoration of the Carmelite church in Venice that accompanied the celebrations in honor of de' Pazzi in September 1669 and will focus on the foundation and decoration of a new altar for the new saint. (2) The decorations at the Carmini in Venice for this event were extensive: the church was decked in silks; the pews were removed so more people could attend; and new works of art were commissioned that effectively began a generation of renovation (Tomada 14). A cycle of paintings on the history of the Carmelite Order had already been started in 1666 when Pietro Liberi's Presentation of the Scapular was hung on the clerestory, but it was ultimately completed by Giustino Menescardi's Martyrdom of St. Albert of Vercelli in 1745. (3) In 1669 for the solemnization of de' Pazzi, when only Liberi's work had so far been installed, the rest of the clerestory walls were filled with a temporary cycle of paintings on her life. In anticipation of the events in September, a new side altar was built with accompanying decorations, and this structure was the focus of the events in September. It was decorated with a wooden statue of de' Pazzi by Antonio Rafaelli Forlano, laterali by Pietro Negri and Pietro Liberi, and two flanking statues in marble of Elijah and Elisha by Tommaso Rues; all but the last have been lost. Interestingly, however, the first altarpiece to be installed was not recorded until 1675, six years after de' Pazzi's canonization, and it was a Renaissance painting originally created and used for another altar with a different dedication more than 150 years earlier (Mondini 68). This curious disjuncture between the dedication and the decoration of the de' Pazzi altar is the focus of my discussion.


The interesting history of this particular altar has been overlooked in the art historical literature. This omission is perhaps unsurprising when we consider that the post-canonization festivities in honor of Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi as a whole have themselves been entirely overlooked in the English-language literature, while the Italian literature has examined only those that occurred in Rome and Florence. (4) The form of canonization and solennizzazione celebrations for new saints outside Rome in the sixteenth century is a subject that deserves greater attention, particularly with regards to events that affected or enriched the visual culture of a given community. The solennizzazione of a recently canonized saint was a common occurrence across Italy and frequently involved public processions, special masses, and the commissioning of ephemera and more permanent works of art (Fagiolo delrArco; Casale).

Since the early 1990s, a great deal of literature has been written on the altarpiece as a format and on its function as a liturgical object. (5) The last twenty years of research have focused on the altarpiece as a type that is defined by its function, and that function is in turn conditioned by our understanding of the users. This approach owes much to the work of anthropologists, such as Arnold van Gennep and Clifford Geertz, who understood objects, ritual, and the sacred as a means of coming to terms with troubling times (Gennep; Geertz 3-33; Gell 10-11). Altarpieces helped users to negotiate perceived power structures between God, man, and justice and thus to navigate the vicissitudes of life, disease, accident, and death. The literature has thus focused on the patron as the main recipient of the salvation offered by the altar and its related events. This paradigm, in which an altarpiece is understood through its patron (plural or singular, institutional or individual) who commissioned the work on behalf of it/him/herself or others, is narrowly concentrated on the conception of the work and also on relationships that are set at the beginning between the visual imagery of the altarpiece, the patron and dedication, as well as the possibilities of intervention in this life and salvation in the next. Cumulatively, the weight of this literature, like the weight of customs that guided the use of altarpieces themselves, is such that it structures our approach to further investigation. Few scholars have been as radical as Martin Kemp in his recent invention of a hypothetical typical altarpiece commission to explain the usual pattern. He constructed this model while apologizing that no two commissions are exactly alike and none probably looked precisely like the situation he describes (Kemp 39-41). Nevertheless, his attempt to describe the standard commission suggests that the paradigm has become so broadly accepted that it is in danger of obscuring other interpretations and investigation into objects that do not fit the pattern.

The decoration of the de' Pazzi altar presents us with an example of an altarpiece that does not fit the pattern established in the literature: the patrons and the dedications of the altarpiece and the altar do not appear to correspond and are separated by 150 years. The community at the Carmini in the late-seventeenth century was using an altarpiece that made no formal references to the dedication at all and whose patron (a confraternity) had long since been defunct. (6) This altarpiece did not mediate the relationship between the devout and their intercessor; it did not express the characteristics of the saint, illustrate her vita or, indeed, refer to her at all; nor does it represent or refer to the patron of this new altar or help to mediate the relationship between patron and titulus. Finally, as this altarpiece does not visually reference those that participated in the establishment and endowment of the altar, the usual implications and benefits of such an action (good works, generosity, and other devotions conducive to salvation) are not made manifest in the altarpiece. Is there an art historical (and thus visual) paradigm for interpreting an altarpiece that bears no connection to its patron or its altar? As yet, there is none, but a few tentative remarks will be made on this issue in the concluding section of this article.


We turn now to a closer look of the de' Pazzi solennizzazione and the foundation of the altar in 1669. The decorative arrangements made at the Carmini in the autumn of 1669 are recorded in a pamphlet written by one of Venice's Carmelite friars, Giuseppe Tomada. His small book, Delle sacre pompe Carmelitane, solennizate in Venezia per la Santificazione della Beata Maria Maddalena de Pazzi, describes the church and its decoration, with an emphasis on the new works and the ceremonies that commemorated the new saint. No contemporary or nearly contemporary manuscript sources have been found that concern the body of works considered in this article. Tomada's text, however, provides some fascinating insights into the church's decoration and its use in the late 1660s, specifically for the ceremonies in September that year, but also for the subsequent generation. Tomada's pamphlet has not been discussed in the scholarly work on the Carmini, perhaps due to the fact that very few were likely printed; there is a single copy at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice (Misc 2783.005) and another at the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome. (7)

Tomada's pamphlet is dedicated to the aforementioned Reverend Father of the Carmini, Pietro Colombina, and was published on 15 September 1669, just after the events it describes occurred. The pamphlet is bound in paper and is a mere forty-four pages of large type. (8) The second half of the text records hymns and sonetti sung during the celebrations, many of them composed by Tomada himself, with text borrowed heavily from various biblical and classical sources (St. Augustine among them). Unsurprisingly, these dwell on de' Pazzi's humility, virginity, and privileged position as a recipient of divine ecstasy, but none of them are included in the official Carmelite liturgy that was later written for the saint, and here they concern us less than the first half of the pamphlet (Boyce 387-9).

The first half of Tomada's document is in prose and describes the decoration of the church and the ceremonies that occurred during the solennizzazione in early September 1669. It is clearly intended both as a record of the event and a celebration of the (according to Tomada) lavish pomp and spectacle. Clearly, too, it is used as a vehicle to praise the various virtues of the saint, the order as a whole, and the Carmini in Venice. (9) It is hard to know who the intended audience was, but we may speculate that it was other Carmelite communities, particularly other foundations across Europe, amongst whom the pamphlet would surely have been distributed as an encouragement to celebrate their most recently canonized saint with appropriate pomp. (10) The style is one of reportage, and the content is didactic and promotional of the Venetian Carmini and de' Pazzi. In the seventeenth century a large body of literature describing public events existed. These include canonizations, solennizazione, and other occasions such as the election of a pope, the official arrival of important foreigners, the birth of important heirs, coronations of dukes and kings, or large funerals of dignitaries, and Tomada's pamphlet falls into this genre (Fagiolo dell'Arco, Bibliografia della festa Barocca 12). Probably, it was distributed as a keepsake of the event to other friaries and convents in Venice that had participated in the events described. The involvement of other religious communities from across the city could be interpreted as an intention to spread the cult of de' Pazzi beyond the parish of the Carmini.

The Arrangements of the Carmini Before and After the Canonization

The best account of the arrangement of altarpieces and other church furniture in the Carmini prior to the canonization of de' Pazzi is gathered from the Apostolic Visitation conducted in 1581 (preserved in the Archivio Segreto Vaticano) and from contemporary printed guidebooks to the city of Venice, which describe the Carmini as one of the city's many attractions. Here these sources will be examined, with Tomada's testimony, to establish the arrangement on the north wall before and after the de' Pazzi's altar was added, and to see what light they can shed on the early history of the altar.

The Carmini was founded in 1286 and was consecrated on 6 April 1348. (11) Following the format of mendicant churches across Italy, it was a three-nave, brick-built Gothic basilica, in this case without transepts. Early sources describe its Greek marble columns (which resemble those dated 1361 and 1364 in the nearby church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, Venice), and it was distinguished by a fourteenth-century protiro on the north-east door that is now unique in the city (Ruskin 1:21). Over the centuries, it had undergone various decorative interventions: the apses of the east-end were given the semblance of Renaissance styling when they were clad in classical motifs (which failed to hide their essentially Gothic proportions and construction), and the facade was similarly, but more successfully, adapted to a classical vocabulary in the first decade of the sixteenth century. The biggest change in the appearance of the church was the 1653 removal of the tramezzo that once filled the upper church and the construction of a retro-choir and cantarie at the east-end. (12) The renovations had been anticipated in the 1630s by the opening of Diocletian windows on the south wall to allow in more light. Giustiniani Martinioni comments that these alterations brought much needed light and clarity to the church, and Tomada also remarked approvingly upon the new lights (Sansovino and Martinioni 265; Tomada 6). The removal of the choir-stalls and tramezzo and the opening of more windows--following the pattern of churches across Italy--moved the Carmini forcefully from the dark compartmentalized Gothic church it had been to a lighter, more open and unified one in the Renaissance fashion. Although the complex was originally Gothic in design, at least four of the Carmini chapels had been remodeled all'antica by 1600. Halfa dozen confraternities at the church had altarpieces in the western lower-nave where the tramezzo had stood, and they had a number of patrician tombs and altars as well.



In 1581, according to an apostolic visitation, the altars on the north side of the church were dedicated in the following manner: on the counter-facade next to the main door was an altar dedicated to the Death of the Virgin; the first altar on the north wall was dedicated to St. Albert, followed by a second dedicated to St. Nicholas and then another dedicated to the Crucifixion; and the last (in the apse chapel at the west end) was dedicated to St. Peter. The altar dedicated to the Virgin was decorated by Lazzaro Bastiani's Madonna della Misericordia with San Rocco (lost); the St. Nicholas altarpiece was painted by Lorenzo Lotto and remains in situ; the Crucifixion altar had a marble crucifix, now lost; and the author of the St. Peter altarpiece was unrecorded until its redecoration in 1733. In 1628, a new altar dedicated to St. Marina and decorated by Palma Giovane was added between the altars of St. Nicholas and the Crucifix, and this addition was followed in 1653 by the dismantling of the tramezzo that had divided the nave (Sansovino and Martinioni 263; Boschini, Le minere della pittura 370). (13)

The altar dedicated to de' Pazzi was constructed between the altar of St. Nicholas and the altar of St. Marina, (14) becoming (when counting west-east) the third altar on the north wall. Prior to 1669, there was no altar recorded on that site, and the Apostolic Visitation of 1581 describes only the tramezzo between the St. Nicholas and Crucifix altars (Visita Apostolica 27v). No mention of an altar or artworks occupying this site occurs in accounts from the early seventeenth century. Marco Boschini is especially clear when he described the church in a clockwise manner after the removal of the barrier in 1664: "opera molto esquisita, di Lorenzo Lotto Bergamasco. Segue un'altra tavola del Palma [A most exquisite work of Lorenzo Lotto Bergamasco. Another painting of Palma follows] (Le minere della pittura 369). Clearly, Boschini moves from the Lotto to the Palma without recording anything in between. In fact, the first recorded description of the use of this site for any artwork is in Tomada's 1669 pamphlet. Tomada describes the works clustered between the St. Nicholas and St. Marina altarpieces as follows:

Gl' Altari tutti riccamente vestiti, e pomposamente adobbati con candelieri, e lampade d'argento, che continuamente con viue lingue di fiamma eccitauao [sic] ardori di diuozione. L'Altare della Santa eretto dalla pieta, e generosita diuota del R. P. Zaccaria Vai a proprie spese e bellissimo situato dalla parte sinistra della Chiesa dirimpetto di quello della Madonna d'architettura moderna di finissimi marmi con colonne di Affricano d'ordine Corinto. Questo era douiziosamente omato dal frontespicio fino all'vltimo bassamento con diuersi pezzi d'argento lauorati d'intaglio; ventiquattro candelieri pur d'argento, che sostentando ventiquattro candelotti di due libre rvno, che sempre ardeuano, formauano ricco, e splendidissimo abellimento, da lati dritto, e sinistro due bellissimi quadri, nell'vno il Crocifisso / dipinto, che togliendosi dal costato il cuore; lo donaua regalo diuino alla sua Sposa Maddalena, che spasimando per amore del suo Dio quasi suenuta veniua sostentata da vn'Angelo, che nell'ilarila [sic]del sembiante esprimeua il contento, che godea in seruir [sic] di bracciere all'innamorata del suo Giesu. / Nell'altro compariua la Santa sostenuta pure da vn Serafino, & il gran Padre S. Agostino, che nel foglio del cuore con penna della colomba del Giordano gli scriueua. Verbum carofactum est. (Tomada 15-16) (15)

This energetic description is clearly intended to inspire the reader with the sumptuousness of the altar and its provisions. The large number of candles is especially impressive. What is really striking, however, is that while Tomada documents the presence of a previously unrecorded altar, its patron, and its lateral decorations, he omits any description of the altarpiece.

The altar was not without an altarpiece for long, however. In 1675 Francesco Mondini, another friar of the Carmini, describes the sequence of paintings heading east along the north wall and is even thoughtful enough to provide (rather unreliable) dates (Mondini 68-9). (16) After Lorenzo Lotto's St. Nicholas altarpiece, he writes:

La tauola detta la Speranza hoggi altare dedicato a S. M. Maddalena di Lazzaro Sebastiani / 1669. La statua di S. M. Maddalena e d'antonio Rafaelli Forlano. / 1673. Il quadro alia destra di detto altare e del Cau: Liberi. / 1674 Il quadro alia Sinistra di detto Altare con Christo, & la Santa e di Pietro negri Veneto. (Mondini 68-9) (17)

A second report of this arrangement is found in a guidebook to Venice written by Piero Pacifico in 1697; he states that "La misericordia su l'altar di S Maria Maddalena e opera di Lazaro Sebastiani" (Pacifico 455-6). (18) Lazzaro Bastiani (aka Sebastiani), who died in 1512, was not miraculously resurrected to fulfill this commission as the dates might initially suggest (Ridolfi 1:49-51; Zampetti 1:24; di Giampaolo). Rather, an old altarpiece (sadly now lost) was re-used to decorate a new altar. Bastiani's altarpiece was later replaced following a rededication in 1815 of Lattanzio Querena's St. Anthony of Padua altarpiece (Paoletti 3:118; Niero 50).

An altarpiece by Bastiani was described in the Carmini in 1581 by Sansovino who provides an uncustomarily long description: "Vi dipinse anco Lazaro de Sebastiani la Misericordia col Dio Padre, che lancia saette con S. Rocco a guazzo" (Sansovino and Martinioni 262). According to Mondini, the altarpiece used on the de' Pazzi altar had been called "la Speranza" and we know a confraternity called the Scuola di Speranza, dei tedeschi tessitori di fustagno had used an altar dedicated to the Death of the Virgin on the counter-facade to the north of the main door (Vio 823). The confraternity had gone bankrupt in 1583, and in 1612 their altar was taken over by a new society dedicated to St. Liberale, who promptly redecorated their altar with a work by Andrea Vicentino that year. (19) Aside from Mondini and Piero Pacifico, no one records an altarpiece being present until Querena's canvas is installed in 1815.

It would appear that in 1612 Bastiani's altarpiece was removed from its location on the counter-facade and by 1675, when it is recorded by Mondini, had been placed on the altar recently dedicated to de' Pazzi. From at least 1675, the altar was decorated with a painting that did not depict the titulus and made no obvious reference to her cult, vita, devotions or patronage; Bastiani's altarpiece featured a misericordia with St. Rocco lancing a boil with God the Father and not the Florentine saint.

The Celebrations

In accounts of the celebrations in September 1669, no mention of an altarpiece appears at all. The obvious conclusion is that when Tomada's Delle sacre pompe carmelitane went to print just four months after de' Pazzi's canonization, the friars of the Carmini simply had not yet commissioned one; and as we have seen, they had still not commissioned one almost thirty years later. Although not an essential component of altars, altarpieces were nevertheless amongst the most important items decorating and used with altars, and the custom was such that they were virtually indispensable (Humfrey, The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 62; Gardner 10-11; Williamson 370-71). That the Carmelites would have commissioned dozens of works for the rest of the church but not the keystone of the altar's decoration, and that this major liturgical event would have gone on without it seem incredible. The placement of the Bastiani remains problematic for another reason: a principle function (though not strictly a requirement of canon law) of an altarpiece was to declare unambiguously the dedication of the altar (Humfrey, The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 62; Gardner 10-11; Williamson 370-71). Similarly, the role of the altarpiece was to guide the prayers and thoughts of the devoted, to act as a focus for their minds when contemplating the mysteries of their faith and when engaging in the mass. Bastiani's Misericordia with St. Roch, because it makes no reference to de' Pazzi, could not achieve either of these goals during its tenure on the altar.

Why, when so much of the rest of the church is being lavishly decorated, when a new altar is founded with "finissimi marmi" (Tomada 15), do they not commission a new altarpiece? Clearly, the Bastiani altarpiece was too valuable and useful an object to simply throw away, but the Carmelites had only a few years earlier donated a number of works to a new church (founded 1647) dedicated to St. Theresa just a stone's throw away, and they could have done the same with the Bastiani (Zanetti 245; Zanotto 418-19; Schulz 133; Bassi 233-42). Perhaps there was no altarpiece for the solennizzazione because there had not been time to have one commissioned and installed. The three months between the canonization in April and the solennizzazione in September are not sufficient for an altarpiece to be commissioned, completed, and installed, as this process could take as long as a year or more (Humfrey, The Altarpiece in Renaissance Venice 137), but the short time period does not explain why, decades later in 1697, they still had not installed a new altarpiece.

Quite possibly, the Carmelites had hoped to inspire the foundation of a new confraternity in honor of their new saint (Black 23-57; Boaga 655-716). No record in the archives of the Consiglio di dieci of a confraternity dedicated to de' Pazzi being established at the Carmini exists, but Tomada does imply that one had existed when he uses the phrase "della nostra Confiaternita" on page twenty. (20) Perhaps, the Carmelites waited in vain for a new confraternity to take up responsibility for the permanent decoration and maintenance of the altar. (21) In the meanwhile, the Bastiani panel was used.

Nevertheless, the dedication of the altar, the vita of de' Pazzi, and her special intercessionary powers and claims to sanctity were indicated via other means. In the descriptions quoted above, three other art works decorated the altar. There were two laterali by Pietro Negri and Pietro Liberi of the Eternal Father, the Virgin and Child and de' Pazzi and Christ Writing 'Et Verbum Caro factum' on the heart of Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi, respectively. However, the principle focus for the devotions of the faithful may have been more centrally placed. The wooden statue of de' Pazzi made by Antonio Rafaelli Forlano, as recorded in 1675 in Mondini, is likely to have been the focus of the ceremonies and prayers of the faithful because it stood on the altar, almost certainly in a central position (Mondini 69; Moschini 2:262). (22) The portability of the statue must also have been a boon since the statue could continue to be the focus of the ceremonies as it was paraded around the western half of the city. This artist is of such a minor stature that he is entirely unmentioned in any of the major sources on Venetian Seicento sculpture (see especially Bacchi; Semenzato). Both Mondini and Tomada mention works that were created by the friars themselves, and likely, Forlano was one such amateur. The wooden statue remained on the altar until at least 1815, when it was seen there by Giannantonio Moschini, who commented that it was not a good work (Moschini 2:262).

Regardless of its perceived artistic merit, Forlano's lost statue had an important function in addition to representing the titulus of the altar. It was used prominently in the procession on the final day of the Carmini's octave of celebrations on Sunday, 8 September 1669 (Tomada 21). Tomada describes how "vn numero innumerabile di popolo formaua la Processione" round the western end of the city, first going north past the Friary to San Simeon Grande, then heading west to San Andrea della Ziranda and south again to San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, stopping at Santa Teresa before returning via San Raffaele to the Carmini (20-24). The procession was led first by a standard painted with an image of the Virgin Mary and then by a statue of de' Pazzi carried aloft by the gonfaloniere of a confraternity (Tomada does not say which confraternity). (23)

Forlano's statue no doubt began and ended its peregrinations at the altar of the mystic. This lost work thus had a central role, if not the most important role in the octave of ceremonies. Not only did it stand in place of an altarpiece, declaring the dedication, it also led the procession through the city and was thus amongst the first point of contact with the cult of the saint for many of the people who, Tomada records, turned out to watch:
   Le strade, e finestre per doue passo la Processione, comparuero
   tutte adornate di tapezzarie di Fiandra, di Tapeti di seta, e di
   tanti quadri d'esquisiti pennelli, che ben si conobbe quanto di
   prezioso conferui ne'suoi recinti Venezia ... Fu poi cosi grande la
   frequenza del popolo nel giorno della processione, che le gran
   piazze, le molte strade, le finestre di case, e palazzi non era
   capace di riceuerlo, onde si vedeuano fino sopra i tetti; Tutti i
   canali occupati da gondole ripiene di Dame, e Cauallieri, In fine
   fu cosi dire infinita. (24)

The statue was carried in front of a series of relics held by the church relics of Sts. Simon Stock, Albert, Elisha, and Cordelia). (25) The statue of the newly canonized Florentine mystic might have been called upon to perform a similar function as the relics, in cases where no relics were available. Processions of relics were common in Renaissance Venice; for corroboration one need only recall how often the miraculous occurrences that accompanied them have been commemorated in art. (26) These processions were public events that can be understood as an outreach program to the people of the city and as a public act of worship that helped secure the benevolence of God, as well as the intercession of the saints in this life and the next.

Tomada, Mondini, Pacifico, and Moschini are the only writers who record the wooden statue of de' Pazzi (Moschini 2:262; but see also Pacifico 456; Niero 51; Semenzato 89). After Pacifico's description, none of the sources mention the altarpiece by Bastiani aga, in, but it likely remained on the altar until it was replaced by Querena's St. Anthony of Padua in 1815, following the rededication of the altar. The descriptive accounts of Venetian churches that began with Sansovino's Venetia citta nobilissima were in various guises a celebration of the city. Sansovino's book says relatively little about paintings and even less about statuary, and is more a portrait of the institutions of the city and its famed constitution. The intention is to demonstrate political stability and justice, as well as the commercial, religious, and intellectual wealth of the Serenissima. With these motivations in mind, one is perhaps not surprised that interest in recording works of great artists and of the recent fashion continues. At the time of Sansovino's writing in 1581, the churches of Venice would still have been filled with a veritable profusion of Gothic decoration and medieval art works, but he consistently overlooks these to concentrate instead on the works of the Venetian Renaissance of the generation before him. Each subsequent generation of writers and their work, including Carlo Ridolfi's response to Vasari, Le maravaglie dell'Arte, demonstrates a similar concern to privilege modern and painted works over medieval and sculpted pieces. It thus comes as no surprise that a work by Lazzaro Bastiani, a lesser artist working in the shadow of Bellini, and a wooden statue by the otherwise unknown Forlano should be overlooked by the writers of later centuries. The partiality of previous writers has obscured the role that the altarpiece and its figurative partner played in the decoration of de' Pazzi's altar.


Despite the wealth of literature that has been written in the last twenty years on altarpieces, on their function, format, structure, patronage, and iconography, no paradigm exists for the use of an altarpiece over an altar to which it has no previous connection. Indeed, most functional interpretations rely on the specificity of the imagery to the cult. Similarly, most interpretations that examine patronage are concerned with the specificity of the iconography, and the sort of anthropological interpretation inspired by the work of Alfred Gell usually seeks to contextualize the art work with issues of faith or society that are highly specific (Gell 16-20). The example examined here has few, if any, published precedents.

The inevitable conclusion is that there were other methods of achieving the purposes that altarpieces were intended to fulfill. Clearly, altarpieces functioned in co-operation with other art works, which may have been of lesser artistic merit but were highly appreciated by the devoted community they served. A great deal of excellent literature on Venetian altarpieces and their relationship to the dedication and structure of altars exists, but relatively little has been done on what have heretofore been considered peripheral items. A few prominent exceptions occur, but even these studies have considered each aspect and its relationship to the altar largely independently of other items. (27) Perhaps, the time has come for sources such as Tomada's to be reconsidered for what they can tell us about the combined artifacts around an altar and their combined uses, in the regular mass, in divine offices and in extra-liturgical events.

Perhaps, we need look no further than the Carmelites, an order dedicated to poverty and accustomed to arguing about its antiquity, for a simple reason why an old altarpiece may have been re-used. They may have hoped to indicate their poverty by demonstrably not commissioning new decoration, although the costly marbles and lavish ephemera would surely have revealed to any critical observer the true cost of the endowment. No confraternity took over the decoration of the altar, although one is likely to have been intended. After 1650, no new confraternities were founded at the Carmini, and no private patronage of an altarpiece, chapel or tomb occurred between 1620 and the suppression of the monastery in 1806. During the seventeenth century, the Carmelites themselves undertook the decoration of the church and its altars. They did so to create an increasingly unified church interior with matching altarframes and altarpieces and to promote their own saints. Their achievement is most obvious in the two apse chapels that flank the high altar. They make an impressive pair with matching altarframes, and both altarpieces display prominent Carmelite coats-of-arms in the foreground (Pandolfo 69-70). The altar of de' Pazzi was also commissioned and decorated by a friar-priest; the Carmelite Zaccaria Vai is reported by Tomada to have endowed the altar and paid for its decoration. The rise of institutional self-patronage in this period is matched by the decline of private and corporate patronage as the personal and civic wealth of the city declined following international developments in trade and markets. (28) This development appears to have affected the other mendicant orders equally, as they too faced increasing competition for patronage from the new orders and organizations established in the wake of the Counter-Reformation. The fledgling Jesuits in particular were increasingly assuming center stage as the great preachers and spiritualists of the Church Militant.

The figure of the Virgin of Charity represented by the Misericordia type (in this case accompanied by St. Roch) is employed here as the great mediatrix; in the process, she displaces de' Pazzi: a highly problematic development according to the current discourse on altarpiece imagery.

The history of the altarpiece dedicated to de' Pazzi at the Venice Carmini has been outlined above for the first time, and new sources have been brought to the attention of the scholarly community. The relationship between altar dedication and altarpiece at the de' Pazzi altar does not fit neatly into the usual paradigm for understanding how these objects interacted, and suggests that our reliance on the model of function and patronage needs to be expanded to include a wider variety of situations. The importance of altar objects other than the altarpiece as a means of identification, dedication, and devotion has also been discussed here. The situation at the Carmini in 1669 was unlikely unique, and further study of such altar-altarpiece pairings will surely reveal many similar situations found repeated at altars elsewhere in Venice and across Italy.


Thanks for this article are due to Arnold Witte, Guendalina Serafinelli, and Sarah Schell for their help, as well as to the National Gallery of Art's Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts in Washington, D.C. I was welcomed by both the Institutum Carmelitana in Rome and the Carmelite Institute in Washington, D.C. The libraries of these three institutions and the advice of these scholars proved invaluable in shaping this article.

Works Cited

Aikema, Bernard, and Beverly Louise Brown. Renaissance Venice and the North: Crosscurrents in the Time of Bellini, Darer and Titian. Venice: Bompini, 1999.

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(1.) Menzies 304-05; Butler, Thurston, and Attwater 2:416-19; Bibliotheca Sanctorum 8:1107-31; Saggi 276-94; Farmer 270; Boyce 387.

(2.) For a discussion of her iconography, see Emond 1:181-5; Bibliotheca Sanctorum 8:1129; Pacini, "Contributi per l'iconografia di Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi" 279-350; Pacini, "Fasto barocco" 375-8; Pacini, Maria Maddalena de'Pazzi 35-48; Saggi 292-4.

(3.) These are recorded in early accounts from Boschini onwards: Boschini, Le ricche minere D46. See also the more recent publications: Ivanoff 65-9; Niero 57-8; Moretti and Savini Branca 28; Ruggeri 172, cat. no. 129. None of these accounts has noted the existence of an earlier temporary cycle dedicated to de' Pazzi that preceded the permanent one currently in situ.

(4.) For this fascinating and growing area of study, see Tassini; Padoan Urban 145-55; Tamassia Mazzarotto; Muir; Bella, Zompini, and Busetto; Fenlon, The Ceremonial City; Fenlon, Piazza San Marco 87-107.

(5.) A sample of only the most significant would include: Os; Hope; Humfrey, The Altarpiece 57-87; Gardner 5-40; Williamson 341-406. There has, since Jacob Burckhardt, always been some interest in the format and a steady trickle of publications that dealt with it directly: Burckhardt; Bishop 20-39.

(6.) For the patronage of confraternities, and especially scuole piccole, in Venice, see the important articles by Humfrey, "The Venetian Altarpiece" and "Competitive Devotions"; Humfrey and MacKenney.

(7.) Tomada describes himself in the text as a Carmelite friar of Venice, beyond which nothing is known of him.

(8.) Although this is fairly large for this genre of text, which were commonly only eight to sixteen pages long, occasionally examples can be found that were as long as 100 pages or more (Fagiolo dell'Arco, Bibliografia della festa Barocca 12).

(9.) He praises his home church on three counts, firstly that it was ancient (he claims it was 500 years, when in fact it was only 383); secondly for the large number of great and holy men buried within its walls; and finally because it was the home of works by the "primi pennelli" of the city (Tomada 6).

(10.) De' Pazzi, following St. Teresa of Avila, was only the second saint of the order to be canonized.

(11.) A plaque on the north wall records:
   VE/NECIIS (Cicogna 2:902).

From the sixteenth century onwards, the foundation date is recorded in chronicles and histories too numerous to recount here.

(12.) Sansovino and Martinioni 265; Niero 22; Libera 220; Moretti and Savini Branca 23.

(13.) Palma Giovane's altar of St. Marina has also been lost, but see the entries in Ivanoff and Zampetti 579, cat. no. 330; Mason Rinaldi 127, cat. no. 437.

(14.) Brown, Humfrey, and Lucco 165-7; Aikema and Brown 466, cat. no. 127; Villa 124, cat. no. 11.

(15.) The common long "s," has been rendered here as a modern "s," but the casual application of "u" and "v" has been maintained as it is in the original. Translation:

The altars, richly embellished and pompously adorned with candlesticks and silver lamps, which with tongues of flame continually roused ardors of devotion. The altar of the saint, erected through the piety and generosity of the Reverend Father Zaccaria Vai at his own expense, is very beautiful, situated on the right side of the church, directly in front of that of the Madonna, a product of modern architecture with fine Corinthian columns of African marble. This was richly adorned from the frontispiece [i.e., the pediment over the altar] to the very bottom, engraved with various pieces of silver; 24 candlesticks, also of marble, which supported 24 candles, each weighing two pounds, which were always burning, formed a rich and splendid ornament on the right side. And on the left there were two very beautiful paintings, one of the crucified Christ, removing his heart from his side and giving it as a divine gift to his spouse, Mary Magdalen, who, languishing with love for her God and almost swooning, is supported by an angel, who in the joyfulness of his countenance expressed the contentment he enjoyed in serving as escort to the beloved of Jesus. In the other painting the Saint was again supported by a seraph, and the great father, St. Augustine, who in the center of the page was writing with a feather from the dove that appeared at the Jordan: Verbum caro factum est [the Word was made flesh]. (All translations from Italian in this article by Charles Fantazzi.)

(16.) Mondini claims that Jacopo Tintoretto's Presentation of Christ in the Temple was painted in 1512, a date which would be very remarkable considering his birth date is usually placed around 1519.

(17.) ("The painting called 'Hope' today on the altar dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen, is by Lazzaro Sebastiani. 1699. The statue of Saint Mary Magdalen is by Antonio Rafaellin Forlano. 1670. The painting on the right side of the said altar is by Cau. Liberi. 1674. The painting on the left side of the altar with Christ and saints is by Pietro [N]egri Veneto").

(18.) Pacifico goes on to add on the following page: "quello dis. Maria Maddalena de Pazzi, che oltre la finezza de marmi macchiati, vi sono due bellissime figure di marmo ai lati di esso, l'vna d'Elia, raltra d'Eliseo, e su l'altar quella della Santa ben intagliata di eguo (Pacifico 455-6) (that of Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi, which besides the refinement of the dappled marble, there are two very beautiful marble figures around it, one of Elijah, the other of Elisha, and on the altar the figure of Santa Maria Maddalena, well carved in wood").

This is the only pre-twentieth century description of the statues of Elijah and Elisha that flank the altar. See also: Niero 51; Semenzato 89; Moretti and Savini Branca 25.

(19.) This work, now on the north wall and thus also no longer over the altar on the counter facade, is well described in the accounts and is signed and dated "Andrea Vicentino F. MDCXII."

(20.) This may refer to the Confraternity of the Carmelite Scapular established at the end of the sixteenth century.

(21.) The Carmelites could have commissioned an altarpiece earlier than the canonization, after she was beatified, or even earlier in anticipation that she would soon be so honored. Beatification usually meant that certain communities or nations/city-states were permitted to venerate a saint and that canonization was merely a universal acceptance of the cult. Nevertheless, dedicating altars to individuals who are not canonized or otherwise permitted contravened canon law, but this law was occasionally ignored (Williamson 361). For further examples, see Buckton and Osborne 45; Meilman 77-8; Leone de Castris 176; Gilbert.

(22.) We know it was small enough to have occupied this position because it is described being carried in procession by Tomada; see below.

(23.) "Precedeua vn bellissimo Stendardo bianco, nel quale come in campo di Gigli fra diuersi groppi di Angioletti si vedeua la nostra Santa Vergine ... della nostra Confraternita ... il Confalone ... con la statua nel mezo della Santissima Vergine con la pacienza in mano" (Tomada 20) ("a beautiful white standard was at the head of the procession, in which in a field of lilies among groups of angels one could see the Virgin with a scapular in her hand").

(24.) Translation:
   The streets and windows where the procession passed appeared to be
   all adorned with Flemish tapestries, silk carpets, and many
   painting of excellent workmanship, so that one could well see how
   many treasures Venice preserves within its boundaries. Moreover,
   the crowds of people along the route were so great that the large
   piazzas, the many streets, the windows of the houses, and the
   palazzi were not capable of containing them, and you could see them
   even on the rooftops. All the canals were crowded with gondolas,
   filled with damsels and noblemen. It was, so to speak, endless.

(25.) Given the importance of relics for the foundation of altars, it is perhaps noteworthy that nowhere is the church recorded possessing a relic of de' Pazzi.

(26.) See especially the major narrative cycles of the late fifteenth century in the Accademia and in the Scuola Grande di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Also, see P. F. Brown's Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio.

(27.) We should acknowledge some excellent examples of attempts to synthesize other items with the decorative scheme and function of the altarpiece: Dendy passim; Nova 177-89; Worthen 707-32; Matile passim.

(28.) This trend, however, is probably also linked to the increasing demands of theological orthodoxy in the wake of the Counter-Reformation.
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Date:Jun 22, 2012
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