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Nuns and Their Art: The Case of San Zaccaria in Renaissance Venice [*].

This article discusses the ways in which fifteenth-century nuns financed, shaped, and used works of art and architecture at the Benedictine convent of San Zaccaria in Venice. Evidence from chronicles, account books, liturgical manuscripts, reports of visits to the convent, and inscriptions on the works of art themselves shows that the nuns viewed art within their convent extremely proprietarily. While they accepted subsidies from the civic government, indulgences from popes, privileges from Byzantine emperors, and donations from private patrons, the nuns paid close attention to the administration of commissions within the convent church and committed substantial funds to artistic projects, making them their own.

On August 21, 1521 the abbess of San Zaccaria and the leaders of three other convents in Venice came before the Venetian Collegio to protest radical reforms being imposed on their communities. For several years the nuns had been employing both diplomacy and physical resistance to fight off attempts by the Patriarch to impose strict clausura on their convents. But neither sending requests for dispensation to the pope nor hurling rocks at church officials who were sent to install iron grills and gates at San Zaccaria proved effective. [1] Instead, their spokesperson, Abbess Chiara Dona of the convent of Le Vergini, complained that "where all used to be noble, there are now installed nuns of another order, following a different rule and wearing a different habit -- base-born women, Greeks and plebians to boot. What had stood for 760 years has now been taken from them, when they had spent 46,000 ducats on the church, the convent and the magnificent refectory." [2] A centuries-old, symbiotic relationship between the nuns and their numerous friends in high places -- doges, emperors, popes, Venetian senators, wealthy ecclesiastics, and devout laypersons -- had been summarily dismissed. Centuries of investment in art and architecture at the convent suddenly seemed foolhardy.

In this article I will explore one of the major contributing factors to the nuns' outrage and disillusionment, namely the great extent to which the church and the art within it was viewed as theirs. While the costly architecture, chancel decorations, and choir stalls of the fifteenth-century convent of San Zaccaria were commissioned with the assistance of male agents, partially funded with contributions from male civic authorities, enhanced by other private donations (both male and female), and overseen by male supervisors, I will argue that the nuns saw these spaces and their adornment as their special province and even canvas. They initiated artistic projects and shaped the form and subject matter to meet their own needs. Legal jurisdiction over San Zaccaria of course rested with the bishop (later Patriarch) of Venice, who installed the abbess and held ultimate responsibility for the convent's spiritual and physical health, [3] but a great deal of the art and architecture at San Zaccaria is better understo od as having been the nuns', financed by personal and communal resources within the convent and closely shaped and orchestrated by the nuns themselves. As Chiara Dona had said, "What had stood for 760 years has now been taken from them, when they had spent 46,000 ducats on the church, the convent and the magnificent refectory [italics mine]." It was their vision, their church and their community that was challenged by zealous reformers.

The nuns of San Zaccaria not only made informed aesthetic and programmatic choices about the buildings which they occupied and the altarpieces in front of which they worshiped; [4] they also shaped those works in light of frequent and significant interactions with the Venetian community at large. They skillfully exploited a symbiotic and necessarily permeable relationship between the convent and the city at large. Neither they nor their art could serve their full purpose if locked away for safe keeping. The power of both nuns and their art lay in being sheltered, but not divorced, from the world outside the convent.

Given the fragmentary nature of evidence that survives from the Quattrocento it is not possible to chart all the actions and interactions that brought San Zaccaria's particular works of art and architecture into being. Nevertheless, the convent's surviving payment books and chronicles, [5] as well as the works of art and architecture themselves, indicate that the nuns exercised remarkable self-initiative and autonomy. All surviving inscriptions, contracts and financial records point to the nuns as the prime movers in their commissions. Resourceful and visionary abbesses seem to have set artistic and architectural agendas that were subject to discussion by the convent community and only then executed by the convent's directly designated agents who reported regularly to teams of surveillant nuns. Sensitive to the needs and desires of a variety of publics besides themselves -- especially the doge and the civic government, parishioners, and pilgrims -- the nuns ingratiated themselves to a broad segment of Veneti an society At the same time, they expected reciprocity: public recognition and prestige on the one hand and minimal internal intervention and interference on the other. More loyal daughters of their families and of the State than subservient brides of the Church, [6] the nuns of San Zaccaria contributed as much to the city's flume as to the glory of God. When prestigious guests came to Venice, they were not only shown the city's impressive architecture and commercial wealth but regularly treated to the singing of nuns. [7] Few noble women chose to be nuns -- it was a duty foisted on them by fathers anxious to protect the family patrimony [8] -- so once inside the convent and socialized to its rhythms of worship and communal life, they rightly expected in compensation that their communities would be largely self-monitoring and self-governing.

The state of research on the history of Venetian convents is still too fragmentary to assess accurately the degree to which the situation at San Zaccaria may have been unique or typical in Quattrocento Venice. Still, the vociferous protests against reform that arose from other centuries-old convents in the early sixteenth century, especially the venerable Benedictine house of San Lorenzo (founded like San Zaccaria in the ninth century) and the Augustinian nunnery of Le Vergini (directly dependent on dogal patronage) [9] suggest that similar if not identical understandings may have applied at their communities. The extent to which nuns controlled "their" art at San Zaccaria may thus offer a first glimpse at a much more complex story. [10] Thanks to a new reading of a report of the visit of Emperor Frederick III to the convent in 1469, [11] along with material culled from contracts, inscriptions and ceremony books that has been used primarily to illuminate artists' biographies and building practice, passing si lently or quickly over references to the nuns' direct involvement in the project, [12] I will demonstrate and emphasize the role San Zaccaria's nuns played in the creation of art and architecture for their convent. To be sure, not all art at San Zaccaria was theirs -- patrons gave gifts of art, nave chapels were often familial burial sites controlled by heirs -- but the documentary evidence associated with San Zaccaria suggests that the nuns viewed the convent most proprietrarily. If other communities were at all similar, it is possible that the chancels, choirs, and even naves of many convent churches may show the imprint of resident nuns. While nuns did not make these works with their own hands -- as was the case with needlework and some objects in gold and silver [13] -- it was theirs nonetheless.

The nuns of San Zaccaria were involved in two major episodes of building and decoration in the fifteenth century: 1) the enlargement and enhancment of the chancel of the nuns' church and 2) the reconstruction of the nave and creation of new wooden choir stalls, a project which led to the erection of a new (the present) church of San Zaccaria alongside the nuns' church. These episodes are better documented than most Quattrocento Venetian commissions, and the works themselves survive largely intact. Instructions for their liturgical use and reports of visits to the convent, neither previously explored for their art historical implications, enrich understanding of this fascinating chapter in the history of female monastic patronage.

Frescoes of God the Father, the four evangelists, Sts. John the Baptist and his father Zacharia (San Zaccaria), along with busts of prophets and St. Benedict -- subjects well-suited to this Benedictine convent dedicated to a prophet -- fill the severies and triumphal arch of a ribbed vaulted apse in the chancel of the nuns' church, today known as the chapel of San Tarasio (A on the plan in fig. 1). Dated by inscription to August 1442, the frescoes were painted by the Florentine artist Andrea del Castagno and his assistant Francesco da Faenza (fig. 2). A double sided, carved and painted altarpiece created in 1443 by the Venetian team of Antonio Vivarini, Giovanni d'Alemagna, and Ludovico da Forli stands in the midst of the apse on the high altar (figs. 2 and 3, a on the plan in fig. 1). Two other altarpieces from the same shop occupy niches in the side walls (figs. 4 and 5, b and c on the plan in fig. 1). As we shall see, the altarpieces largely feature representations of saints whose relics were kept in the c hurch, though they also include images of saints who were personally significant to the nuns.

Choir stalls commissioned in 1455 from Marco and Francesco Cozzi and inscribed and delivered in 1464 (fig. 6) ring the chapel of Sant' Atanasio (B on the plan in fig. 1). The space received its present form in 1595, when the original chancel of the nuns' church (the present chapel of San Tarasio) was blocked off from the rest of the structure and the chapel of Sant' Atanasio was created in the space of the central nave of the nuns' church and the church's right side aisle. (The left aisle was removed in the 1460s when the present church of San Zaccaria [D on the plan in fig. 1] was erected next to the nuns' church). The nuns' church originally extended from the present chapel of San Tarasio to the facade of the complex, uniting in a single long space areas A, B, and C on the plan in fig. 1. The choir stood in the midst of the nave, and columniated choir screens separated the first bay of the nave from the choir precinct and the elevated chancel from the rest of the church. Steps at either side of the nave le d down to the crypt below the chancel. [14]

Chancel renovations took place under Abbess Elena Foscari, sister of the sitting doge, Francesco Foscari (in office 1423-1457). [15] She was installed as abbess of the convent on 25 May, 1437 in a ceremony that included the consecration of fifteen virgins. [16] She was personally expected to pay the bulk of the expenses associated with these festivities. In 1417, for example, Abbess Francesca Ferro paid one ducat per nun, each of whom was allowed to have four guests, as well as for all bread and wine. [17] Such expenses paralleled those borne by newly professed nuns. [18] Also in her first year in office Foscari again dipped into her own funds on 22 December, 1437 to pay 80 ducats for a new organ "to the honor of God and the adornment of the church." [19] Documentation from this and other convents indicates that such patronage activity was a common burden and privilege of conventual office. [20] When Marina Donato, Foscari's prioress, succeeded Foscari as abbess at San Zaccaria, she donated three golden clot hs for the high altar to the convent at the even more substantial cost of 147 ducats. [21]

Approximately five years into Foscari's abbacy the apse of the church was reconstructed, making it larger and more luminous than the eleventh-century structure whose thick walls still delimit the interior of the crypt below the chancel. Similar in form and articulation to other Venetian apses built around this time -- it is ringed by tall pointed lancets set within a cage of brick rib vaults that appear as well at the male Benedictine houses of Sant'Elena and San Gregorio, the church of the Lateran canons at Santa Maria della Carita, and the Augustinian church of Santo Stefano -- the new apse was current and stylish. [22]

Unfortunately, the precise mechanism by which the design was conceived and executed is unknown. As we shall see, however, payments and inscriptions make it clear that the nuns themselves supplied new altarpieces for the space, and surviving contracts for the slightly later renovation of the nave show the nuns making communal decisions about the building and providing financial contributions to its construction, so it is quite possible that the project reflects a corporate initiative under a relatively new and politically well-connected abbess. When the renovation project was complete on 15 August, 1444, all the expenses for the construction and embellishment of the space were lumped together in a final reckoning. The nuns' account book states that they had spent just over 1,874 ducats on the entire project. [23] Since the altarpieces and sculpture they placed in the space cost 606 ducats, the building itself and the frescoes likely amounted to 1,268 ducats, the lion's share certainly going to the builders.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that Castagno was chosen to fresco the apse because of his and the nuns' families' connections to the Medici, [24] suggesting one of the mechanisms by which these cloistered nuns secured the services of artists and architects. Vasari reported that Castagno was discovered as a child prodigy by Bernardetto de' Medici, Cosimo de' Medici's cousin. Bernardetto was in Venice in January 1441, where he may well have been in contact with his Florentine associate Nerone di Nigi, who resided in the city from August 1440 to May 1441. The nuns had regular contact with the outside world through conversations in their parlatorium and enjoyed twice yearly dispensations to leave the convent "for recreation and in time of plague and illness whenever they occur." [25] Bernardetto or Nerone could have suggested the young Castagno as an up and coming fresco artist. Or the Florentines may just as likely have let it be known that Castagno was available should any work be in the offing. Through his Medici connections Castagno would certainly have had an "in" with the abbess of the convent, since the Medici circle was on extremely good terms with her brother, Doge Francesco Foscari. Her prioress and second in command, Marina Donato, came from the same extended family as Bartolomeo Donato, who as a procuratore of San Marco had assisted Doge Francesco Foscari in erecting the Mascoli Chapel in San Marco, as well as Jacopo Donato, who had been Venetian ambassador to Florence in 1433-1434 and had provided Cosimo with lodging in Padua during his exile. The nuns were obviously well connected, perhaps even recommending Castagno to their fellow Benedictine nuns for the frescoes he later created at the refectory of Sant'Apollonia when he returned to Florence. [26]

Inscriptions and account records give an even clearer picture of the dynamics of patronage surrounding the three altarpieces that completed the ensemble. Individual nuns within the convent used their leadership positions and independent wealth to present the convent with lavish works of art. Inscriptions on the lower part of the frame of the main altarpiece (fig. 2) proudly record that the work was commissioned by the venerable ladies Abbess Elena Foscari and Prioress Marina Donato "of this monastery of San Zaccaria prophet." [27] On the smaller side altarpieces, the artists' names are dwarfed by large roundels that claim the patronage of Chamberlain Margherita Donato for the Santa Sabina altarpiece (fig. 4) and Chamberlain Agnesina Giustinian for the Corpus Christi altarpiece (fig. 5). [28]

As was frequently the case in other patronage situations, [29] this explains the presence of images of saints whose relics were not held by the convent. Sant'Elena, represented by a standing wooden matron holding a cross on the far right of the front of the main altar, is the namesake of Abbess Elena Foscari, the main patron of the altar. The ambiguously gendered saint at the far left honors Marina Donato, her co-patron, through a representation of Santa Marina, who joined her father's monastery dressed as a man and who was only discovered to be a woman after her death. [30] The half-length figure above Sant'Elena holding a lamb is a traditional representation of Sant'Agnese, namesake of Agnesina Giustinian, patron of the side altarpiece dedicated to the Corpus Christi. The painted bust-length image of Santa Margherita emerging from a dragon's mouth at the top left of the Santa Sabina altarpiece at the opposite side of the chancel corresponds to its donor, Margherita Donato.

Most of the other imagery on the altarpieces was determined by the presence of relics within the nuns' church. An inscription on the top of the main altarpiece, tellingly written in first person plural to speak for the community of nuns, declares that "in this chapel above the altar of the blessed martyr Sabina we have some of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in a vial." [31] Indeed Sabina is the central figure of Margarita Donato's altarpiece, which includes a hinged compartment for the blood reliquary. Sabina is flanked on the right by the obscure St. Lizerio, a Spanish solider who was bludgeoned to death with hammers and whose body was reputed to have been brought to San Zaccaria. [32] To the far left stands St. Jerome. Though the nuns owned no relic of Jerome, his letters to his female companions were well known in the Renaissance, especially the widely distributed letter to Eustochia in which he outlined a classic case for female chastity. [33] What is more, Venetian hagiographers linked Sts. Achilleo and Nereo, whose relics were held by the convent and who are portrayed on the Corpus Christi altarpiece, with the Church Father's famed correspondent Eustochia. In his Legends of the Saints, Pierro Calo claimed that Eustochia, Achilleo, and Nereo all were associates of the Early Christian matron Domitilla and worked with her to convert the Roman emperor [34]--a tale, by the way, which does not appear in non-Venetian sources. Jerome, then, was "a member of the family," who was "related" to Achilleo and Nereo through Eustochia and Domitilla.

The origins of these and other relics owned by the nuns were linked to papal and civic history. As an inscription on the back of the high altarpiece puts it, "in this chapel are many ... bodies ... that were given to the pious monastery by popes ... [and] noble citizens." For example, when the Venetian government granted refuge to the beleaguered Pope Benedict III in 855, he is reported to have become close friends with abbess Agnesina Morosini and the nuns of San Zaccaria. Upon his return to Rome he expressed his gratitude to the city by granting indulgences to those visiting the convent church on Easter Sunday and sent the nuns the bodies of Saints Pancrazio, Nereo, Achilleo, and Sabina from the Roman catacombs. [35] These bodies were eventually buried in massive stone sarcophagi that serve as supports for the two side altarpieces that include their images. To emphasize the papal origins of these holy bodies, San Pancrazio is portrayed with Pope Gaius, whose remains the nuns did not possess but who had bee n instrumental in converting Pancrazio. It is unlikely that the Vivarini would have added Gaius to the composition without the nuns' encouragement and/or approval. Patrons, not painters, were usually responsible for selecting the saints who were portrayed on altarpieces. [36]

The relics owned by the convent were catalogued on the back of the high altarpiece with portrait likenesses (fig. 3). [37] Each was labeled with a simple inscription indicating the location of the pertinent relic within the church, most without verbs or voiced in the third person singular. But in the case of the relics of Pope St. Leo the first person plural appears as it had on the large inscription at the top of the altarpiece: "Pope St. Leo whose relics we have in the present high altar." There is no reason to think that Leo's relics were substantially more efficacious or renowned than the others, but once more the inscription associates the nuns directly with papal prestige. Convent chronicles carefully listed imperial and papal privileges, the earliest supposedly dating from 415 during the papacy of Innocent I -- over four hundred years before the convent's actual founding but precisely the era of the city's mythic foundation [38] -- thus carrying significant civic resonance as well.

Abbess Foscari and Prioress Donato were fully justified in erecting an impressive reliquary altarpiece insofar as San Zaccaria housed more body relics than any other church in Venice, save San Marco. [39] It should be noted that Venetians were particularly fond of full body relics, not just the usual fragments of arms, toes, or fingers, and so would have accorded special honor to San Zaccaria's treasures. This is made clear in a tale about one of the convent's relics. When Domenico Dandolo, forebear of Doges Francesco and Andrea Dandolo, acquired the relic of the hermit San Tarasio in the early eleventh century, he had to compete with holy robbers from another city. They foolishly tried to remove San Tarasio's tooth, but the saint refused to yield up his dental work, preferring to let the pious Venetians remove his entire body. [40] According to Dandolo, the intact body was deposited in the crypt of San Zaccaria after having been received with great rejoicing by a crowd consisting of the bishop, clerics, and Venetian people. The nuns were obviously understood as custodians of civic as well as religious treasures.

This role was established at the very beginning of the convent's history. San Zaccaria was the oldest and most prestigious female monastic house in Venice. [41] Legend had it that the convent was one of the first two churches built in Venice and that it served as the doge's chapel before the construction of San Marco. [42] A putative foundation document of the ninth century claimed particularly august co-patronage by the Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian (died 820) and Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio, whose daughter (or sister, depending on the account) was said to be the first abbess. [43] The doge provided local oversight for the project, but the lion's share of funding and support was contributed by the emperor, who donated important relics, including the body of San Zaccaria, some wood of the True Cross, and clothing of both Christ and the Virgin Mary in exchange for the promise of the nuns' perpetual prayers. It was even said that the emperor sent workmen and materials from Constantinople, commanding h is sculptors to carve spread-winged eagles on the church's capitals. Though these capitals have not survived, their distinctly imperial motif was repeated for obvious symbolic and recollective purposes above the piers of their mid-fifteenth century successor, the present main church of San Zaccaria. When Emperor Frederick III came to visit the convent on February 10, 1469 and presumably saw the eagle capitals, the abbess reminded him of the convent's debt to earlier imperial largesse and expressed the nuns' loyalty to the imperial office. [44] The nuns' art reminded them of the origins of their convent and the obligations for prayer and supplication that necessarily accompanied accepting benefices. [45]

The unique status of the convent was also recognized with a solemn yearly visit by the doge to the convent for vespers on Easter Sunday. [46] The doge came to San Zaccaria accompanied by the Venetian senators, state musicians, and government officials carrying banners and the ducal coronation hat under a baldachin. Some chroniclers claimed that the visit was occasioned by the abbess of San Zaccaria having embroidered the first coronation hat for a doge. [47] This event supposedly took place during the dogeship of Pietro Tribuno (888-912), whose construction of a replica of the Holy Sepulchre at San Zaccaria is clearly associated with the annual dogal visit on Easter, which had previously been celebrated on the September feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. [48] After vespers doges visited the sepulchre in the crypt beneath the raised choir of the nuns' church and saw the tombs of more of their early predecessors than were buried in any other Venetian church save San Marco. [49]

Other observers attributed an additional significance to the annual visit, saying it publicly recognized the convent's donation of land for the site of Piazza San Marco. The nuns, then, were as much patrons of the state as the state was a patron of the convent. Indeed, the convent donated an astounding 80,000 ducats to the city's war efforts against Lombardy and Padua in the early fifteenth century. In 1462 a government subsidy of 1000 ducats for the construction of the nuns' new church was approved on the explicit grounds that the nuns, who were all daughters of Venice's nobles and explicitly said to be "of our flesh and blood," had so generously supported the government in the past. [50]

Documentation regarding the construction of the convent church and its liturgical furnishings provides the most explicit surviving evidence that the nuns were intimately involved in artistic decision making at the convent. In 1455, following close upon the election of Marina Donato as abbess and perhaps reflecting the energy of a new administration, the nuns committed themselves to the construction of elaborate new choir stalls. Soon, however, it seems to have become evident that there was no sense in installing a new choir in the old and leaky nave. In 1456 the nuns requested and received papal permission to raise 2000 scudi for repairs, securing the incentive of a papal indulgence for donors. Two years later they secured the services of Antonio Gambello for the renovation of the nuns' church and the erection of a new, larger public church next to it, witnessed by fifteen of forty-nine nuns in the convent, who gave their final assent to the project only after examining Gambello's model for the church. [51] To initiate the project and presumably to impress possible donors with their own commitment to its rapid completion, individual nuns contributed varying amounts of their own private money to the construction. [52] Contributions ranged from a high of 20 ducats each given by Abbess Marina Donato and Sister Orsa Venier down to 2 grossi, amounting to over 255 ducats in 1458 alone. That contributions were based on individual volition is made clear by the fact that one nun, Sister Maria Falier contributed nothing -- perhaps she had fallen on hard times or just as possible, she may not have been in favor of the project. On the other hand, nuns supporting the project devised a scheme in 1458 whereby the room furnishings -- beds, headrests, cushions, and coverlets -- of nuns who died without a will were sold to their sisters for at least 100 lire with the money in excess of 100 lire going to the construction of the new church. [53] With their own commitment clearly established, they were better able to take advantage of a new indulgence from Pope Pius II, confirmed and publicized in Venice on 9 May, 1459 by Patriarch Maffeo Contarini in 1458.

Only once the project had been well-established and work was underway for four years did they receive a subsidy of 1000 ducats from the Senate on 19 February, 1462. [54] The description of the church as "discopertum diruptumque" should therefore be understood not as a description of a crumbling old church but rather as the state of the building site at that moment.

As the work moved ahead, constantly changing pairs of nuns served six month terms as bookkeepers for the project, assuring intimate and broad-based involvement for several dozen sisters. [55] They necessarily depended on male officers to execute their orders outside the convent, but documents show that they were so intimately aware of the financial dealings of the nunnery that they easily distinguished between an honest mistake made by one of their financial representatives and the actual malfeasance of another. In the first case they forgave their gastaldo Pietro Franco and awarded him a handsome pension; [56] in the other, they fired Iacomo Gebellin and dragged him into ecclesiastical court. [57]

Even generous and presumably powerful donors were subject to the express will of the nuns. When the Bishop of Brescia donated twelve large and six smaller marble columns for the construction, along with two properties to underwrite the costs of weekly masses in a burial chapel for himself and his family, the nuns did not guarantee which chapel would be his. Instead they indicated that he would receive one of four apsidal chapels at their discretion. [58]

The 1455 contract for new choir stalls (fig. 6), which seems to have set this entire project into motion, gives us even more detailed insight into the informed and precise aesthetic and practical choices of these self-confident nuns. [59] They stipulated that they wanted the arms, backs, canopies and intarsia panels behind the seats in their new choir to be similar to those of the first five seats of the choir of Sant'Elena in Venice. [60] A frieze of small gothic arches above the backs was to resemble a similar feature on the choir stalls of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and the carved foliage running up the arms was to be "better than the foliage located on a stall in the church of Santa Fosca and of the same or larger width." [61] Unfortunately, none of these other choir stalls survive, [62] so we cannot judge the actual similarities.

One way of explaining such specific references to works in other locales around the city might be to imagine that the woodworkers themselves made note of these design possibilities and offered them to the nuns through drawings. This is indeed the procedure followed by Urbano da Cortona, who in the contract of 1451 for a chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie in Siena Cathedral submitted a wax model to his patrons that included several different solutions for the sculptured capitals. What is more, they were to choose the bases from a book of drawings, in which he had already indicated his suggestions with Xs. [63] Thus, the nuns need not have left the convent to examine possible models for their choir stalls. On the other hand, we have firm documentation that the nuns of San Zaccaria did visit other religious establishments in the city. A document recording their acceptance of the model for their new church in 1458 says that immediately after signing the contract they all went to the church of Santa Cro ce alla Giudecca. [64] We do not know the specific purpose of this visit to a fellow Benedictine house, but it may have helped them to make informed aesthetic decisions. A later payment indicates that they may have gone to look at columns at Lido Maggiore in the northern lagoon near Iesolo. [65] The area's many ruinous churches served as a ready source of spolia for Venetian builders. [66]

The nuns clearly expected work on their choir to please them. Their contract for the choir stalls stipulated that within two months the woodworkers were to make a sample stall. If the stall proved satisfactory, the nuns were to pay the cost of its creation; if they were not satisfied, the costs were to be borne completely by the craftsmen. [67] A note at the bottom of the contract indicates that the nuns were even capable of imposing changes on the woodworkers after the contract was signed. In this case, the curving hoods stipulated in the contract were changed to shell-shaped niches, presumably to have them conform better to other classicizing motifs, such as garland swags, that were commissioned for the nave walls of the nuns' renovated church after work had begun on the choir stalls. Such intervention was actually quite typical for Venetian nuns. The Poor Clares at Santa Chiara, Murano, for example, demonstrated explicit preferences when it came to work on their choir stalls. [68] After the Clares' woodwo rker provided a sample stall, they examined it and sat in it to check its comfort. The stall must have been less than commodious, because the nuns stipulated that it and its eventual companions were to be altered so that the carving would be simpler than in the model and that the hoods would be half a foot further back and the arm rests longer and lower -- an obvious accommodation for short women who spent numerous hours in choir!

Ceremonials help us to reconstruct the general configuration of the nuns choir stalls at San Zaccaria and more precisely define the visual situation enjoyed and exploited by the nuns. The choir probably filled the entire width of the church's relatively narrow nave. [69] Documents say that certain "windows" looked towards the back of the church where the public stood to hear sermons. [70] Either these "windows" provided multiple glimpses through the choir to the high altar, or, just as likely, they effectively fractured the view for the general public.

At the other end of the choir, however, stood a large grate that framed a view of the main altar from inside the choir. Rituals for the consecration and profession of nuns indicate that the young women entered the choir two by two and could see the high altar, which they honored from the center of the choir. [71] Similarly, when Emperor Frederick III visited the convent in 1469 he created six doctors, four cavaliers, three count palatines, and many imperial officers in front of the large grate "to please the ladies." [72]

Not surprisingly, the abbess sat immediately adjacent to the grate. The emperor was given a seat outside the choir next to this location. [73] The doge most likely occupied a similar position during his annual pilgrimage to San Zaccaria for Easter vespers, though some reports suggest that he may even have sat within the choir with the abbess. [74] Abbess Elena Foscari and Prioress Marina Donato (who had jointly commissioned the high altarpiece) sat directly across from one another and would have enjoyed an equally full view of the high altar. Paralleling the two women's positions in the choir were their saintly namesakes, Santa Marina and Sant'Elena, who were portrayed in sculptural form at either side of the high altarpiece. From her position on the tight side of the choir, however, Abbess Foscari is unlikely to have had a view of the Corpus Christi altar in a niche on the right side wall of the presbytery; Prioress Donato sat with her back to the Santa Sabina altarpiece in the niche on the opposite wall. Whether their fellow officers, chamberlains Margherita Donato and Agnese Morosini, who each had paid for one of the side altars, regularly saw the work they commissioned also depended on which side of the choir they occupied. But all three polyptychs would have been visible from the grate, which functioned as the site from which nuns received the Eucharist. Thus, whether nuns faced right or left in the choir, their view expanded as they came forward, appropriately offering them more complete vision at the culminating point of their participation in the Mass.

Intriguingly, the grate also served as an ample frame for looking into the choir. Upon his first visit to the choir, Frederick went up to the grate and asked to be introduced to the abbess. [75] Firsthand reports state that the abbess and the nuns came forward unabashedly to greet him. What is more, during consecration and profession ceremonies for new nuns, the grate became the proscenium through which relatives viewed the nuns taking their vows. [76] Instead of sitting or standing in the entrance end of the church where the laity heard sermons, relatives were given the privilege of occupying the space in front of the choir with their backs to the chancel. A temporary altar for the event was constructed on a raised platform within the choir near the grate and on axis with the high altar. [77] Thus as the new nuns came forward to the altar, they saw beyond them not only the assembly of saints and prophets depicted on the altarpieces and in the frescoes of the chancel, but also representatives of the living c ommunity of believers, for whom they were to offer prayers and devotions.

The chancel also served as a reception site for Emperor Frederick III. While his entourage drank malvasia and nibbled saffron cookies and marzipan from tables set up at the entrance end of the church, the emperor enjoyed an even more elaborate repast in front of the nuns' altarpieces. [78] An enthused account, clearly written by one of the nuns in the convent, reports tables laden with wines, cookies, marzipan, nut candies, and dried figs. [79] With such culinary delights in front of him it is unlikely that the emperor spent much time contemplating the form and significance of the altarpieces -- the nuns reported that he was so captivated by the fine display and its profusion of dishes, especially his favorite dried figs, that he served himself instead of waiting for a steward to make a selection. But the setting -- what we would probably call ambience -- was just as important as its particulars. Viewers surely knew when to look carefully and when not. Their viewing must have been conditioned as much by the moment and occasion as by architectural constraints or barriers. Visual experiences built up and altered over time as well as space. Thus, although the nuns were often physically separated from visitors during ceremonial occasions, they were visually united with them through the grate, which functioned more as a two-way window and frame than barrier.

What neither they nor the celebrating priests nor lay guests in the presbytery could ever have seen from any substantial distance was the back of the altarpiece and its reliquary cupboard. Although the altarpiece stood about two feet farther forward in the Quattrocento than it does today, there was at most an eight-foot passage behind it. The few stalls currently located in the curve of the apse are very late additions to the space. While pilgrims were taken behind the altar to view the relics, the reliquaries were doubtless removed from the cupboards and placed on the high altar for appropriate liturgical events. Not only was there little space for such display behind the altarpiece, but the dull distemper with which the cupboard wings were painted distinguished this side of the polyptych from the ceremonial splendor of its front. The paintings on this side of the altarpiece were labels, not devotional images, primarily intended to prompt a sacristan or priest to open the correct door. Given the small amoun t of space available in this zone of the church, viewing here probably took place in small, even intimate groups among pilgrims who sought the benefits and comfort of proximity to renowned relics on a largely personal level.

I suggest, then, that we need to make sure that when we are thinking about nuns and their art, that we do not fall into the trap of assuming simple dichotomous relations between a viewer and a work of art. Works of art at San Zaccaria were seen from a greater number of points of view and by a greater range of persons than we might have imagined; even important liturgical objects sometimes served as backdrops for activities rather than as the focus of devotion and celebration; the nuns themselves made informed and specific decisions about their visual environment; and both males and females entered and exited the complex with great ease and frequency. Rather than being quietly acquiescent and sheltered from contact with the general public -- as many male ecclesiastics urged and even legislated -- the nuns of San Zaccaria enjoyed both seeing and being seen in richly diverse ways.

To grasp the significance of this finding, we might do well to consider the startled reaction of a Milanese visitor to the convent church in 1494. Canon Pietro Casola stopped in Venice on his way to the Holy Land. He had, by his own account, "heard a great deal about certain monasteries for women ... especially San Zaccaria. There are many women there," he wrote, "both young and old, and they let themselves be seen very willingly. They have a beautiful new church and many relics in the altar. I think it is their first church, because they have their choir there. They are very rich, and they do not trouble much about being seen." [80]

Though Casola was obviously trying to remain nonplussed by his experience at San Zaccaria, his repeated observation about the nuns' visibility reveals more than a bit of anxiety on his part. The freedom of movement that he observed and the relaxed attitudes they imply towards claustration are usually taken by historians as evidence of the decadence of female monastic houses in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Indeed, our Milanese cleric was not alone in his discomfort. Diarists Marino Sanudo and Priuli reported that reform preachers from outside the city lambasted Venetian convents for such behavior, calling them little more than public bordellos. [81] Savonarola expressed similar sentiments about nunneries in Florence. But a closer examination of the historical record, especially in Venice and specifically at San Zaccaria, reveals that these Benedictine nuns and their patrons had long expected convent walls to be permeable and that the conditions of seeing and being seen were actually quite different than might be assumed by listening only to the strident voices of preachers or reading ecclesiastical legislation on the subject. As we have seen, not only did nuns have permission to leave the convent twice a year for personal reasons, special circumstances encouraged wholesale, if only temporary release of nuns, as for example, in the fall of 1487 when Florentine nuns were allowed to leave their convents to see the giraffe that had been given to the Signoria by the Sultan. [82] Casola's report also makes it clear that the nuns of San Zaccaria had arranged their church so that visitors were very welcome and could easily view and admire the many relics that were proudly housed in and around the high altar. Well-established liturgies also offered formal opportunities for them to be seen as they engaged in some of the most important ceremonies of the nunnery.

The implications of such freedom of movement within convent churches are profound. Several highly respected scholars, most notably Julian Gardner and Jeffrey Hamburger, have openly questioned whether nuns ever saw the works of art that were displayed in their own convent churches, including not just objects displayed in the nave but even works on the high altar. [83] In the case of mendicant nuns, whose choirs were regularly constructed as autonomous structures alongside or behind convent churches, such skepticism is often justified. At Santa Chiara in Assisi, for example, the nuns choir runs parallel to the main church and only a small window, used for distributing the host rather than for viewing the high altar, originally opened between the two spaces. [84] However, for more moderate and older orders like the Benedictines, and especially noble houses like San Zaccaria in Venice, this was not the case in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We need to imagine a wider range of viewing possibilities for d evout -- not just wayward -- nuns, as well as regular interaction between nuns and secular society While vision for both religious and lay persons was regularly impeded in sacred spaces -- curtains and other coverings alternately covered and revealed imagery on altarpieces; [85] rood screens and choir stalls obscured views of high altars and side aisles [86] -- the nuns and their pious visitors at San Zaccaria enjoyed visual experiences that can more often be described as framed and controlled rather than proscribed. Vision under these circumstances did not consist of a single, uninterrupted view of a single space and its decoration. Rather, memory and recollection were necessary for piecing together the greater -- and richer -- whole.

All this was to change, however, during the sixteenth century when church authorities sought to limit nuns' autonomy and their contact with the outside world. At San Zaccaria the nuns and the patriarch of Venice became engaged in a struggle that lasted nearly three quarters of a century. It centered around the control and display of the prize relics that were associated with the polyptychs that the nuns had commissioned in the 1440s.

Up until the mid-fifteenth century, the nuns of San Zaccaria had worshipped in the same modest church as their lay patrons. In 1456, however, they began adapting the early church for their exclusive use and building the larger pilgrimage church next door. The church's ambulatory and radiating chapels were designed to contain ample space for displaying and honoring relics, functions they have served since 24 February, 1600. [87] But the new church was already complete over a century earlier. Had the nuns been enthusiastic about transferring the relics from their church to the new edifice, they surely would not have tolerated such a long delay. Even when the main church was finally consecrated in 1543 (several decades after the completion of construction), the relics remained lodged with the nuns in their choir. And when structural changes were made in the nuns' church in 1595, sealing it off from the main church, it was still five years before the relics finally left the nuns' possession. It seems evident tha t while the project began with the nuns' approval and support -- they had, after all, invested their private as well as corporate monies in the project -- some time in the process the nuns became wary that church authorities were plotting to force them to relinquish control over the relics and perhaps even lose the right to visit and adore them. The nuns had served as guardians for some of these holy objects for nearly eight centuries and were understandably jealous of their duties and responsibilities.

It was only in the wake of the Counter Reformation and the definitive sealing of the nuns of San Zaccaria into clausura that they relinquished their direct custody of the relics. On 24 February, 1600 the Venetian patriarch invited Doge Marino Grimani and the Signoria to join him for the removal of the relics from the nuns' church and an extensive procession to Piazza San Marco. The reliquary altarpieces were emptied of their contents and the nuns were presumably commanded to keep silent. The patriarch then installed the relics in the pilgrimage church, claiming them for the church hierarchy and the city rather than the nunnery. But the imagery on the altarpieces remained in place as surrogates for the objects they had once held, testifying to the actions of earlier wealthy and powerful nuns whose very lavishness may have made the relics too important to be in the custody of "mere" women.

Intriguingly, the nuns who fought this long battle with the patriarch were not the noble women who had inhabited the convent for 760 years but the successors of those "base-born women, Greeks and plebians to boot" about whom the abbess had complained in the meeting before the Collegio that I discussed at the beginning of this article. Assigned to the convent as reformers, they became staunch advocates for the convent's traditions and autonomy. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful in resisting male authority, they demonstrated the remarkable power of passive as well as active resistance. I would like to think that at least part of their resolve was strengthened by their contact with works of art and architecture that so manifestly expressed earlier nuns' values, traditions, and proud relations with their patrons and the public.


(*.) Research for this article was conducted with support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the William Fleming Educational Fund at Syracuse University. I am grateful for their assistance, and for the advice and comments of Stanley Chojnacki, Juergen Schulz, and readers for Renaissance Quarterly. I have used the following abbreviations in the notes: ASV = Archivio di Stato, Venice; BCV = Biblioteca del Museo Correr, Venice.

(1.) See Giuliani, 49-53, 62-63 and 67, who is, however, unabashedly pro-patriarch. Readers should consult the copy in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, which contains important archival corrections in pencil. For more balanced assessments of the situation see Pedani, Fois, and, now, Sperling.

(2.) Sier Nicolo, Michiel, as translated in Chambers, 202. The original text appears in Sanudo, Diarii, 31:col. 276, where the "baseborn women" are even more colorfully and derogatively termed "bastarde greche e populari." The new nuns were not actually of another order, but reformed instead of conventual Benedictines. Still, the difference in their attitudes and practices must have been striking, especially since the new nuns were sent from San Servolo, a much less prestigious Benedictine convent which itself had been reformed by nuns from S. Croce alla Giudecca.

(3.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 5, "Ceremoniale," fol. 6r-12r, gives the procedure for requesting patriarchal permission to hold elections, followed by the new abbess's installation by him.

(4.) See the excellent consideration of the question of choice among nuns in Medicean Florence by Lowe, who offers a dozen examples from different orders and social circumstances. The present article in part answers her call for studies of examples from other centers.

(5.) Culled by Paoletti and especially thoroughly studied by Connell, 172-78, who, however, emphasizes the physical construction and its male workers, not the patronage of the nuns.

(6.) When the patriarch first proposed severe reforms in Venice's convents, the nuns' brothers and fathers protested. Giuliani, 43, records the protests of Michele Trevisan, brother of the abbess of San Zaccaria. For other examples see Sperling, 224-25.

(7.) Sanudo, De Origine, 62, reported that official guests were treated to the singing of nuns at just two convents: Le Vergine and San Zaccaria.

(8.) See Chojnacki, and Sperling, especially chap. 1.

(9.) See the lament of the chronicler of Le Vergini ("Cronica del Monastero delle Vergini di Venetia," BCV, Codice Gradenigo-Dolfin 214, fol. 96v), closely paralleling the situation at San Zaccaria and calling the patriarchal vicar in charge of conventual reforms a "proditor," "usito del seme de Iudda," and "artefice diabolico." Similar instances in Florence are reported by Evangelisti.

(10.) Lowe, 133 has found such self-determination "relatively rare" in Florence, though she cites notable exceptions, especially among Benedictine houses like Sant'Apollonia.

(11.) Mariciana 7898 (=IT.VII.707), fol. 170-74. This manuscript, the most detailed record of Frederick's visit to San Zaccaria, has remained unknown to other scholars who have studied Frderick's sojourn in Venice; Ghinzoni, and Casini, 200-02. A late copy, also unremarked in the literature, is contained in BCV, Codice Cicogna 2418, fol. 67-70v.

(12.) In her otherwise exemplary study of construction practice in Quattrocento Venice, Connell, for example, mentions but does not explore the significance of the nuns having contributed individually to the construction of their church. Primhak's unpublished dissertation, which I did not consult until after I had completed my own examination of the San Zaccaria archives, is a notable exception (see especially pages 77-78 and 102), but the author has abandoned scholarly research on this topic and seems to have no intention of publishing any of her findings.

(13.) See, for example, the impressive lists of works made by and given to the monastery of Le Vergini by resident nuns in the 1450s; BCV, Codice Gradenigo-Dolfin 214, fol. 77v. For a list of such work made in 1480 by the nuns at San Zaccaria see ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 6, index for the year 1480.

(14.) Here I largely follow Paoletri, whose reconstruction, however, minimizes the amount of space needed for the nuns choir and consequently exaggerates the amount of nave space available for lay worshippers.

(15.) I am grateful to my colleague Dennis Romano for clarifying this relationship.

(16.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 5, "Ceremoniale," fol. 12v-13r, gives the general text of the ceremony. Marciana Lat. III, 74 (=2172), Rituale, fol. 10r-llv, gives a litany sung for that service.

(17.) Primhak, 144.

(18.) ASV San Zaccaria, Busta 5, "Ceremoniale," fol. 12v.

(19.)Ibid., Busta 6, "Memorie," fol. 48v.

(20.) See King, and Hamburger, 118, where he offers evidence from inventories at Longchamp between 1403 and 1447 that half the money spent on reliquaries came directly from individual nuns.

(21.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 6, "Memorie," fol. 48v and 49r.

(22.) De1lwing 1974, and 1990, 123-37, and Winkelmes have attempted to define San Zaccaria's architecture as characteristic of monastic reform in the mid-fifteenth century, but the forms they cite as characteristic are extremely common in all Venetian ecclesiastical architecture of the period. What is more, San Zaccaria was hardly a reform house.

(23.) "ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 6, "Memorie," fol. 49r: "fo edifichado e fato nuovamente ... la chapela grande, ducati1874, g. xvii, p. xxiii."

(24.) These connections have been established by Horster, 18-20, and Spencer, 95-98.

(25.) "Such a permit for the sisters Laura and Maria Loredan and their niece Isabetta is recorded in vol. 2 of the index to "Monache Particolari," ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 76.

(26.) Horster, accepted as well by Lowe, 126.

(27.) The dedicatory inscriptions were first transcribed by Moschini, 109-20. Before restoration in the early nineteenth century the inscription on the high altar read: "IN.I ... DIE.O.FVIT.FACTVM.HOC.OPE ... VE ... DOMIN ... S ... CARI.ABBATISS. / ET.VE ... RABILE DOMINA.MARINA.DONATO.PRIORISSA.HVIV.MONASTERI. / SANCTI.ZACHARIE.PROPHE ... O." The high altarpiece cost 180 ducats.

(28.) See Cicogna, 2:145, who gives the inscription before restoration for the altar of Santa Sabina as "1445 M.s/ OCTOBER. HOC OPS/ F. FIERI VERABILIS/ D. DOINA MAR/GARITA DOATO M/OIALIS ISTI.S ECCLESIE/ STI. ZACHARIE" and for the altar of the Corpus Christi as "1445 M.s/ OCTOBER. HOC OPS/ F. FIERI VERABILIS/ D. DOINA MAR/GARITA DOATO M/OLALIS ISTI.S ECCLESIE/ STI. ZACHARIE." According to ASV, San Zaccaria, Busra 6, "Memorie," fol. 48v-49, the altar of Corpus Christi cost 106 ducats plus 40 ducats for the angel holding three candles above. Twelve ducats were spent on the tabernacle for the Holy Blood, 83 ducats for the Santa Sabina Altarpiece plus 42 ducats for the angel holding a single candle above it. The nuns also spent 213 ducats for a Crucifix and 30 ducats for its base. Given the high cost of the Crucifix it most likely consisted of a figural group including the Virgin Mary and St. John, not just Christ. In 1451 the nuns spent 170 ducats for another crucifix and lifesize figures in wood of Sts. Bened ict and Zaccaria.

(29.) For example, images of the name saints of all the friars who are mentioned in the commissioning document for Sassetta's Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece of 1426 appear on the altarpiece. See Banker, esp. 21-24.

(30.) Kaftal cols. 675-76. See also the similarly garbed figure labeled as S. Marina on the Lion polyptych by Lorenzo Veneziano in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.


(32.) Corner, 1773, 2: 216.

(33.) In general see Rice. Recent English language translations of Jerome's most famous letters to women appear in Petersen, 87-279. For the specifically Venetian iconography of Jerome holding a church and illuminating it with his writings (the form in which he appears on the San Zaccaria altarpiece) see Ridderbos, 1-14.

(34.) Pietro Calo, Legendae de sanctis, Marciana 2942 (= Lat. IX.15), fol. CCXr-v. For the usual life of Saint Eustochia, which makes no mention of these connections, see Bibliotecha Sanctorum, 5:302-04.

(35.) Dandolo only mentions Pancrazio and Sabina but other chroniclers credit Benedict III with the additional gift of the bodies of Nereo and Achilleo and the head of St. Claudio.

(36.) Gilbert suggests that some artists may have had a knowledge of the iconography of saints superior to their patrons, but in the case of a religious commission for a convent church it is far more likely that the commissioning nun or one of her sisters came armed with this information.

(37.) The inscriptions are poorly preserved but indicate that the figures in the top row consist of Pope Sr. Stephen, Martyr Bishop St. Thomas Becket, St. Gregory Naziazenus, St. Zaccaria, Confessor St. Theodore, Pope Sr. Leo, and St. Sabina.

(38.) Codice Gradenigo 45, 8v-9v.

(39.) The monasteries of San Lorenzo and San Giorgio Maggiore each had five body relics, Santa Maria di Torcello six, as compared to San Zaccaria's claim of nine. For a general overview of Venetian relics and reliquaries see Gallo. For San Zaccaria in particular, Archivio Parrochiale di San Zaccaria, Miscellanea, 216.22.1, typescript "Corpi dei santi venerati nella chiesa di S. Zaccaria" and the pertinent passages in Corner, 1753, 127-29.

(40.) Dandolo, Chronicon, Liber Nonus, Capitulum Secundum, Pars VIII, RIS, vol. 12, col. 236-37, and Corner, 128.

(41.) It was founded by 829. San Lorenzo, the next oldest convent in Venice, was founded in 853 by Orso Badoer, bishop of Castello, for his sister Romana.

(42.) BCV Codice Gradenigo 45, 1r-2v, and Sansovino, 134.

(43.) See the foundation document and testament of Doge Giustiniano Partecipazio in Cessi, 92-99.

(44.) Marciana 7898 (=IT.VII.707), fol. 170. According to Tramontin, 13, John the Deacon reports that Emperor Otto III stayed overnight at San Zaccaria in 1000.

(45.) No precise record survives of prayers and supplications made for emperor or civic authorities, though this is likely to have been the case. In May 1509 die Senate allotted 200 ducats to observant convents to pray for victory on behalf of the city; Primhak, 50.

(46.) The most recent and comprehensive study of dogal processions and state festivals in general is Casini. See also Tamassia Mazzarotto, 170-73, and Muir, 221-23. Both the Puppi, 50-71 and 190-95, and Dellwing, 1974, have already noted the historical significance of the doge's annual visit to San Zaccaria.

(47.) For the corno and other state regalia see Pertusi.

(48.) Pietro Tribuno's great uncle and predecessor Doge Pietro Tradonico was assassinated on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (13 September, 864) in the square in front of San Zaccaria, perhaps inspiring Tribuno to choose a different and symbolically more positive, even triumphant date. Intriguingly, Tradonico is the first doge recorded to have been buried at San Zaccaria and Tribuno also chose the site. Unfortunately, nothing is known of the form or precise function of the replica of the Holy Sepulchre, though most scholars believe it was located in the church's crypt which was reached by two staircases (according to the Cronaca Magno, as reported in Demus, 65, n. 11: "Sono annali dicono questo doxe in San Zaccaria aver fatto far un monumento al muodo de quello de nostro signor al qual se andava per unascala in do rami." The same chronicle indicates that the monument was removed from the church during renovations in 1460 and temporarily placed in the portico of the church until it was reinstalled un der the new high altar in 1474 [as reported in Paoletti, 1:61 and 69]).

(49.) Eight early doges have recorded tombs at San Marco. Doges Pietro Tradonico (died 863), Orso Partecipazia (died 881), Pietro Tribuno (died 912), Tribuno Memmo (died 991), Pietro Orseolo II (died 1009), Domenico Flabanico (died 1042), Vitale Michiel I (died 1102), and Vitale Michiel II (died 1173) are recorded to have been buried at San Zaccaria, equaling San Marco's number of eight. However, Vitale Michiel I's remains and those of his wife are explicitly recorded at San Marco, which reduces San Zaccaria's traditional list to seven.

(50.) ASV, Senato Terra, Registro 4, fol. 190v, 19 February 1461: "quae sunt de carne et sanguine nostro."

(51.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 31, Fabbriche, I, fol. 8v.

(52.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 31, Fabbriche, I, fol. 4. Additional contributions from the nuns themselves were recorded in June 1462, fol. 74.

(53.) Primhak, 95, examining ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 6, account book without giving folio references.

(54.) ASV, Senato Terra, Registro 4, fol. 190v., 19 February, 1461, m.v.

(55.) "Their names appear at the end of their terms of service in ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 31, Fabbriche, I, fol. 2-119. From 1457 through August 1463 all came from different families and none served twice.

(56.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Pergamene 4, 14 March 1449.

(57.) Ibid., 25 May 1474. Gebellin claimed that the convent owed him 400 ducats; the nuns said that he owed them 500.

(58.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Pergamene 1, 12 November 1479.

(59.) "Ibid., 26 March 1455.

(60.) Zorzi, 329, notes that the choir stalls are last documented in 1807 when they were sold to Signor Abram Lonigo for 402 lire piccole Venete.

(61.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Pergamene 1; partially transcribed in Connell, 203.

(62.) See Zava Boccazzi, 26.

(63.) Milanese, 271-72.

(64.) Paoletti, 64.

(65.) Winkelmes, esp. 270, n. 20, where she cites a payment "per andar aveder le colone a Zio mazor" (ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 31, Fabbriche, I, fol. 7v [misnumbered 81). Winkelmes claims that this is a reference to travel by the nuns -- which I, too, would like it to be -- but the context is ambiguous and may refer to travel by workmen instead. As Juergen Schulz kindly indicated to me, Winkelmes misread "Lio Mazor" as "Zio Mazor," leading to her odd assertion that the nuns went to examine columns at San Giorgio Maggiore.

(66.) "Once again, generously communicated to me by Juergen Schulz, who called my attention to the following statement by Marco Cornaro, 2:75-77: "le qual chiesie et luochi nominati sono andati a ruina a quarto quinti, in modo che in altre sono sta porta via le piere e collone per fino di fondamenti et alter minade in modo che non le habita persona alcuna, et contra la volontade de quelli quelie hedificarono a cio fusse pregato Idio per le anime sue. Donde sia processo questo stato e per le acque dolce che hano quelle mosse in canedo et hanno facto mal aere."

(67.) Similarly, abbess Orsa Zorzi of the convent of Santa Marta in Venice stipulated that if a silver tabernacle she was commissioning exceeded the agreed upon weight she would only pay for the additional material not workmanship; reported in Gallo, 214.

(68.) An excerpt of the contract is published in Paoletti, 93, Miscellanea Documenti no. 31.

(69.) Here I follow the reconstruction proposed by Roberto Bergamaschi, who has an intimate knowledge of their form and structure thanks to his responsibility for cleaning and restoring them.

(70.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 5, Ceremoniale, fol. 14v. The nuns of San Zaccaria sponsored a series of Lenten sermons, which from 1431 through 1454 were largely given by Augustinian hermits; BCV, Codice Gradenigo 179, Ordini di monache esistenti a Venezia, I, fol. 273v-274r.

(71.) Marcina 2172 (=Lat.III.74), Rituale ad usum monialium Sancti Zachariae Venetiarum, 29r. This part of the manuscript is dated 1505.

(72.) Marciana 7898 (=IT.VII.070), fol. 172.

(73.) Ibid.

(74.) Sanudo, 28: col. 410, 8 April 1520, records the difficulties that arose when the convent was divided between Observants and the traditional Conventuals: "Et prima La Signoria sentava in choro; hora ch'e fato questa partison di monache Conventual et oevante, sta preparato a sentar la Signoria di fuora in chiesia, cossa nova et ne ho voluro far nota. Et questo fo perche le Conventual volcano andasse a sentar dentro, et le Observante volseno li de fuora; er cussi el Patriarcha volse e sentono."

(75.) Marciana 7898 (=IT.VII.707), fol. 170.

(76.) ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 5, "Ceremoniale," fol. 14v: "I parenti dele dite done stano in capella ale ferriade a veder la dita festa."

(77.) To ensure adequate space within the choir itself, all the stalls and kneelers on the abbess' side of the choir were removed ("Per el qual aparechio el se tuol via le sedie de choro da la banda de m.a. abadessa et chius tute le prospere che son da quel ladi azo che le non ochupa la festa," ASV, San Zaccaria, Busta 5, "Ceremoniale," fol. 14v).

(78.) Marciana 7898 (=IT.VII.707), fol. 173-74.

(79.) Ibid., fol. 173: "Er ne fu detto per uno de suoi, che I'Imperatore faccia collatione, et in questo mezzo fu apparechiata una Tola dentro da noi ove sta alla Predica con buzzoladi impeveradi, et bianchi, callisioni, er fonghi, et un altro apparecchio fu fatto per la Sacra Maesta dell'Imperatore, nella Cappella di Nostra Donna, et fu apparecchiato d'ognis sorte di vini, et cosi di buzzoladi, callisioni, fonghi, marzapani, e confetti, pignochae, et pignate de zenzari verdi assai, et di fighi secchi, perche ne fu detto che l'Imperatore gle ne manzava volentiera."

(80.) Newett, 136.

(81.) See Fois, esp. 158 and 177, n.2.

(82.) Viviani Della Robbia, 62.

(83.) Hamburger, 120: "In some cases, enclosure ensured that nuns never had access, let alone saw, objects that stood in the public parts of convent churches." Similarly, Gardner, 50.

(84.) See especially Wood.

(85.) Nova, 177-200.

(86.) Hall, 213-17.

(87.) Most scholars report the date as 1595, but the 1604 edition of Sansovino's Venetia, 135r, gives the specific date and names Doge Marino Grimani, who did not take office until 1597. Corroborating evidence is offered by the date 1599 inscribed on the urn of San Zaccaria on the south wall of the nave.


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