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The Church of the Gesuati in Venice O'Kelly, John Brian

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to examine in detail one eighteenth-century Venetian church, Sta. Maria del Rosario, or, as it is commonly known, the Gesuati. The church provides an ideal example in the study of Venetian art, not only because its architecture and decorations are entirely eighteenth century, but also because it represents the work of the finest artists of the time. The entire church was designed by Giorgio Massari and every figure and bas-relief scene in the interior was made by Gian Maria Morlaiter. The painted decorations, too, are examples of the work by the leading artists in Venice. Altarpieces here are the work of Giambattista Tiepolo, Giambattista Piazzetta, and Sebastiano Ricci. Four magnificent frescoes, the work of Tiepolo as well, adorn the ceiling. An examination of the Gesuati offers an insight into the nature of religious art in Venice. The traditional preconception of eighteenth-century Venice is that it was a completely decadent, vain world of gay carnivals, and that it was a tourist's paradise, where masks hid the identity of the people, and impressions of the city were to be captured in views painted by Canaletto. To a certain extent, the mood of this colourful world is found in religious art. The light, Palladian church of the Gesuati houses elegant bas-relief scenes depicting the life of Christ and sculptures of Old and New Testament figures. Many of the paintings "breathe'' with space and light. Bright colours and playful putti create the light mood of the Rococo. However, there is, in one altarpiece by Piazzetta, a completely different mood. In his painting, Piezzetta depicts his figures in a religious mystical experience. This mood is, to a certain extent, also conveyed in Tiepolo's altarpiece. In iconographical terms, the Gesuati decorations are serious. Religion does play an important role in eighteenth-century Venice. The Gesuati is a Dominican church, and the Dominicans in Venice had already, by the eighteenth century, been commissioning religious paintings and sculptures for many hundreds of years. The paintings in the Gesuati represent the glory of the Dominican Order and the figures that played an important part in its long history; the sculptures symbolize the victory of faith.

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