Lonely Planet review
When Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna icon started miraculously weeping in its outdoor shrine around 1480, crowd control became impossible in this cramped corner of Cannaregio. Out of deference to her holiness – and possibly to disperse foot-traffic jams – the neighbours took up a collection to build a chapel to house the painting and its ecstatic admirers. But there was another miracle in store for the neighbourhood: Pietro and Tullio Lombardo’s design, which completely ignored then-current Gothic in favour of a simpler, more classical approach that would come to be known as Renaissance architecture. Although frequently described as a ‘jewel box’, the church is not especially flashy inside: it’s simply clad with glistening marble, keeping the focus on the miraculous icon at the front of the church. But look closely at the chancel staircase and you’ll notice that angels and the Madonna have been carved right into the railings by Tullio Lombardo. In a prime example of Renaissance humanism, Pier Maria Pennacchi filled each of the 50 wooden coffered ceiling panels with a bright-eyed portrait of a saint or prophet dressed as a Venetian. The church that began as a modest chapel became a true icon of Venetian ingenuity, and a monument to community.