Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa

sights / Religious

Chiesa di Santa Maria Formosa information

Venice , Italy
Campo Santa Maria Formosa 5267
Getting there
Ferry: Rialto, San Zaccaria
More information
admission €3 or with Chorus Pass
Opening hours
10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 1-5pm Sun
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Originally built from wood and thatched with straw, Santa Maria Formosa was the first church on the Rialto to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 842. According to legend, its curious name, ‘Shapely St Mary’, was inspired by a vision of San Magno, Bishop of Oderzo, although another, more likely, version of events claims the name was confused with the address of a comely courtesan, who lived on the square in the 16th century.

Certainly, Veronica Franco (1546–91), one of Venice’s most famous courtesans and an accomplished poetess, frequented literary salons at Ca’Vernier opposite the church, and the stage-set campo was a lively social hub, often used for open-air theatre.

Destroyed by fire in 1106, the church was refashioned by Mauro Codussi in 1492 with new baroque curves and serene symmetries that make good on its shapely name. So does Palma il Vecchio’s polyptych of the forceful-looking St Barbara swathed in a billowing red cape atop the Third Altar dedicated to the Scuola di Bombardieri (School of Shipbuilders), of whom she is patron saint. Vasari thought it one of his best works. Similarly eye-catching is Bartolomeo Vivarini’s triptych of the Madonna della Misericordia in the first chapel to the right of the nave.