Designed and built by Jacopo Sansovino, with a facade by Palladio, this enchanting Franciscan church is one of Venice’s most underappreciated attractions. The Madonna positively glows in Bellini’s 1507 Madonna and Saints in the Cappella Santa, just off the flower-carpeted cloister, while swimming angels and strutting birds steal the scene in the delightful Virgin Enthroned, by Antonio da Negroponte (c 1460–70). Bring €0.20 to illuminate them.
Palladio and the Madonna are tough acts to follow, but father-son sculptors Pietro and Tullio Lombardo make their own mark with their 15th-century marble reliefs that recount the lives of Christ and an assortment of saints. Housed in the Cappella Giustiniani, just left of the altar, they are storytelling triumphs. Breezes seem to ripple through carved-marble trees, and lifelike lions seem prepared to pounce right off the wall.
Out the back, the bell tower looks like the long-lost twin of the Campanile di San Marco and, facing north, a couple of steps leading to a portico of classical columns make the campo look like a proper ancient-Roman agora (market place). This makes a sociable setting for Venice’s best annual block party, the Festa di Francesco della Vigna, with wine and rustic fare served up in the stately shadow of Palladio; it's usually held the third week in June.