A guided tour of the Hidden Venice: discovering two paintings by Tintoretto in the church of Madonna dell’Orto

Off the beaten tracks... When our guests ask us for a private tour of the hidden and unusual Venice, away from the crowded areas, we like to suggest, among the other options, to take a walk in the Cannaregio district.
Everyone is impressed by a fairly small church in Gothic style, the so called Madonna dell’Orto (i.e. the Holy Mary of the Orchard).

Madonna dell'Orto church

Inside this church we can admire several great masterpieces by the painter Jacopo Tintoretto, who lived nearby and was eventually buried here.

In this short post we would like to write about two of his less known canvases, “The Holy Cross appears to St. Peter” and “St. Paul Beheaded”.
Today we can see them in the apse of the church, whereas in the past they used to decorate the inside part of the shutters that protected the organ (on the external part of those same shutters “The Presentation of the Virgin to the temple” was instead visible; this other unique masterpiece is also present in this church, although today in a different place).

The Holy Cross appears to St. Peter
This canvas was painted between 1552 and 1556.

The Holy Cross appears to St. Peter

The most striking element in this painting is the color of St. Peter’s rich clothes: the shiny ice white vest contrasts with the embroidered golden cope lined in red. White is also the color of the Saint’s hair and beard, which underlines his old age when he suffered the martyrdom.
Highly refined are his tiara and his keys, which make the whole figure look even more precious. The halo is very well underlined, but at the same time it merges with the dazzling light that strikes the viewer and dominates the scene.

The Holy Cross appears to St. Peter, detail

Peter observes the swirling movement of the angels who hold the gigantic cross. The airy folds of the clothes, the contrasts between light and shadow, the vibrant colors: these are all unmistakable characteristics of the style of this incredible master.

St. Paul Beheaded
This canvas was also painted between 1552 and 1556, like the previous one.

St. Paul Beheaded

It is an explosion of golden light (possibly to remind of the flash of light that stroke St. Paul on his way to Damask).
Paul kneels down, his naked back reveals the master’s perfect knowledge of human anatomy. Next to him we can see his armor and his helmet, which indicate that he is one of Christ’s soldiers and is ready to receive the symbols of his martyrdom, the palm and the laurel crown, carried to him by the angel.

St. Paul Beheaded, detail 

Quite impressive is the executioner: his torsion seems to give even more strength to the act he is about to carry out.
But have you noticed some other details represented in this painting? What is their significance?

We will wait for you, to take you on a guided tour in Venice to admire Tintoretto’s masterpieces in the church of Madonna dell’Orto. Ciao!