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Thousands of faithful make the pilgrimage here each year to pray at the tomb of Saint Anthony, while others come to admire works by the 15th-century Florentine master Donatello. His equestrian statue (1453) of the condottiere (mercenary general) Erasmo da Narni, known as Gattamelata, in front of the church is one of the great masterpieces of Italian Renaissance sculpture. It was inspired by the ancient statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome's Campidoglio. Donatello also sculpted the beautiful series of bronze reliefs in the imposing interior illustrating the miracles of Saint Anthony, as well as the bronze statues of the Madonna and saints, on the high altar.
The huge church, which combines elements of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic styles, was probably begun around 1238, seven years after the death of the Portuguese-born saint. It was completed in 1310, with structural modifications added from the end of the 14th century into the mid-15th century. Because of the site's popularity
with pilgrims, masses are held in the basilica almost constantly, which makes it difficult to see these works. More accessible is the restored Cappella del Santo (housing the tomb of the saint), which dates from the 16th century. Its walls are covered with impressive reliefs by various important Renaissance sculptors, including Jacopo Sansovino (1486–1570), the architect of the library in Venice's Piazza San Marco, and Tullio Lombardo (1455–1532), the greatest in a family of sculptors who decorated many churches in the area, among them Venice's Santa Maria dei Miracoli.