Completed in 1442, this immense Gothic church of russet-color brick—known locally as I Frari—is famous worldwide for its array of spectacular Venetian paintings. Visit the sacristy first, to see Giovanni Bellini's 1488 triptych Madonna and Child with Saints in all its mellow luminosity, painted for precisely this spot. The Corner Chapel on the other side of the chancel is graced by Bartolomeo Vivarini's (1415–84) 1474 altarpiece St. Mark Enthroned and Saints John the Baptist, Jerome, Peter, and Nicholas, which is much more conservative, displaying attention to detail generally associated with late medieval painting. In the first south chapel of the chorus, there is a fine sculpture of Saint John the Baptist by Donatello, dated 1438 (perhaps created before the artist came to Venice), which displays a psychological intensity rare for early Renaissance sculpture. You can see the rapid development of Venetian Renaissance painting by contrasting Bellini with the
heroic energy of Titian's Assumption, over the main altar, painted only 30 years later. Unveiled in 1518, it was the artist's first public commission and, after causing a bit of controversy, did much to establish his reputation. Upon viewing this painting at the far end of the nave you'll first think it has been specially spotlit: upclose, however, you'll discover this impression is due to the painter's unrivaled use of light and color.
Titian's beautiful Madonna di Ca' Pesaro is in the left aisle. The painting took seven years to complete (finished in 1526), and in it Titian disregarded the conventions of his time by moving the Virgin out of center and making the saints active participants. The composition, built on diagonals, anticipates structural principals of baroque painting in the following century. The Frari also holds a Sansovino sculpture of St. John the Baptist, and Longhena's impressive baroque tomb designed for Doge Giovanni Pesaro.