Venice: San Giobbe

San Giobbe.

The church of San Giobbe can be found in a fairly remote part of Venice and can be reached from the railway station by foot in about fifteen minutes. Our visit to the church started with a minor incident. The church has only one entrance, which has two wooden doors. We took the right door and stumbled upon the ticket booth. Churches in Venice usually charge visitors about three euros for entry, and the money is spent on maintenance. After us another couple entered the church, taking the left door. This door gives direct access to the church. The woman in the ticket booth angrily left her chair, walked over to the couple and told them in a manner that was anything but friendly that they had to buy a ticket. As it turned out, the man and woman were Italians and were none too happy about being addressed in this way. The left door should have been locked and bolted, but for some reason it was not, thus causing a lot of unnecessary fuss.


The San Giobbe is the only church I know that is dedicated to the prophet Job from the Old Testament. Formally the church is called Santi Giobbe e Bernardino, by the way, as it is co-dedicated to the famed Franciscan preacher Saint Bernardinus of Siena (1380-1444). In the Venetian dialect the church is also sometimes known as Sant’Agiopo. Its history goes back to 1378. A certain Giovanni Contarini owned some land in this part of Venice and had a poorhouse and an oratory built here. His daughter Lucia completed the project. Then a couple of years after Contarini’s death a group of Franciscans took over the oratory and built a convent next to it. In 1443, one year before his death, the aforementioned Bernardinus of Siena held a number of sermons here. The great preacher was canonised in 1450. Bernardinus’ sermons deeply impressed the Venetian statesman Cristoforo Moro (1390-1471). According to tradition Bernardinus had also predicted him that he would one day become Doge. And whether there is any truth in this story or not, in 1462 Moro was indeed elected the 67th Doge of the Serenissima.

San Giobbe, side view.

Interior of the church.

Cristoforo Moro became Doge at a time when Venice was facing many difficulties. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks had conquered Constantinople and they were now threatening the Venetian possessions in what is now Greece. Moro was therefore initially a great supporter of the new crusade that Pope Pius II (1458-1464) was planning. In 1464 Pius travelled to Ancona in the Marche, the staging point of the Christian army. Unfortunately upon arrival he had to conclude that just a handful of men and no more than a dozen ships had gathered there. This “army” quickly disintegrated and the crusade was never launched. Pius died on 14 August 1464, just two days after the arrival of a small Venetian fleet. In the famous Piccolomini library in Siena Doge Moro is depicted in one of Pinturicchio’s frescoes while kneeling before Pius II. A servant is holding the corno, the unique hat worn by the Doges.

During the reign of Doge Moro, in 1469, Venice lost the large and important island of Negroponte (Euboea) to the Turks. But he also had his successes: Venice managed to gain a foothold on another important island, i.e. Cyprus. Catarina Corner (1454-1510), a Venetian woman, was given the title of Daughter of Saint Marc and in 1468 was married by proxy to the Cypriot king James II de Lusignan (see Veneto: Asolo). In 1470 Moro paid 10,000 ducats for rebuilding the San Giobbe, and it was his idea to have the church co-dedicated to Bernardinus of Siena. The rebuilding had already started in 1450 under the direction of the architect Antonio Gambello (died 1481). Gambello was an old school architect who wanted the new church to be a Gothic edifice. He was, however, replaced by Pietro Lombardo (ca. 1435-1515), who worked in the style of the Renaissance. Lombardo left his mark on the new San Giobbe, which is often seen as one of the first Renaissance churches in Venice. The new San Giobbe was consecrated in 1493.

View from the Ponte dei Tre Archi.

Monument for the French ambassador René de Voyer de Paulmy d’Argenson.

Things to see

The façade is very plain and simple, boring even. The only decoration is the portal surrounding the main entrance. In the lunette we see Saint Franciscus of Assisi and Job. Above the lunette there are three holes in the wall. These once contained iron rods that held three statues of Franciscan saints in their place. The statues – of Bernardinus of Siena, Antonius of Padova and Louis of Toulouse – can now be found in the sacristy (behind a fence). They were made by Pietro Lombardo and his son Tullio (died 1532).

A conspicuous element of the church interior is the presence of chapels on the left side and the absence of these on the right. This discrepancy can easily be explained: there was no space to build chapels on the right, as this was the side where the Franciscan convent had been constructed. That convent was disbanded in 1810 during the Napoleonic era. One consequence of this was that many famous artworks were removed from the San Giobbe, for instance all three great altarpieces that had been made for the right side of the church. These are the Presentation of Christ in the Temple by Vittore Carpaccio (1510), the Agony in the Garden by Marco Basaiti (1516) and the so-called Pala di San Giobbe by Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1487). All three works can currently be admired in the Accademia. Their removal was a sad loss for the church of San Giobbe. The altarpieces are not only in themselves beautiful, they have also been painted using depth effects, which compensates for the absence of chapels on the right side of the church.

Cappella Contarini.

Fortunately there is still a lot to see in the church. In discussing some of the highlights I follow the information provided to me by Chorus Venezia. On the right side, between the last two altars, there is a monument for the French ambassador with the long name René de Voyer de Paulmy d’Argenson. He was a lawyer sent to Venice as an ambassador in 1651 and he died there a couple of months later. The funerary monument was designed by Claude Perreau (1613-1688). If we continue our tour on the right, we can take a passageway leading to the Contarini chapel, which was named after Giovanni Contarini and is a remnant of the old oratory. The chapel gives access to the sixteenth-century sacristy. Apart from the three statues of Franciscan saints already mentioned above we find a triptych here by Antonio Vivarini (ca. 1420-1484). It depicts an Annunciation with Saint Antonius of Padova on the left and Saint Michael the Archangel on the right. The quality of the work, which dates from ca. 1447, is mediocre.

If we walk back into the church itself, we will see the grave of Cristoforo Moro in the choir, behind the triumphal arch by Pietro Lombardo. Doge Moro was not granted a huge funerary monument in San Zanipolo; he had to content himself with a simple tomb slab in an inconspicuous spot. The slab only mentions the name of the deceased, CRISTOPHORVS MAVRVS PRINCEPS, with the year 1470 below it. That is not the year of his death – which was 1471 – but apparently both the year of the donation of 10,000 ducats and the year in which the tomb slab was made. The Doge was buried here together with his wife Cristina Sanudo, whose name is not mentioned.

View of the choir.

Grave of Doge Cristoforo Moro.

Lastly I would like to mention the Cappella Martini, the second chapel on the left. The altar and marble altarpiece are by Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479). The highlight of the chapel – and basically of the whole church – is, however, the vault with its decorations of glazed terracotta. These were made by Luca della Robbia (ca. 1400-1482). In the centre tondo we see Christ with the Greek letters alpha and omega, beginning and end. In the other tondi the four evangelists and their respective symbols have been depicted. The vault closely resembles that of the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in the church of San Miniato al Monte in Florence, also a work of Luca della Robbia. The Martini family, who commissioned the chapel, were apparently from Tuscany.

Vault of the Cappella Martini.

Further reading: The Churches of Venice: Cannaregio and Chiesa di San Giobbe – Wikipedia

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