On October 22, 1630, the government of the Serenissima Republic decided to build a votive temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary to celebrate the end of the Plague which had decimated more than a third of the Venetian population. The site chosen was one of the most prestigious.
And the building, evoking the themes of heaven and water, was to be a symbol of victory over death and the rebirth of the republican city. Of the eleven projects presented, Baldassare Longhena's was considered the best, mainly because of the opulent magnificence of the language, which was seen as a stark contrast to the sober solidity of the Redentore that had been built only fifty years before.
In 1631, once the pre-existing religious complex known as the Trinity had been demolished, work began on the "round Baroque machination" which, with its conceptually innovative design, was to assume a specific meaning for Venice, underlining its symbolic function and acting as a visual link within the enormous void of St Mark's Basin. The church was given an octagonal form and raised almost theatrically onto a sort of platform preceded by a series of steps. This stupefying composition of volumes forms a "crown" that was supposed to refer directly to the crown worn by the Virgin Mary as an emblem of victory. The construction, externally punctuated by the prospects of the six chapels, has a grandiose Palladio-like facade dominated by a large cupola, surrounded by a flock of angels and sustained by eight robust pilasters and elegant spiral volutes.
The church is used each year for a procession during the Feast of the Salute, which is still one of the Venetians' favourite events. From the moment you enter the church you are overwhelmed by the church's spaciousness and luminosity. The space is defined by robust arches and composite pilasters sustaining the tambour of the cupola and separating the large nave from the ambulatory, onto which the various chapels face. Opposite the main entrance there is a large presbytery with side apses and covered by a smaller cupola. Here you will find the main altar, by Longhena, where the marvellous Byzantine icon, The Image of the Virgin, is held. The complex plastic scenario is by Le Court and depicts Venice kneeling before the Virgin Mary vanquishing the Plague and surrounded by St Mark and Lorenzo Giustinian. Another incredible element is the polychrome marble floor, which extends in concentric waves from the central area, forming inlaid patterns in the shape of roses and Stars of David. The church also holds many paintings by Sassoferrato, Tintoretto and Luca Giordano. One of the six altars is adorned with Titian's Pentecost (1559), an enormous painting which was originally in the deconsecrated Santo Spirito church. In this Tintoretto-esque work, Titian uses his entire suggestive chromatic palette, using "explosions" of light to illuminate the monumental group of subjects. More works by Titian can be found in the sacristy. These are obviously from his mature period, as can be seen from the mobility' of the characters, the audacious scenes and the Michelangelo-like plasticity, all of which reveal Titian's later abrupt conversion to a more markedly expressive mode.