(b. ca. 1430, Venezia, d. ca. 1512, Venezia)

The Relic of the Holy Cross is offered to the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista

c. 1494
Tempera on canvas, 319 x 438 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

The Confraternity of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista in Venice called upon the most respected Venetian painters of the period, including Pietro Perugino, Vittore Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini, Giovanni Mansueti, Lazzaro Bastiani and Benedetto Diana to paint nine canvases for the Great Hall of their headquarters showing the Miracles of the Holy Cross, the story of the miracles performed by the fragment of wood from the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. This fragment had been donated to the brotherhood in 1369 by Philip de Meziéres, Chancellor of the Kingdom of Cyprus and Jerusalem, and had soon become an object of great veneration and the symbol of the Scuola, one of the most important and wealthy Venetian confraternities.

The canvas painted by Perugino has been lost, but the eight surviving paintings executed between 1496 and 1501, contain depictions of some of the most famous parts of Venice. Since the imposing series of pictures (known as 'teleri') are all in the Accademia now it is easy to compare them.

This canvas depicts the most important moment in the history of the relic of the Holy Cross: the ceremony at which it was offered to the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista by Philippe de Méziéres in 1369. The event, which takes place inside the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, is seen from outside and documents the appearence, today completely changed, of one of the most typical architectural features of Venice: the brick building, fronted by a portico decorated with frescos and surmounted by a terrace with a richly ornamented surrounding balustrade, which contained the cemetery. Inside the church the polygonal apse can be glimpsed, together with tall, narrow windows and on the altar a polyptych which is nery reminiscent of the one included by Gentile Bellini in his painting of the 'Miraculous Healing of Pietro de' Ludovici'. In this 'telero' Lazzaro Bastiani was evidently attempting to emulate the choral grandeur achieved by Gentile Bellini and the fascinating evocation of Vittore Carpaccio. But his interpretation of the Venice of the time remains little more than prosaic and rather suggests an analytical report. The interest of the painting therefore lies principally in its value as an irreplaceable historical document offering evidence of an urban Venice which has now disappeared for ever.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.