The San Pantalon church on the edge of San Polo and Dorsoduro is one of the hidden gems of Venice. The brick façade on the Campo San Pantalon doesn’t look very inviting, so many people pass by without entering the church. As it offers many intriguing elements, such as the largest canvas in the world and more than 80 works of art in intriguing chapels, it’s certainly something to add to your list for your next trip to Venice. In this post, I will explain you why.
San Pantalon, or Saint Pantaleon, was born around 265 in Nicomedia. He studied medicine and belonged to the ‘santi anargiri’ (which literally means ‘without money’), because he practised medicine without asking for payment. He was the physician of the emperor Galerius (or Maximian, depending on the source). When he healed a paralytic by invoking the name of Jesus over him, he openly confessed his faith in Christianity. Diocletian regarded the miracle as an exhibition of magic and condemned him to death in 305. Hence, San Pantalon became a martyr.
San Pantalon is one of the seven patron saints of Venice. He is depicted on the mosaic with all the patron saints of the city in the San Marco basilica (see also ‘A magical visit to the illuminated mosaics of the basilica’). You can recognize him on paintings by his attributes: a compartmented medicine box, a long-handled spatula or spoon and a martyr’s cross.
DID YOU KNOW? Goldoni used Pantalone’s name for one of his characters of the commedia dell’arte. This silly, wizened old man was portrayed with long trousers rather than knee breeches. It became the origin of the type of trousers called ‘pantaloons’, which was later shortened to ‘pants’.
The history of the church
The first church on this location dates from 1161 and was mentioned in documents of Pope Alexander III. It was dedicated to Saints Pantaleon and Giuliana, but was abbreviated to San Pantalon in the Venetian dialect. The church was rebuilt and consecrated in 1305 by the Bishop of Castello Ramberto Polo under the reign of Bartolomeo Dandolo. The parish church originally faced the Rio de Ca’Foscari.
Between 1668 and 1686, the church was again rebuilt due to stability problems. Francesco Comino rotated the church’s orientation by 90 degrees so that it faced the campo. He also designed it in baroque style which was popular in Venice at that time.
Unfortunately, the façade was never completed due to a lack of funds. You can still see the elements on the brick façade which were intended to support the weight of the marble which was never added.
The painting on the ceiling
The huge baroque painting on the ceiling shows ‘The Martyrdom and Glorification of San Pantalon’. The Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Fumiani painted it from 1680 until 1704. It is 443 m2 and apparently the largest canvas painting in the world. It consists of 40 panels which were painted separately and assembled in the church. It was also the first time someone created the illusion of a perspective of a structure that reaches towards the sky (trompe l’oeil) in Venice. As the colour scheme is very dark, you might want to put a coin in the slot to activate the illumination and admire it at its best.
The martyrdom scene is on the left-hand side. You can see the executioners surround Pantalon and their instruments of torture: a stick, a rope and a hook. In the centre, the triumph of San Pantalon is celebrated as he is welcomed into paradise by Christ and angels. He receives a crown of glory and the palm of martyrdom, amidst garlands of flowers and musical instruments. The twelve apostles, two by two, are painted above the arches leading to the chapels.
According to the legend, Giovanni Antonio Fumiani died when he fell off the scaffolding to take a look at his final work. You can admire more of his works in Venice in the churches of San Benedetto, San Zaccaria and San Rocco.
INSIDER TIP: The website Churches of Venice is a great source with detailed information on the architecture and artworks of many churches in the city.
The artworks in the chapels
The church has a lot of impressive artwork, such as murals, paintings and altars. They are spread all over the church, so make sure you also visit the smaller chapels. There are more than 80 works to admire, including some of famous artists such as of Paolo Veronese, Paolo Veneziano, Antonio Vivarini, Jacopo Palma il Giovane and Pietro Longhi.
There are 3 smaller chapels on each side of the main section of the church. On the left, you will find the Cappella dell’Immaccolata (Immaculate Conception), Cappella dell’Addolorata (Lady of Sorows) and Cappella della SS. Trinità (Holy Trinity). On the right, the Cappella di San Pantaleone is the largest one in the middle and has 6 works depicting San Pantalon. They are painted by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, Gregorio Lazzarini, Paolo Veronese and Giovanni Antoion Fumiani (the painter of the ceiling). Next to it are the chapels in honour of San Bernardino and Sant’Anna.
The 2 chapels on the left side of the presbytery were added later. The Capella del Sacro Chiodo (Sacred Nail) was added in 1722. ‘The Coronation of the Virgin’ by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni D’Alemagna (originally from 1444) has been restored by Save Venice in 1996. It shows Christ’s crowning of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven in the presence of God and the dove of the Holy Spirit. The Capella della Santa Casa di Loretta dates from 1744. It has a very poetic (part of a) fresco of the Virgin and Child by Pietro Longhi from around 1745.
The presbitery is of course dedicated to San Pantalon. The altarpiece ‘The Miracle of San Pantalon’ is the last known work of Paolo Veronese, as he began painting it a year before he died. This painting was restored by Venice in Peril around 1980. There is also a magnificent and huge marble altar, created by Giuseppe Sardi.
View from the bridge
After your visit, make sure to take a look at the Banksy mural which you can see from the bridge across the Rio de Ca’Foscari. It was painted in 2019 and shows a young refugee in a life jacket holding a neon pink flare. I leave it up to you to decide whether it’s vandalism or street art, but it’s certainly worth a look.
The bridge is also a very quiet place to admire boat traffic in Venice. You will not only see plenty of gondolas but also water taxis and cargo boats. When you look in the direction of Ca’Foscari, you will notice one of the rare traffic lights in the canals of Venice.
If you want to continue your walk, you can either go in the direction of Dorsoduro (see ‘Dorsoduro: An amazing tour of intriguing architecture’) or of San Polo (‘San Polo & Santa Croce: A culinary discovery in Venice’). Alternatively, you can walk to the nearby Campo Santa Margherita for a drink on one of the terraces.