April 2022 – I headed across the lagoon to Murano today, the island in the Venetian Lagoon famed for a unique, glass-making tradition that has existed since medieval times. However my goal wasn’t glass, instead it was a visit to the gorgeous Romanesque Basilica of Santa Maria and San Donato. The church has recently emerged from a huge restoration project and the external brickwork is quite exceptional, as too is the intricate mosaic flooring or pavimento inside. I was about to step inside a treasure house of mosaics….
Externally the church is a beautiful, intricate network of arches and pillars, decorative brick work and carefully carved reliefs. The rounded arches are typical of Romanesque architecture. There are multiple arches and double rows of pillars (columns) supporting those arches. The recently restored brick was almost sparkling in the spring sunshine. The photographs show the beautifully carved columns and intricate brickwork that decorates the external facade of the building. The white stone of the Istrian columns contrasts elegantly with the cream and terracotta of the ‘mattone’ (bricks).
Most people associate the island of Murano with a tradition of glass-making known as ‘vetraio artistico’. The famous hand-blown Venetian glass is made here in a series of workshops and factories that encircle the outer edge of the island. However, just a short walk into the centre of the island is this exquisite church dedicated to Santa Maria and St Donato. The church has been enchanting visitors to the island for generations. Canaletto, the famous Venetian veduta (view) painter sketched this quick pencil and ink version of the church in the 1740s. Whilst Canaletto is known today for amending and adjusting real scenes to create a more balanced and richly structured end result, the similarity between his 1740s sketch and today’s church and bell tower is remarkable. It’s worth comparing Canaletto’s sketch below (in The Queen’s Collection, London) with the photograph I took just last month.
Whilst the church externally is just fantastic, detailed, decorated and absolutely fascinating, the interior is even more impressive. The visitor is walking on a floor of medieval mosaics, a pavement of amazing patterns, shapes and creatures, some real and some imagined. The floor is reminiscent of the mosaic floor in the cathedral of Torcello, just a few miles to the north. Here on Murano there’s a feast of turtles and peacocks, domestic animals and mythical creatures.
There’s even humour in the mosaic images beneath my feet. My favourite is the pair of cockerels, carrying a trussed deer between them. Or the insects, thought to be crickets, attempting to break free from their mosaic frame. There’s a pair of peacocks sipping from a carved vase and a turtle floating nonchalantly on the stream. These mosaic pictures are full of colour, humour and movement.
The church also has an interesting mosaic decorating the internal dome of the building, this is currently being restored and won’t be visible to visitors until September or October. I’ll definitely be back later in the year to admire this.
If you’d like to discover more about Murano and the islands of the lagoon – you can follow the links below:
- Torcello – Island of legends – Hemingway, Cipriani, Venice
- Murano Venice – a long history of glass-making
- Venice to Ravenna on the old Roman road
Note – For more on Italy, France, British Isles, The Alps, Greece and random thoughts from abroad – please visit: www.educated-traveller.com