St. Ignatius of Loyola visited Venice for the first time in 1523 to embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He returned in 1535 with a group of friends who called themselves the “Society of Jesus”, for which he was ordained priest. It took only two years for word to spread throughout Venice and for him to gain a large following. He went to Rome in 1537. The Jesuits of Venice chose Domenico Rossi as an architect for their church as he had already designed the church of San Stae. The church’s site plan is typical for Jesuit churches with a Latin cross and three chapels along the longest arm. The transept and presbytery have a flat background and are flanked by two other chapels. The six chapels on the sides of the nave are separated by small spaces, which once served as confessionals. In 1725-1731, the stunning, elaborate decoration was installed with marble strips of white Carrara and Tessalico (called Verde Antico) marbles. The design extends over the columns and walls and was designed by Giuseppe Pozzo, who also designed the majestic altar dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
The altarpiece portraying the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence by Titian returned to a place befitting its grandeur. The painting is one of the most impressive night scenes in the history of art. It was shown at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome for the Titian exhibition that closed in June 2013. Through joint funding from Venetian Heritage, Save Venice Inc., and the Scuderie del Quirinale, the 18th century chapel designed by Domenico Rossi was cleaned and restored to once again frame Titian’s masterpiece.
The altarpiece for the funeral chapel of Lorenzo Massolo, in the destroyed church of the Crociferi (Cross-bearers) was given a new home in the chapel of the Jesuits’ church. The church had also become the site of the passamaneri guild, beginning around the early 1830s. At the same time the chapel’s vault and walls were decorated.
The faux cross brick vault has patterns painted in tempera on a green background. White and faux gold imitate stucco decoration on the nave’s vault. Unique in 18th century Venetian architecture is the application of faux finish plasters that decorate this chapel and others in the church. They are masterfully frescoed to imitate marble and it covers the walls of the church’s nave, simulating an enormous damask tapestry. Their technical skill is of a degree only attainable by a team of the most reknowned stucco decorators of the era. They incluede Abbondio Stazio and Carpoforo Mazzetti Tencalla who made all of the stucco decorations in the Jesuits’ church. The chapel’s restoration began with the reinforcement of the vault, which had a serious, long-standing horizontal lesion, missing color and several losses. The restoration was continued with the cleaning of the altar’s beautiful marbles. Some of the cleaning samples revealed that under the vault’s current decoration there was another decorative layer. Though it cannot be more precisely described at the moment, it will be subject to further study. Another issue addressed was the removal of thick salt deposits that covered some parts of the plaster faux finishing (after identifying the types of salts and their depth on the masonry).
A special framework was installed on the altar’s background that will keep Titian’s great painting separated from the church’s side wall.