Image permission and credit: Web Gallery of Art
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 Mezières, 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: we notice immediately the basic difference between the archaic choice of images, sometimes portrayed purely as a sort of inventory, offered by the older artists and the new, lively depictions of the city painted by Carpaccio.
The subject of this 'telero' is the healing of a man possessed performed by Francesco Querini, the Patriarch of Grado, through the intercession of the relic of the Holy Cross in his palace at the Rialto. The actual miracle is relegated to a position in the upper left part of the picture and takes place in the wonderfully airy loggia of the palace. This allows attention to be centred on the view of Rialto Bridge and the banks on either side of the Grand Canal. The bridge depicted is the one built in 1458; at its sides can be seen the shops and in the centre the part which could be raised to allow the taller ships to pass. This construction, which was of wood, collapsed on 4th. August, 1524 and was replaced by the present stone bridge which was opened in 1592. On the left bank, amid the ancient structures can be seen the sign of the Storione Hotel, which stood in a side road, while in the background, behind the bridge, the 'loggia' of the Rialto can be made out, a much-used meeting-place for users of the market. On the right bank are visible the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, destroyed by fire in 1505, Ca' da Mosto with its open canal-side entrance which still exists, and the old campanile of the church of Santi Apostoli which was reconstructed in 1672.
All the descriptive precision of the physical surroundings does not cause the work to degenerate into the merely documentary, but acts as a lively support to the scene. On the black waters of the Grand Canal and along its banks the intense daily life of the place runs its course while the noble-men and the very elegant 'compagni della Calza' cluster around below the loggia of the Palace of the Patriarch of Grado and the buildings with their round chimney-pots stand out against the pale blue and pink sky. Each manifestation of reality is caught in its truest aspect, its most accurate shade of colour, in this evocation of a relaxed and airy fifteenth century Venice, a representation which is a long way from the 'inventory' style adopted by the other contemporary 'ceremonial' painters.