Churches of Venice. New Research Perspectives, 10
SAN NICOLÒ DEI MENDICOLI:
SOCIETY, ART, AND DEVOTIONS AT THE MARGINS OF VENICE
Venice, December 2022
Edited by Francesco Bianchi and Stefania Mason
Call for papers
The project “Churches of Venice. New Research Perspectives”—which first began in 2010and since 2017 has been supported by the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage at Ca’ Foscari University ofVenice and is currently sponsored by Save Venice Inc.—consists of a multi-year program of interdisciplinary conferences, each focused on a specific Venetian church. The project is designed to engage different disciplines for a deeper understanding of the complex social and religious phenomena embodied by Venetian churches, as they are physical spaces created to serve a variety of religious functions and meanings. In addition to investigating Venetian churches from “new research perspectives”, the project also strives to communicate the latest research to the general public through the publication of the conference proceedings in a dedicated book series published by Viella(https://www.viella.it/catalogo/collana/75).
After having studied the churches of San Bartolomeo (2011), Scalzi (2012), San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti (2013), San Zaccaria (2014), San Pietro di Castello (2015), San Giacomo dall’Orio (2017), San Polo (2019), Santa Maria dei Servi (2020-2021), and San Rocco (forthcoming in 2021), the conference scheduled for December 2022 will investigate the parish church and district (contrada) of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli as an identifying space of a marginal urban context in the long period between the 12th and the 20th centuries. It is programmed as a three-dayconference, with the last sessions takingplace on site in the church. Participants will have access to a professional photographer, who may take photos upon request for use at the conference and in the subsequent publication.
The parish (or confinium) of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli is located at the southwestern end of the city of Venice, facing the mainland across the water. In pre-industrial times, it was inhabited by a population with humble origins; in most part (but not exclusively) fishermen and fishmongers. Although not entirely unusual, in pre-industrial times this was an anomaly, since the homes of the rich and poor shared the same spaces, in the same neighbourhoods. The modest urban fabric was mirrored by a broadly homogenous popular social fabric, with the exception of the rich parish church dedicated to the saints Nicolò, Marta and Niceta. The church was not only the devotional centre of the area, but it was also the main identifying focal point of the Nicolotti—as the locals called themselves—whose social and topographical marginality was, at least in part, counterbalanced by ritual processes of inclusion in the broader civic space of Venice. The Romanesque church—which was rebuilt in the 13th century with a typical basilica plant with three naves and front portico—was completely renovated starting from the last twenty years of the 16th century, strongly incentivized by the upcoming Apostolic Visit of 1581. The interior of the church therefore takes on a very particular look, as the central nave is covered by a rich wooden structure that turns into a sacred enclosure marked off by the iconostasis, with a vast Christological cycle at the top and ending with paintings celebrating the titular saint on the ceiling. Devotion to santa Marta and san Niceta takes shape in different sections of the church, although the stronger pole of attraction remains that of the large statue of san Nicolò on the high altar.
In particular, we propose to address the following thematic issues:
- The topographical and socio-economic marginality of the parish of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in the urban context of Venice
- The social reality of the Nicolotti between identity claims and integration into Venetian civic rituals
- The origins of the religious devotional celebrations and manifestations at the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli
- The church architecture in the medieval phase and in the early modern age, and its relationship with the surrounding urban fabric
- The restoration of the building and of its artwork in the 20th century
- The decoration and furnishings of the church and adjacent spaces, as well as the contribution of religious brotherhoods and other possible patrons
- Comparison of the central nave Christological cycle to other cycles in Venice at the end of the 16th century