It is now well to ask the way to S. Francesco della Vigna, where we shall find S. Jerome and his lion again. This vast church, with its pretentious and very unwelcoming facade by Palladio covering the friendly red brick, is at the first sight unattractive, so huge and cold and deserted is it. But it has details. It has, for example, just inside the door on the entrance wall, high up, a very beautiful early Christian coloured relief of the Madonna and Child: white on blue, but far earlier than the Delia Robbias. The Madonna is slender as a pole but memorably sweet. It has also a curious great altar picture on wood by a strange painter, Frater Antonius da Negropon, as he signs himself—this in a little chapel in the right transept—with most charming details of birds, and flowers, and scrolls, and monochrome reliefs surrounding a Madonna and Child who beam comfort and assurance of joy. The date is supposed to be about 1450 and the source of Brother Antonio’s inspiration must have been similar to that of the great Mantegna’s.
There are also the very delightful marble pictures in the chapel of the Giustiniani family to the left of the choir, the work of the Lombardi. About the walls are the evangelists and prophets (S. John no more than a beautiful and sensitive boy), while over the altar are scenes in the life of S. Jerome, whom we again see with his lion. In one relief he extracts the thorn from its foot; in another the lion assists in holding up the theological work which the saint is perusing, while in his other hand the saint poises a model of the church and campanile of S. Zaccaria. Below, on the altar cloth, is a Last Judgment, with the prettiest little angel boys to sound the dreadful trumps. To these must be added two pictures by Paul Veronese, one with a kneeling woman in it who at once brings to mind the S. Helena in our National Gallery.
Furthermore, in the little Cappella Santa is a rich and lovely Giovanni Bellini, with sacred relics in jars above and below it, and outside is the gay little cloistered garden of the still existing monastery, with a figure of S. Francis in the midst of its greenery.
So much for the more ingratiating details of this great church, which are displayed with much spirit by a young sacristan who is something of a linguist: his English consisting of the three phrases: “Good morning,” “Very nice,” and “Come on!”
The great church has also various tombs of Doges, the most splendid being that noble floor slab in front of the high altar, beneath which repose the bones of Marcantonio Trevisan (1553-1554). What Trevisan was like may be learned from the relief over the sacristy entrance, where he kneels to the crucifix. He made no mark on his times. Andrea Gritti (1523-1538), who also is buried here, was a more noticeable ruler, a born monarch who had a good diplomatic and fighting training abroad before he came to the throne. He was generous, long-memoried, astute, jovial, angry, healthy, voluptuous and an enthusiast for his country. He not only did all that he could for Venice (and one of his unfulfilled projects was to extend the Ducal Palace to absorb the prison) but he was quite capable of single-handed negotiations with foreign rulers.