Oratorio dei Crociferi
The Oratorio dei Crociferi is a small and fairly obscure destination for art lovers, situated in a historic charitable hospital, the Ospedale dei Crociferi, in the Cannaregio district of Venice.
The history of the buildings here, near the Gesuiti church, dates back to the twelfth century, when an order of friars called the Crociferi set up a hospital for pilgrims. Two hundred years later, this became a hospice or home for impoverished women. It was named after Doge Renier Zen, who had left money to the friars in his will. In the sixteenth century some restructuring took place, and the artist Palma il Giovane (Jacopo Negretti) was commissioned to decorate the hospice's oratory. His eight canvases were painted between 1583 and 1592, and show events related to the Crociferi order and and hospice, as well as standard religious scenes. More paintings by the artist decorate the wooden ceiling.
The oratory consists of one small chapel with an altar, its walls almost entirely covered by paintings by Palma il Giovane (or 'the Younger').
Particularly striking in this small dusky space are the glowing reds and golds of the robes worn by the painted dignitaries and notables. The needy old ladies served by the establishment crop up in several of the paintings, and there are some interesting details such as the flower arrangements displayed around the altar in one of the paintings, in this very chapel.
To those of us more used to visiting transplanted paintings in galleries, it's striking to see works in the original setting for which they were commissioned; with spaces left for windows and doors, and incorporating depictions of the surrounding buildings.
The oratory was damaged in the big floods of 1966, and has been restored with help from the British organisation Venice in Peril: the Queen Mother attended the inauguration.
The Oratorio dei Crociferi is in Cannaregio, in Campo dei Gesuiti. It has an unassuming entrance on the opposite side of the campo from the Gesuiti church. It is very close to the Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, and a short walk from Ca' d'Oro on the Grand Canal.
Opening hours are very limited: April - October, Friday and Saturday 3:30pm to 6:30pm. Outside these times you may be able to visit by appointment by telephoning 041 2719012. Entrance costs €2.