This unique spot cried out for a masterpiece. Palladio provided it. This was his first complete solo church; it demonstrates how confident he was in his techniques and objectives. With no hint of influence from the city's Byzantine tradition, Palladio here develops the system of superimposed temple fronts with which he had experimented in the façade of San Francesco della Vigna. The interior maintains the same relations between the orders as the outside, with composite half-columns supporting the gallery and lower Corinthian pilasters supporting the arches. The effect is of luminosity and harmony, decoration being confined to the altars. Palladio believed that white was the colour most pleasing to God, a credo that happily matched the demand from the Council of Trent for greater lucidity in church services.
There are several good works of art. Over the first altar is an Adoration of the Shepherds by Jacopo Bassano, with startling lighting effects. The altar to the right of the high altar has a Madonna and Child with Nine Saints by Sebastiano Ricci.
On the side walls of the chancel hang two vast compositions by Tintoretto, a Last Supper and the Gathering of Manna, painted in the last years of his life. The perspective of each work makes it clear that they were intended to be viewed from the altar rails. Tintoretto combines almost surreal visionary effects (angels swirling out from a lamp's eddying smoke) with touches of superb domestic realism (a cat prying into a basket, a woman stooping over her laundry). Tintoretto's last painting, a moving Entombment, hangs in the Cappella dei Morti (open for 11am Mass on Sundays in winter only). It's possible that Tintoretto included himself among the mourners: he has been identified as the bearded man gazing intensely at Christ's face.
In the left transept is a painting by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto of the Martyrdom of St Stephen, placed above the altar containing the saint's remains (brought from Constantinople in 1109).
From the left transept, follow the signs to the campanile. Just in front of the ticket-office stands the huge statue of an angel that crowned the bell tower until it was struck by lightning in 1993. To the left of the statue, a corridor gives access to the lift that takes you up to the bell tower. The view from the top of the tower is extraordinary: the best possible panorama across Venice itself and the lagoon.
San Giorgio is home to Tintoretto's seventh and final Last Supper. To see them in the order he painted them, begin at San Marcuola.