Last week the archbishop of Venice, Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, caused a stir by asserting that churches should not charge entrance fees. Voices were raised in alarm because many Italian churches, including at least 16 in Venice, contain superb works of art, and issuing tickets to tourists helps fund upkeep and restoration.
But the controversy reminded me quite how many wonderful paintings, mosaics and scultpures are there are in Italian churches which you can see without paying to enter. Together they surely rank as Europe’s greatest free art gallery - much enhanced that they remain where the artists and patrons intended them to be.
Here are 20 of the best. Knowing the problems and costs of resoration, if you visit any of them, you may feel inspired to make a donation after all.
- Venice - 12th-century Mosaics, St Mark’s
- Venice - Tintoretto: The Last Supper and The Fall of Manna, San Giorgio Maggiore
- Venice - Giovanni Bellini: Madonna & Child with Four Saints, San Zaccaria
- Venice - Titian: Annunciation and Transfiguration, San Salvador
- Aquileia - Floor mosaic, Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta
- Rome - Michelangelo, Pietà, St Peter's
- Rome - Caravaggio, St Matthew, San Luigi dei Francesi
- Rome - Mosaics, Santa Prassede
- Rome - Bernini, St Teresa, Santa Maria della Vittoria
- Rome - Raphael, Sibyls, Santa Maria della Pace
- Padua - Donatello, Sculptures, Basilica of Sant'Antonio
- Assisi - Giotto, Life of St Francis, Basilica of San Francesco
- Spello - Pinturicchio, life of Mary and the Child Jesus, Santa Maria Maggiore
- Corciano - Perugino, Pala di Corciano, Santa Maria Assunta
- Orvieto - Façade, Duomo, Orvieto
- Florence - Pontormo, Deposition, Jacopo Santa Felicita
- Florence - Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, San Miniato
- Naples - Pietro Cavallini, Crucifixion, San Domenico Maggiore
- Otranto - Mosaic floor, Pantaleone Santa Maria Annunziata
- Monreale, Sicily - Mosaics, Santa Maria Nuova