The renaissance altars of St. Paul and St. James are in the north and south transepts, at the sides of the pulpits. They were created in the second half of the 15th century by Antonio Rizzo of Verona. There is a third altar of the same period and by the same artist in the chapel of St. Clement.
All three were commissioned by the Doge Cristoforo Moro, who is referred to in an inscription on each, and designed and decorated in accordance with renaissance forms and models.
The doge Cristoforo Moro (1462-1471) commissioned the altar of the chapel of St. Clement and the altars of St. Paul and St.
James in the north and south transepts. Each is a pendant to the other in form, size and location. An inscription on each recalls the commissioning doge.
The entire work must have been completed before 28th June 1469, the day when payment was made to young Antonio Rizzo of Verona for execution of the altars. Rizzo therefore made his artistic debut with the most prestigious sculpture commission then available in Venice. The presence of Franciscan saint and preacherSt. Bernardino of Siena with St. Mark at the sides of the Virgin on the altar of St. Clement bears witness to the doge’s special veneration of the recently canonised saint.
The present day layout of the relief of Virgin and Child with the two saints is the result of modification around 1811 with the insertion of a relief depicting the Doge Andrea Gritti worshipping St. Nicolï¿½, sculpted in 1523 by an unknown artist for the chapel of St. Nicolï¿½ in the ducal palace.
On the altars of Saints James and Paul the statues of the saints are surrounded by renaissance tabernacles. Rizzo was one of the first to use, in his altars, pilaster strips, a trabeation and a lunette, the latter set to frame the altar-piece.
The greater variety of areas and profiles on the altar of St. Paul would suggest that it is of a later date than that of St. James. In the former work the distribution of body weight shows little uniformity and is far more evident due to a pronounced unbalancing of the pelvic axis and a more decisive projection of the raised leg. The contrary rotation of head and shoulders in St. Paul produces a slight torsion whereas the figure of St. James is still conditioned by the closed geometries of the cube of stone used for the sculpture.
The drapery of both statues – as well as that of the Virgin and of St. Mark on the altar of St. Clement – betrays the influence of Paduan art around 1450. The conversion of St. Paul, on the contrary, is indebted to Florentine art, the so-called “flattened” relief technique; the simulation of atmospheric perspective and the dissolving of the land by means of a carpet of clouds. These expedients, today admirable only in old images, suggest that Rizzo had seen Donatello’s Florentine reliefs.