In terms of the size of the building and the quantity and quality of its masterpieces, the Frari Church has no rivals except San Marco. The building itself is quite austere: essentially a large Gothic barn made out of brick, not marble, and with little ornamentation, “as simple and practical as a friar’s russet habit” in Hugh Honour’s words, reflecting perhaps the Franciscan vow of poverty. But the richness of the paintings and monuments amply compensate for the austerity of the building. Most celebrated is Titian’s Assumption, which in 1752 Sir Joshua Reynolds described as "most terribly dark but nobly painted” . Centuries of smoke and grease from candles had caused the picture to darken and in 1817 it was cleaned and moved to Accademia where it remained until 1919. Other pictorial highlights are Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece and a beautiful polyptych by Giovanni Bellini.
The church is also famous for its sepulchral monuments particularly those to Titian, (whose heart is buried there) and Canova, as well as the monuments to Doges Foscari and Giovanni Pesaro, the last of which is either wonderful or grotesquely theatrical, depending on your point of view. Ruskin and Mark Twain both found it grotesque and for Ruskin it represented the worst excesses of the baroque.
The Church of San Giovanni e Paolo was built by that rival preaching order, the Dominicans. As with the Frari, the austere brick exterior belies the richness of the magnificent monuments to the Doges found within. Ruskin thought that this church was the best place to study the decline of Venetian sculpture from the Gothic to the Renaissance, but there was one Renaissance monument that even he had to admit was a masterpiece: Verrochio’s Colleone Monument which stands in the Campo outside the church. “I do not believe”, Ruskin wrote, “that there is a more glorious work of sculpture existing in the world”. Colleone had left a substantial legacy to the Venetian Republic on condition that they erected a monument to him outside San Marco but that was unacceptable (not even St Mark had a statue in the square), so they decided that he must have intended his monument to be erected outside the Scuola San Marco in the Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo rather than the basilica. Colleone’s intentions were frustrated, but his monument was a masterpiece.
Mark Twain describes his visit to the Santi Giovanni e Paolo: