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The church of San Giovanni Elemosinario is very ancient: it was founded before 1051, but nothing remains of the original building, because of the terrible fire that destroyed the Rialto area in 1514. Following this disastrous event, during which many buildings were distroyed and huge quantities of goods lot lost, the reconstruction of the church was probably commissioned to Antonio Abbondi called Scarpagnino, who completed it before 1531, while he was taking care of rebuilding the whole market area. The present building is completely incorporated into its dense urban setting, at the point of making its recognition difficult.
It is probable that this was due both to a desire of harmony with the rest of the area and to the necessity of maintaining a space in front of the church that the clergy let as shops. The church, a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture, has two extraordinary pictorial documents of two great sixteenth-century artists: Titian and Pordenone. The altarpiece on the main altar by Titian, depicting St. John the Almsgiver and the other by Pordenone in the right apsidal chapel, with Saints Catherine, Sebastian and Roch were, according to Vasari, the result of a test of skill. Pordenone is supposed to have been encouraged by some noble Venetians who supported him to challenge Titian who had just completed the altarpiece portraying the church's titular saint. At which, on returning to Venice after a trip to Bologna and finding Pordenone to be all the rage in the city with a new painting in direct competition with one of his own, Titian is said to have been extremely irked. This was not actually the case, it was probably quite the contrary. Indeed, it is legitimate to date Pordenone's altarpiece around 1533, while Titian's should be dating around 1545-50.