Palladio’s Churches in Venice

Il Redentore —From 1577 to 1592, by Andrea Palladio

Le Zitelle —From 1586, by Andrea Palladio

THE BIRTH OF PALLADIO

Born in 1508 in the distinguished university town of  Padua.His father,Pietro della Gondola,was a mason who prepared and installed millstones;his mother was known as ”lame” Marta.Tradition has it that he was born on 30 November,the feast day of St.Andrew,and his name Andrea was taken from that day.His full name was therefore Andrea della Gondola,or di Pietro,after his father. The name under which he achieved fame,Andrea Palladio,was conferred on him some thirty years later under the influence of  his mentor ,the noted statsman Count Gian Giorgio Trissino. Andrea probably came upon Trissino in Vicenza,which was a city ruled by the Venetians.He arrived there in his mid-teens to continue his training as a stoneman.There he joined the Pedemuro workshop,which was involved in the construction of fine buildings locally.Trissino was having a new villa built for himself at Cricoli,on the outskirts of Vicenza,and it is thought possible that it was during the years of its construction,between 1537 and 1538,that he encountered Andrea. Trissino founded his Academy at Cricoli,as a place to educate young Vicentine nobles along the lines of the famous humanist academies in Florence and Rome that promoted classical literature and wisdom.According to Palladio’s biographer,Paolo Gualdo,Andrea benefited from Trissino’s Academy,since,”finding Palladio to be a young man of very spirited character and with a great aptitude for science and mathematics,Trissino encouraged his natural abilities by training him in the precepts of Vitruvius.” The Academy imparted three things:Study,the Arts,and Virtue.It was the third of  these pursuits–in Latin virtus,rendered as virtù in sixteenth-century Italian–that was of particular importance to the aspiring architect,as Palladio was later to assert so strongly:the frontispiece to each of his four books on architecture depicts Regina Virtus–the Queen of  Virtue–as mother of the arts,seated aloft,presiding over the descriptions of the architecture within.In antiquity,Virtue meant”excellence” and ”good action”,which was to be derected for the benefit and enhancement of civic life by the well-rounded individual.Education provided the key,hence Virtue was preceded by Study and knowledge of the Arts.Presumably,Andrea was renamed Palladio by Trissino once he had absorbed these lessons and was considered ready to serve society as a man of virtue. It was the despoiling of Rome in their own times,and the subsequent migration of artists northward,that provided the impetus for architectural change in the Veneto.   biography:”The four books on architecture” english edition,introduction by Robert Tavernor.

帕拉帝奥的命名由来 Andrea Palladio. 生于1508年,意大利北部大学城帕多瓦,父亲名字叫做Pietro della Gondola(贡多拉之石),石匠。 据说他出生在11月30日,为S.Andrea节,因此以Andrea 为名。其姓应该为Pietro或Gondola,取自其父。 Palladio的姓,应为他30多年后,由导师Trissino命名。 Andrea十几岁时候到Vicenza继续学习石匠,在1537到1538年间,Trissino在Vicenza外郊建造自己的住宅,期间遇见Andrea. Trissino发现Andrea对科学和数学方面的才华,将其留在自己创建的艺术真理学院学习。学院讲授三个事情:学习,艺术,真理。 后来Palladio在其建筑四书的封面都采用了真理之母。 很可能,Trissino为Palladio命名,是在他吸收学院课程,并认为他准备好作为真理之人为社会服务之时。   参考资料:建筑四书,英文版,介绍 by Robert Tavernor.

Palladio’s Churches (James Ackerman)

Palladio’s works in Venice belong entirely to the last phase of his career. In the 1550s he had applied for the prestigious position of ‘proto’ to the Salt Office, that is, the architect responsible for public buildings in the city. However his application was turned down and a more conservative architect appointed. In spite of the fame of his palaces in Vicenza, those he designed for Venice were never built. His monumental scheme for the new Rialto bridge was also unsuccessful and a more practical, single-span design by Antonio Da Ponte was eventually adopted.

It appears that Venice, with its strong cultural identity and enduring architectural traditions, resisted the changes and innovations envisaged in Palladio’s projects. Even with the support of the powerful Marc’Antonio Barbaro, his proposal for a complete rebuilding of the Doge’s Palace after the serious fire of 1577 was rejected and the old Gothic structure, which had a highly symbolic value to Venetians, was restored.

When Palladio began to build churches he was over fifty and had already designed most of his palaces and villas; there are no church projects among his early drawings. Scarcity of patronage was the reason, rather than lack of religious sentiment: Palladio’s books show him to have been more pious than most Humanists. His contemporaries in the Veneto were not irreligious, either, though many of them were anti-Papists. The Church had instigated a devastating war against the Republic in 1509 with an interdict, and the Protestant Reformation got a hospitable welcome in this channel to northern Europe which had always been independent in religious-as well as in political affairs. Major commissions, then, were as likely to be supported by civic or private as by ecclesiastical funds, and these, partly because of the wars, were sparse before the mid sixteenth century.

Palladio wrote of church architecture as glorifying God and embellishing the city; he ignored the institution of the Church. Several of his major ecclesiastical commissions were civic or private (project for Brescia Cathedral; the Redentore.. in Venice: the facade of San Petronio in Bologna; the villa-chapel at Maser), and most of the others were monastic (Monastery of the Carita; San Giorgio Maggiore; San Nicola da Tolentino, all in Venice). Yet, differences in the sources of funds do not seem to have affected the character of the designs. Until recently, for example, drawings for San Nicola were thought to be studies for Maser. The different types were experiments in the search for a modern civic ‘temple’ that Palladio believed should surpass its ancient ancestor in beauty and dignity as much as the Christian faith surpassed what he called ‘their vain and false superstition’.

His hope of surpassing antiquity indicates a new viewpoint, expressed at the same time by Michelangelo, which in time replaced the Humanists’ ambition merely to equal or to imitate the achievements of the ancients. It anticipated the belief in cultural progress that pervaded early modern thought. As church builders, both Palladio and Michelangelo were creative Christians, moved by the crisis of the Reform – one in the separatist atmosphere of Venice, the other in the ambience of the Roman oratories -to reconsider the traditions of the church as a structure just as theologians of the time were re-examining the Church as an institution.

Church design of the early sixteenth century betrayed the institutional decay that prompted the Reformation. The Humanist architects of the Renaissance, from Alberti to Palladio himself (in his writings) had tried to establish the central plan church – preferably circular or square – as the dominant type, because it was ‘the most beautiful and regular’ (Quattro Libri, iv, ii). St Peter’s in the Vatican was started on this principle, but throughout its history of over a century of construction (1506-1612), the architects and the Holy See vacillated between the original intention, longitudinal projects, and compromises between the two. The same uncertainty attended Palladio’s initial project for the Redentore. The architect was asked to submit two models, ‘one in round form and one in rectangular form'; apparently, the former was selected and then abandoned, after a vigorous dispute, just before construction was started.

But if the central plan church was desirable philosophically and visually, it was ill-suited to a liturgy and customs that had evolved over the centuries in churches with long naves. The clergymen who often defeated the schemes of Alberti, Bramante and others were not just conservatives who wanted to keep medieval forms, but practical professionals who foresaw the problems of placing members of the choir or of conducting services in a cylindrical space with an altar either in the middle or in a chapel off to one side. The architects, particularly the theorists, did not listen to them; they continued to spend their time and effort drawing central plans, while public opinion forced them to construct a larger number ot longitudinal churches. Even really inventive longitudinal designs like Giulio Romano’s San Benedetto Po and some of the St Peter’s projects did not stimulate an evolution of the type during the first half of the sixteenth century. Most of the churches were dull in form and unimaginative in structure, like those of Antonio da Sangallo in Rome.

Outside Rome, church building lagged. In the Veneto, the constant state of war inhibited building in general. A major architect like San-michele, the author of many palaces and civic buildings, made only one (central plan) church. The other great pre-Palladian in the Veneto, Sansovino, participated in designing several churches in Venice itself, but none was built just as he intended, and none had the strength to promote significant departures from the vigorous local style of Coducci and Lombardi of the turn of the century.

Elsewhere in Italy, even otherwise competent architects produced indecisive church designs in the first half of the century; a change in architecture had to await changes in the Church as an institution. The Jesuits and other reforming movements, the Council of Trent, and the complex of attitudes we call the Counter-Reformation created a climate in which architectural imagination could be regenerated within rather than outside the church. During the 1560s Palladio and two outstanding contemporaries, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73) and Galeazzo Alessi (1512-72), realized a new kind of ecclesiastical space. Their achievement was to mend the break caused by the Humanist abandonment of the traditional basilical form. They found ways to combine an ample nave for a large congregation and side chapels big enough for the celebration of the sacraments with the majestic domed central space that had been the testament of early Renaissance Tuscan architects to the St Peter’s design of Bramante and Michelangelo. Earlier architects, trained as painters or sculptors, lacked the technical mastery with which these professionals solved the problems of supporting huge masonry domes without blocking or even restricting the passage from the nave or aisles into the crossing and of vaulting great spans to improve fire resistance and acoustics. And where preceding generations had tried to join disparate traditions by adding longitudinal naves to centralized crossings, the new designers really fused them into an entity.

San Giorgio Maggiore,  from  wallpaperstravel

That three architects in three major Italian cities created church plans during the 1560s similar in most of their radical features is an exceptional coincidence. Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, still an experiment in the new mode, is comparable to Alessi’s San Vittore al Corpo in Milan (15 60) and Vignola’s unexecuted project for Santa Maria in Traspontina in Rome of 1565. All three designers rapidly developed mature schemes that were even more closely related. The Redentore, San Paolo e Barnaba in Milan of 1558, and the Gesu in Rome of 1570 all have naves flanked by arches on piers, covered by barrel vaults, and brightly lit by thermal windows. The side chapels are joined by open passages, implying the fusion of aisle and chapel, and the crossing piers are drawn into the wall mass. The transept no longer projects far beyond the nave; both it and the crossing merge into a single upward- and outward-expanding space that is called in Italy a ‘tribune’.

These three architects were not brought so close by mutual contact but by common experience. Stimulated by the Council of Trent, artists as well as ecclesiastics began to think about the relations of the Church to its worshippers. The Council did not rule on architecture, but powerful theologians and prelates began to intervene with architects and patrons in formulating church programmes. The most effective of these was Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, whose Instructions Fabricae et Supellectilis Ecclesiasticae of 1577 proposed a sort of reformed building and decorating code for church architects and decorators. He allowed some liberty in planning but explicitly favoured the Latin cross over central plans, and in a number of specific ways confirmed the direction taken by Alessi, Palladio and their contemporaries. The designs of San Giorgio and the Redentore reveal an earnest effort to find shapes for a rejuvenated liturgy: the elevation of the church on a podium, the care and inventiveness lavished on the choir, the separation of choir from chancel (a self-contained altar-house like San Giorgio’s is unique in the Italian Renaissance), the almost complete abstention from non-architectural ornament, and, finally, the chaste whiteness of the whole interior.

Joseph Heintz der Jüngere, “Procession before Il Redentore”

Festival of Redentore, 2012

The genesis of the Redentore design was bound more specifically to contemporary events. It was built by the Venetian Senate and delivered for care to the Capuchin Order in fulfilment of a vow on the deliverance of the city from the devastating plague of 1575-6. The Doge and Senators vowed to visit the church annually in perpetuity, and instituted a pompous cortege that passed over a temporary causeway thrown across the Giudecca canal and terminated in prayers within the tribune. Their legislation imposed on a single church three nearly autonomous ecclesiastic functions : monastic in the choir, votive in the tribune, and congregational in the nave and chapels (Palladio’s initial proposal for a ’round’ church may have had only a shallow narthex at the entrance instead of a nave). Thus the distinction of parts: the great tribune, from every angle in which the altar is visible so that a large company of dignitaries can follow, the services from a privileged position, is clearly separated from the nave and side chapels by a pier that narrows the opening, and from the choir by a columnar screen through which light and sound can pass without compromising privacy. The demand for separation must have reminded Palladio of his earlier intensive studies of the Imperial baths, in which he had reconstructed sequences of independent spaces, sometimes visually connected through columnar screens like the one here. The Redentore nave is like the fanciful sketches of halls in the Baths of Agrippa behind the Pantheon in Rome. Palladio associated the problem of joining a rectangular nave to a central-plan tribune and a choir with that of linking thermal shapes and functions in a similar series: Frigidatium, Tepidarium and Calidarium.

sketches of Redentore

Redentore, interior & plan

Redentore, dome

The structure is Roman too. It discards the medieval tradition in which free-standing piers sustain vaults and domes in a fabric stabilized by delicately balanced stresses – a tradition that naturally accompanied the Latin cross church into the Renaissance. It meant the adoption of the Imperial Roman technique, already restored at St Peter’s in the Vatican, of supporting vaulting by mouldable wall masses, penetrated by niches, on whose surface the classical columns serve a purely decorative function.

Tempietto in Maser, RIBA

The design of the tempietto at Maser was also motivated by the Roman conception of the wall as a plastic structural mass rather than a screen at the limits of a space. Here it facilitated the improbable union of two contrasting forms, the Greek cross and the domed Pantheon-with-portico, by permitting the dome to be supported and buttressed by wall masses that are invisible inside and deftly integrated into the exterior. This union of perfect centrality with an entrance axis focusing attention on the altar solved the liturgical deficiency of earlier central plans and met Carlo Borromeo’s demand for the cross symbolism. Yet the new solutions brought new problems: the wall mass inhibited fenestration, and the variety of spaces and of ornament is overbearing at so small a scale.

This irreverent child of the Pantheon is more Rococo than Roman. Its ornament is an innovation in Palladio’s church design that first appeared in his later palaces : in profuse stucco relief that covers every surface of the interior cylinder and outer pediment, it fragments light pictorially and pre-empts the clarity of surfaces with a sort of architectural impressionism antithetical to the Palladio of proportion and archaeology. Free-swinging swags between the porch capitals genially confuse shadow and substance. They frightened the neo-Classicists, but now they seem to be a natural outcome of the transfer of the classical vocabulary from stone to terracotta and plaster – an architectural equivalent to the diffusion of colour and brush-stroke in the late works of Titian.

 Had the chapel been published in the Quattro Libri, or had it been less inaccessible to the traveller, it might have made a deep impression on ecclesiastical architecture (the reappearance of the scheme in Mansart’s Sainte Marie de la Visitation in Paris is probably due to harmony of spirit rather than to direct contact). Vignola’s way of giving the central plan a dominant axis by stretching it into an oval proved to be more influential, being better attuned to Mannerist taste. Palladio and Vignola often, set themselves similar problems and got similar answers : the incorporation of two towers in the facade of a central plan church, carried out for the first time (?) at Maser, was proposed independently in Vignola’s preparatory drawings for the Gesu and projected for his unfinished facade of Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri in the Vatican, of 1570. These towers appear also on the facade of the Zitelle church in Venice, near the Redentore on the Giudecca. It was completed posthumously in 1586, and the rest of the facade is so retrogressive from Palladio’s later design that it is more likely to be the work of his associates and followers than an original of the last period. The interior, too, has been altered, as an eighteenth-century plan shows. The setting of the church between two wings of the convent is especially engaging, but characteristically Seicento.

San Nicola da Tolentino,  RIBA

Palladio’s unexecuted projects recently identified with the Theatine church of San Nicola da Tolentino in Venice, in which an ample choir is added behind a columnar screen to the unified central space, are so much less mature than Maser, and less in harmony with other late works, that it is hard to credit the late date (1579) suggested by records of the acquisition of property by the Order.

An unresolved element in the earliest of Palladio’s new churches was the facade. Facade design had bemused Italian architects since the Middle Ages – most Italian Gothic cathedrals have unfinished or modern fronts.

The problem was that the facade belonged more to the street or square than to the church itself, which needed nothing but a terminal wall with holes for doors and windows. The public function, and especially the opportunities for symbolism, demanded fine stonemasonry, which made the facade structurally as well as functionally separate from the inside. How could the architect make it look as if it belonged to the church behind as well as to the town ? And how could he pull together the tall nave and the low side-aisles alongside, particularly when he wanted to use ancient orders that had their own rules and could not be expanded and contracted at will ? How, finally, could the facade be given a spatial character consistent with the aesthetic of the Renaissance interior so as to avoid being a flat plane divided by horizontal and vertical strips ?

San Francesco della Vigna, facade

San Francesco della Vigna, interior

Palladio believed that none of these questions had been answered properly by his predecessors. He ignored the solutions that had been tried in Rome and Venice, and began anew. His first major ecclesiastical commission was the design of a facade for San Francesco della Vigna, a church that had already been completed more or less after designs by Jacopo Sansovino. This characteristic division of labour precluded a serious integration of interior and facade. Sansovino’s unexecuted facade, preserved in a medal, was too old-fashioned in the early 15 60s, and Palladio simply applied his invention – the date is uncertain – as if the facade were an independent monument. He identified as the major issues in his design two problems that Sansovino had failed to solve: the integration of the high nave front with low side-chapel fronts, and the evocation of space within the confines of a nearly flat facade.

San Francesco della Vigna, plan and interiror

He found a solution in the columnar temple portico of antiquity with its crowning pediment, which he used on a grand scale in the centre and on a lesser scale in two halves on either side. To integrate centre and sides, he had to put a small and a giant order on the same base, which had not been done in ancient temples and led to contradictions: for example, the base on which the large and small orders rest could not look right for both; at San Francesco and in the late projects for San Petronio in Bologna Palladio adjusted his bases to the former, and at San Giorgio Maggiore he tried a compromise by starting the orders at different heights. The Redentore, where the stairs hid the trouble, represented an optimal solution of an essentially insoluble conflict.

The temple-front motive binds the sides to the centre by repeating similar triangular figures at smaller scale and by sustaining horizontal accents across the facade behind the giant order-more emphatically at San Giorgio than at San Francesco. To speak of a course as being behind an order is to introduce another innovation in Palladio’s facades: the metaphor of space. The facade was designed as a relief, different layers of which should be revealed within the thickness of the wall; together with figures and columns, the wall-layers induce a chiaroscuro range from white to darkest shadow – a range intensified by the Istrian stone that bleaches in parts exposed to sun and rain and blackens in shadowy protected parts. But it is not only the relief treatment that implies depth; nyone reading the temple-front historically sees it in part as a freestanding, open portico before a temple cella, or at least is aware that the simile is suggested. That Palladio had this interpretation in mind can be seen in a recently discovered plan of San Giorgio done in the mid 1570s, where he proposed to alter the original project, which had been enshrined in a model a decade before, by advancing the four central columns to create a real portico in three dimensions. If Palladio had lived to build a facade, it probably would have been this one; the present facade was executed after his model (of 1565) in 1607-10.

The base of the lateral half-pediments of the San Giorgio facade continues across the three central bays as a sort of cornice and appears to join the half-pediments into a single, low and broad, temple front behind the pseudo-portico at the centre. This probably was a gloss on the model by a later architect; in other works, Palladio did not specifically join the side pediments to one another because to do so would have misrepresented the church interior, and he meant the facade to introduce the scheme of the church. An early drawing for San Giorgio, presumably of 1565, has no binding motive of the sort, nor does San Francesco della Vigna, and in a letter of 1567 to the builders of Brescia Cathedral, Palladio spoke of the ‘half-pediments’ recommended for the side-aisle facades: since two halves together constitute all a single order can support, there could be no justification for a cornice between them.

San Giorgio Maggiore, interior and plan

The relationship of the smaller to the larger orders on the facade was meant to state something specific about the nature of the interior spaces : inside San Giorgio, as on the facade, the small pilasters of the side-aisles are based on the ground, and the giant half-columns on pedestals; at the Redentore, designed a decade later, the small and the giant order start at the same level, both inside and out; also the buttress system sustaining the Redentore vault is integrated into the facade design. These devices do not make a Palladio facade into a diagram of the church behind, but they do establish closer ties than one finds in contemporary churches elsewhere.

San Petronio in Bologna, 1757

Called in 1572 to design a facade for the enormous Gothic church of San Petronio in Bologna, Palladio tried with only moderate success to incorporate a dull lower order applied earlier in the century; called again in 1578, he proposed to adapt the temple motives of the Venetian churches, first in designs related to the Redentore, and later by the addition of a vaulted forehall – called ‘portico’ in the correspondence – a drawing of which has just been discovered. The Cathedral chapter ultimately rejected the later designs because they required the destruction of all the existing Gothic and Renaissance work, but the decision could have been justified on aesthetic grounds, too. The scale of the order, greater than anything Roman, was excessive for the temple-reference, and the ratio of width to height overstretched Palladio’s formula.

San Pietro in Castello, façade

Though the facade design of 1558 for San Pietro in Castello in Venice was Palladio’s first, it has not appeared here because the facade actually built by Smeraldi in 1596 cannot be the same; it does not conform to specifications in the 1558 contract, and it is a pastiche of Palladio’s inventions in which elements like the Redentore buttresses lose the logic that brought them into being.

Palladio’s facades deeply impressed later designers. Imitations appeared everywhere in Venice, and somewhere in every Western country for centuries after. This is due to more than a recognition of happy solutions to old dilemmas ; it also testifies to the skilful exploitation of their pictorial role in the panorama of Venice. Few architects have been granted sites so splendidly endowed at once by nature and by a position in constant view of hordes of foreign visitors as well as Venetians. San Giorgio’s facade is marvellously suited to its island eminence, where it is seen far oftener from a distance – from boats, the Piazzetta di San Marco and the Fondamenta alongside – than from nearby. But its pictorial effectiveness is a bit fortuitous; the most successful features – a giant order, brilliant stone, deep relief and sculptural detail – were invented for San Francesco della Vigna, which has only a small campo before it, and they just happened to work splendidly as a backdrop to the Canal scene. The stone facade of San Giorgio and its brick body were not conceived as a unit; seen from the direction of San Marco, the facade was meant to hide or to dominate the rest. The Redentore, on the other hand, must be understood as more mature composition in which the dome, the towers, roof and buttresses are integrally bound to the facade. Seen from directly across the Giudecca canal, the forward slope of the hipped roof flattens out to echo the main pediment; the buttresses appear to be not what they are, but auxiliary half-pediments; the dome and its flanking towers become repetitions of the tripartite temple-fronts. From this distant frontal position and from none other we grasp a proportional system; for example, the overall width of the facade is about the same as the height of the church to the base of the dome (83 as vs. 87 Vicentine feet according to a recent measured survey) and the height from the ground to the peak of the main pediment (68 1/3′) is half the overall height (1375/6′).

 San Giorgio Maggiore  & Redentore

As intellectual calculations of this kind work only in two dimensions, in a non-perspective sense, Palladio usually tried to manipulate the observer into an axial frontal position. In this case, frontality was assured by the distance across the canal, and an axial approach was assured by means which are apparent only once a year, on the feast of the Redeemer (third Sunday of July) when, in fulfilment of the vow of 15 76, a causeway on barges is built across the water at a right angle to the facade. By contrast to a parish church to which the local populace comes from every direction, the Redentore has a pre-eminent function as the goal of a bridge-borne procession. The really important celebrants approach it full-on, as one approaches most of Palladio’s villas along an allee, and see it almost the way one sees a woodcut elevation in the Quattro Librt. The impression of two-dimensionality is sustained by the absence of chiaroscuro contrast; the facade looks toward the north and is never illuminated by direct sunlight.

If we need strictly frontal views to grasp the unity of the design, the Redentore and San Giorgio still look good at any angle. The shapes and materials of the nave, tribune and dome are so simple and the sparsity of decorative detail so refreshing that the abrupt contrast to the facades is not disturbing. Unity is not always a virtue, and could not anyhow be a commitment in a building which combines, as the Redentore does, elements of the Roman temple and bath, the Byzantine dome and Gothic buttresses copied from San Petronio within a Humanist system of proportion.

San Giorgio Maggiore & Piazza San Marco 

San Giorgio belongs to a grand monastery that fills a large part of the Isola di San Giorgio at the end of the Giudecca. Since the restoration of the whole complex by the Cini Foundation after the last war, it has become one of the major sights of Venice. Two large cloisters of similar dimensions, separated by a library wing, were projected early in the sixteenth century, but took a hundred years to build. The earlier, started in 1517 by Andrea Buora, is still Quattrocento in style; the latter, alongside the nave of the church, was redesigned by Palladio sometime before the adjoining buildings were begun in 1579, but was executed after his death and was not finished when Evelyn visited it in 1646. Modern critics have doubted Palladio’s authorship because the proportions are pre-classical, recalling the Procuratie Vecchie in the Piazza di San Marco, but it is reaffirmed by a recently discovered plan of the church and cloister done in Palladio’s shop during the 1570s. The master’s intentions as shown there could have been altered only in details (one such detail was the addition of an open loggia-passage, probably by Longhena, in the centre of the wing between the two cloisters).

San Giorgio Maggiore, facade & section

The Refectory, a noble barrel-vaulted hall approached up a grand ceremonial staircase and through an anteroom started in or before 1540, was completed by Palladio in 1560-2. The earlier construction fixed the proportions of the three areas and the placement and form of the windows (the early frames are preserved on the exterior), leaving Palladio free to design only the covering and details. Unfortunately, Palladio’s three grand thermal windows that penetrated the vault of the main hall have been closed, apparently for centuries; probably the end one made it difficult to see the huge and celebrated Marriage at Cana, now in the Louvre, which Paolo Veronese painted for the wall below while Palladio was at work. Two monumental Corinthian font-aediculas of rose marble in the anteroom are Palladio’s most imposing essays in ecclesiastical furnishing (his altars are all rather dull).

The Venetian character of the San Giorgio cloister is far removed from Palladio’s other cloister design, for the monastery of the Carita in Venice, of which only one wing is preserved in the court of the Accademia di Belle Arti. There, Palladio explained, the attempt was not only to be Roman, but actually to recreate a grandiose Roman house which in Quattro Libri he used to illustrate the Corinthian atrium. This awesome space (never built), with its columns two storeys high, is flanked by a sacristy (preserved) and chapter house that masquerade as tablinia. Palladio knew the Roman house from Vitruvius’s description rather than from ancient remains, so that his reconstruction is guesswork; in fact, he made no effort to present the cloister as a peristylium, but used motives from the Theatre of Marcellus and the Colosseum in a context that is much closer to Bramante – except that it has a warm brick colour -than to antiquity. Two surviving pieces of the original design, the external facade of the cloister wing and an oval spiral staircase with an open well, are of a vital simplicity as little Renaissance as it is ancient. But in all, the design is anachronistically classical in the unclassical mid-Cinquecento; probably it seemed provincial and out-of-date to the Venetians, who were not as avid antiquarians as the Vicentines, and for the rest of his career in Venice, Palladio avoided the archaeological mode. How can the Canons have wanted, or allowed, such a showy Vitruvian revival ? Their ambitions apparently were rather worldly.

The transcendent feature of Palladio’s church interiors is a light that penetrates every corner with its warmth – a light as unique and as Venetian as that created on canvas by his contemporaries Titian and Veronese. It is produced partly by the large number and size of windows, by the orientation of the plan toward the path of the sun and by the dominance of the church over surrounding buildings; but above all, it is the nature of the reflecting surfaces that endows it with a special cast of humanity, even of sensuality, and differentiates it from the austere effects of equally well-lit late Gothic interiors.

 

San Giorgio Maggiore, choir

Whatever is not architecture in these churches is set apart in niches and panels; no sculpture or painted ornament invades the surfaces of walls, vaults or domes. Those surfaces, and most of the half-columns, pilasters, and entablatures, except for the parts requiring detailed carving, are stucco over brick, and must perforce be painted. Palladio could control in this way the colour and quality as well as the quantity of light. The matt stucco surfaces reflect the light candidly, and unevenly enough to reveal the human touch, as brush-strokes do in a painting. Normally, the paint is renewed every few years, restoring the church to its pristine brilliance. Stone surfaces, by contrast, are difficult to maintain, and tend to darken; in the Redentore, the details that are in stone are now somewhat darker than the stucco. The white or cream stucco interior was a Venetian invention, employed in similarly uncomplicated contexts in the early Renaissance, most effectively by Mauro Coducci (Santa Maria Formosa, 1492); it may have started in churches modelled on San Marco but lacking endowments sufficient to provide walls and domes of mosaic and stone veneers. Elsewhere in Italy, frescoes covered vaults and domes, and usually were detrimental to the architectural effect (since the architect lost control of both colour and form), but in Venice this kind of monumental art had no vogue in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Actually, Palladio’s interiors were closer to the spirit of contemporary Venetian painting than if they had been decorated; both architecture and painting created artificial theatres for the play of a natural light.

Redentore, interior

The light does more than illumine; in the Redentore, its different quality in each of the three major spaces underlines the individuality so distinctly established in the plan; it separates the diffusedly lit nave from the amply lit tribune from the brilliantly lit monk’s choir; but, in so doing, it really unifies, because the white blaze of the choir, against which the columns in a hemicycle are silhouetted and become immaterial, attracts one-as if to a supernal goal. The spiritual implication is reinforced by a physical rise in the level of the crossing and choir, as the nave is above the ground level of the exterior. Stairs are used to similar psychological effect in giving eminence to some of the villas.

Clearly defined sequences of self-sufficient spaces in the Redentore represent Palladio’s intellectual resolution of the problem of joining a domed crossing to an extended nave. Within his – or any other – classical system, it is a great advance over San Giorgio, where the crossing is, and yet is not, part of the nave. The chancel and choir are only partly integrated spaces. But San Giorgio is too exhilarating to be dismissed by classical punctilio; its openness and imperfect variety give it a vitality that is somewhat submerged in the sombre nobility of the Redentore.

The sober self-examination that produced Palladio’s innovations in church planning is unrelated to the prevailing Mannerist culture or to the search for the new and stylish that characterized the attitude of many contemporaries and was enunciated by Vasari. Its ties even to the Humanist tradition are superficial, being limited to some overt references to antiquity such as the temple-front facade motive, or the niches in the choir of San Giorgio: a reconstruction of the ‘frontispiece of Nero’ or Temple of Jupiter on the Quirinal in Rome shown in Quattro Libri, iv, xii). For the most part, what Palladio took from Roman building was chosen to gain certain structural improvements and certain effects of shape, light and space that served his programm. He was equally ready to learn from Byzantine and Gothic architecture; the Imperial baths were important not so much because they were ancient as because they had some of the grandest effects one could find in the architecture of the past.

Yet Palladio was not in revolt against his time. Like Vignola in some of his later work, he was a non-Mannerist rather than an anti-Mannerist. His inventive processes were not guided by polemic, but by an earnest, even a moral impulse to find answers worthy of the challenges posed by sixteenth-century Christianity. This did not make him an architect of the Counter-Reformation, either, whatever that might be; like Venice herself, he kept his independence.

Influences

Palladio’s churches had a profound impact on religious architecture in Venice and became a powerful model for younger generations of architects. Initially reluctant to accept the classical language of Roman inspiration introduced by Palladio, Venice had by the end of the 16th century embraced the new style and recognised the architect’s greatness. His work had already become an integral part of the city’s architectural tradition. Palladio’s influence was still felt throughout the 17th century, as attested by the work of Baldassare Longhena and Giuseppe Sardi, but it was in the following century that a renewed interest in classical culture and a reaction against the excesses of the late Baroque brought a true revival of Palladian forms.

In the first half of the 18th century the most powerful religious orders in Venice acquired new land and buildings as a consequence of the suppression of some of the minor orders. In addition they received generous funding from the nobility for major building projects. Many of these new churches were built in a sober classical style largely based on the architecture of Palladio. The work of two architects at the beginning of the 18th century, Domenico Rossi and Andrea Tirali, particularly demonstrates this tendency. The facade of the church of San Stae by Domenico Rossi is articulated by four giant columns on high bases supporting a pediment. That of San Vidal by Andrea Tirali revisits Palladio’s work at San Francesco della Vigna.

San Simeon Piccolo (left)                       Church of the Gesuati (right)

San Simeon Piccolo by Giovanni Scalfarotto is another interesting example of the18th century adaptation of the Palladian language. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and by San Nicolo da Tolentino, then only recently completed by Tirali, the church has a classical portico projecting from the façade. It was however designed on a relatively small scale and the soaring dome recalls that of Santa Maria della Salute rather than those of its two larger forbears.

The work of Scalfarotto’s contemporary Giorgio Massari shows some originality as it combines classical forms derived from Palladio with rococo elements. His church of the Gesuati has a Palladian facade and borrows a number of elements from Il Redentore. These are its internal arrangement of a single nave with side chapels and choir behind the high altar; the giant order of paired columns in the nave; and the dome above the chancel with twin bell towers at the sides. The façade he designed for the church of Santa Maria della Pieta’, built as late as 1906, is equally Palladian.

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