Venetian Renaissance Architecture (1400-1600)
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Venice is built upon alluvial mud. Her buildings are supported by piles, their outer walls bounded by the canals which interlace the city. As the famous woodcut map (now in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), printed by the artist Jacopo de Barbari (1460-1515), shows, by 1500, land was at a premium; Venice was already crowded within her strictly limited boundaries. In domestic applications, Venetian Gothic architecture - so extolled by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin in "The Stones of Venice" - survived well into the 15th century. (For more, see also Gothic style.) The facades of the Doge's Palace, built 1309-1424, are visually striking with their ornate tracery and coloured marble. In private buildings, site restrictions often led architects to concentrate their efforts upon frontages; Contarini's house of 1422-40 is called the Ca d'Oro from the profusion of gold used on its facade.
Change reached Venice in the second half of the 15th century via Padua. The sculptor and architect Pietro Lombardo (14351515) was there in 1464, before settling in Venice, where he and his two sculptor-sons Antonio Lombardo (14581516) and Tullio Lombardo (1455-1532) were responsible for the first works of the Venetian Renaissance. They rebuilt the Scuola di San Marco about 1490, and decorated the facade with an illusionistic perspective reminiscent of Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), carved in relief. At about the same time, Tullio Lombardo was responsible for the tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin, a monument based upon the Roman triumphal arch and decorated with relief and free-standing sculpture which recalls precise Greco-Roman prototypes. (See Roman Architecture for details.) The Lombardi were exceptional, however. In general, local traditions gave way to the advance of classicism more slowly in Venice than in central Italy. Many of the patrician palaces which line the Grand Canal date from the end of the 15th century. Like the Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Cornaro-Spinelli, they combine Classical features with the more traditional architectural vocabulary of Venetian Gothic. Other important architects of the quattrocento whose work exerted an influence on Venetian architecture, include: Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), Giuliano da Sangallo (1443-1516) and Donato Bramante (1444-1514).
In brief, following the sack of Rome, the two greatest architects at work in Venice were Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) and Andrea Palladio (1518-80). The first half of the sixteenth century in Venice was dominated by Sansovino, while the second half of the century was dominated by Andrea Palladio (1508-80), who brought Renaissance architecture in Venice to a triumphant conclusion with his churches, palaces and villas.
It was not until the arrival of Sansovino, who fled to Venice from the Sack of Rome in 1527, that a purely Classical style of architecture appeared in the Republic. Sansovino took his name from his master, the Florentine sculptor Andrea Sansovino (1460-1529). He went to Rome with Giuliano da Sangallo in 1503. There he became known as a student of the antique who restored damaged statues for Pope Julius II. He knew the architect Donato Bramante and the painter Raphael (1483-1520), and was responsible for the design of the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini.
In Venice, Sansovino took charge of the public buildings around the square of St Mark's. His Library of 1537 was the first example of uncompromising Classicism in Venetian architecture, with its rows of columns and balustrades. Like all of his buildings, it is sculptural in its treatment of masonry and is decorated with elegant statues. Sansovino's most important sculptures in Venice are the colossal figures of Neptune and Mars which stand at the head of the staircase of the Doge's Palace. His Loggetta at the base of the campanile of St Mark's is the best example of his skill at combining sculpture with architecture. Four nearly life-size bronzes of extreme refinement are set across the facade within.
Andrea Palladio, Sansovino's younger contemporary - a native of Vicenza - was arguably the greatest domestic architect of the 16th century. He is certainly one of the most influential; the publication of his "I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura" in Venice (1570) ensured that his designs for town and country houses in the Veneto were known throughout Europe. In England his influence on Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and others resulted in some of the finest (Palladian) houses of the 18th century.
In 1541, Palladio was taken to Rome to study architecture by his patron, the humanist Count Trissino. As a result his mature style displays a full acqaintance with the work of Bramante and the slightly younger Roman architects, who, like Giulio Romano (1499-1546), came from the workshop and circle of Raphael. However, Palladio's was also a personal style. He took liberties of a particular and elegant kind with the Classical vocabulary for which Vitruvius had been regarded as the ultimate authority since the 15th century. In the Palazzo Chiericati at Vicenza for instance, begun in 1551, the facade is opened up to provide a continuous colonnade along the ground floor and three bays to left and right of the central solid section above. The Villa Capra (Rotunda) of the same years is an exercise in perfect symmetry, with its central dome and, on each side, pedimented Ionic porticos. At Maser, the Villa Barbaro is another Palladian house, distinguished by the collaboration of Paolo Veronese (1528-88) in the decoration of the interiors with extremely delicate and often witty trompe l'oeil frescoes dating from 1561-2. Palladio also designed several beautiful Venetian churches, such as San Giorgio Maggiore and the Redentore (see below).
Other High Renaissance architects who worked in Venice, include: Baldessare Peruzzi (1481-1536), Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484-1546), Michele Sanmicheli (1484-1559), Giacomo della Porta (1533-1602), Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) and Carlo Maderno (1556-1629).
The Palazzo Santa Sofia, better known as the Ca' d'Oro or "Golden House", is a Gothic-style palace facing onto the Grand Canal in Venice. It is called Ca' d'Oro because of the gilt decorations which once decorated its walls, and it was built between 1428 and 1430 for the prestigious Venetian Contarini family. The architects of the Ca d'Oro were the famous father and son team - Giovanni Bon and Bartolomeo Bon. Other Bon design projects included the marble door of the Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari (see below). In addition they were commissioned to design the Porta della Carta of St. Mark's Basilica (14381442).
The costly but sublime Benedictine church of San Giorgio Maggiore was designed by Andrea Palladio, and constructed between 1566 and 1610. A basilica in the classical idiom of Renaissance architecture, its brilliant white marble gleams across the blue lagoon opposite the Piazzetta and is a focal point on the Venetian skyline.
The Scuola Grande di San Marco, designed by Pietro Lombardo (14351515) faces the Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, one of the biggest squares in Venice. Erected by the Confraternity of San Marco in 1260 as its headquarters, it was destroyed by fire in 1485, and rebuilt over the next two decades according to a new design by Lombardo. Its facade, with its decorated niches, pilasters statues, was later finished by Mauro Codussi. Although it remains in part a fine example of Renaissance classicism, the arches and niches give the building a Byzantine flavour, which can also be seen in many other conservative Venetian designs.
The Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) (commonly called Il Redentore), designed by Palladio, is situated on the waterfront of the Canale della Giudecca in the Giudecca sestiere of Venice, and was built to thank God for delivering the city from the plague. It contains numerous paintings by Tintoretto (1518-94), Paolo Veronese and Francesco Bassano.
No account of Venetian architecture can be complete without a reference to the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (commonly referred to as "the Frari"), one of the greatest churches in the city. Dedicated to the Assumption, it stands on the Campo dei Frari in the centre of the San Polo district. The original church was built between 1250 and 1338, but soon afterwards work began on a much larger replacement - today's structure, which took over a century to complete. The new church was completed in 1442, and its design is attributed to Fra Scipione Bon, whose body was interred in the church. The church has two cloisters, one designed by Sansovino and the other attributed to Palladio. The church contains several art treasures, including the glorious Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18) by Titian (1488-1576), and a statue of John the Baptist by Donatello (1386-66). To the right of the nave is the Monument to Titian (who is interred in the Frari); on the left is the tomb of Antonio Canova (1757-1822).
Venice's famous Rialto Bridge, designed in stone by the Venetian architect and engineer Antonio da Ponte (1512-95) after the original wooden version was severely damaged by fire in 1574, was rebuilt between 1588 and 1591. Its unusual v-shaped single-arch design overcame submissions from several other Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, Sansovino, Palladio and Vignola, all of whom proposed a classical multi-arch design.
Here is a short list of the most important buildings erected in Venice during the quattrocento and cinquecento. Note: The Republic of Venice included the Veneto region, with its towns of Verona, Vicenza and Treviso, among others.
Fra Scipione Bon (c.1368-1442)
Giovanni Bon and Bartolomeo Bon
Antonio da Ponte
Portrait Painting (c.1400-1600)
and Venetian Colour Painting (1500-76)
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