Friday, 21 May 2010 Palladian Churches and Patriarchal Palace

“It is supremely appropriate that everything dedicated to [God] should be made to the highest level of perfection of which we are capable.” I came across these words a month ago, reading Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura, a treatise that espoused “the essential principles that must be followed by all intelligent men eager to build well and gracefully.” Today, after visiting several churches designed by Palladio, I am confident that I have been witness to the perfection that Palladio demanded. Returning to the serene backstreets that I visited on my first day in Venice, I suddenly found myself standing in front of the Church of San Francesco della Vigna, the first church that Palladio built in Venice.

Church of San Francesco della Vigna (designed by Andrea Palladio and finished by Jacopo Sansovino). The church was begun in 1534 and the façade in 1568. Inside the church was Giovanni Bellini’s Virgin and Child with Saints, c. 1507. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

Church of San Francesco della Vigna (designed by Andrea Palladio and finished by Jacopo Sansovino). The church was begun in 1534 and the façade in 1568. Inside the church was Giovanni Bellini’s Virgin and Child with Saints, c. 1507. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

While its close proximity to less consequential buildings initially prevented me from fully appreciating Palladio’s work on the façade, as the exterior completely came into view, I froze. At last, I could admire firsthand Palladio’s genius solution of two superimposed temple fronts, that had been the subject of class lectures the previous month. After a look at the San Francesco della Vigna’s beautiful interior, we hopped on a vaporetto headed for Palladio’s second Venetian church, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (original design by Andrea Palladio in 1566, façade completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi in 1610. Photo by Matthew Brennan.

Stepping inside, the brilliant whiteness found within the structure –made possible by Palladio’s employment of stucco in the interior and brilliant use of natural light– left me astounded. Incredible paintings and sculptures of wood and stone also adorned the church and its lavish Benedictine Choir. (I was most impressed with Tintoretto’s Last Supper, a painting in which Tintoretto incorporated the church’s congregation to express their deep devotion.)

On the left is the nave of Andrea Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, begun in 1566 and completed in 1610 (the façade was completed by Vicenzo Scamozzi). On the right is a detail of the wood carvings in the Benedictine choir of the church. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

On the left is the nave of Andrea Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore, begun in 1566 and completed in 1610 (the façade was completed by Vicenzo Scamozzi). On the right is a detail of the wood carvings in the Benedictine choir of the church. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

Re-boarding the vaporetto, Palladio’s final church, Il Redentore, inspired in part by the Pantheon, was a few short stops away. Palladio’s combination of both Istrian stone and local marmorino brick on the church’s façade and buttresses made for a beautiful exterior, which was only surpassed by the harmonious interior –smaller but more exquisite than the San Giorgio.

Students resting at the piazza in front of San Giorgio Maggiore and Andrea Palladio’s Church of Il Redentore (begun 1577). Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

Students resting at the piazza in front of San Giorgio Maggiore and Andrea Palladio’s Church of Il Redentore (begun 1577). Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana

After a break for lunch, we visited the recently reopened Palazzo Grimani, where I was mesmerized by the marble-encrusted sculpture gallery with a floating statue of Ganymede, despite its emptiness.

The sculpture gallery and “floating Ganymede” of the Palazzo Grimani (by Michele Sanmicheli c. 1550). Photo by Matthew Brennan

Following the visit, we received a private tour of the Palace of the Patriarch, with an extraordinary sequence on the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria by Tintoretto, and a sublime St. Joseph and Christ Child by Tiepolo.

Entering the Palace of the Patriarch. Photo by Dr. Beall-Fofana

On our way to dinner on the Giudecca, graced by a Venetian sunset, we stopped at the Skyline Bar at the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, once the site of a flourmill and granary, for a Venetian aperitif with an exceptional view of the silhouette of this miraculous city.

The Skyline Bar at the Hilton Molino Stuky. Sunset dinner on the Giudecca. The Venetian sunset during dinner. The Venetian skyline at dusk. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana except for the third photo, which is by Rebecca Bernard

(Clockwise from top left) The Skyline Bar at the Hilton Molino Stuky. Sunset dinner on the Giudecca. The Venetian sunset during dinner. The Venetian skyline at dusk. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana except for the third photo, which is by Rebecca Bernard

(Clockwise from top left) The Skyline Bar at the Hilton Molino Stuky. Sunset dinner on the Giudecca. The Venetian sunset during dinner. The Venetian skyline at dusk. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana except for the third photo, which is by Rebecca Bernard

(Clockwise from top left) The Skyline Bar at the Hilton Molino Stuky. Sunset dinner on the Giudecca. The Venetian sunset during dinner. The Venetian skyline at dusk. Photos by Dr. Beall-Fofana except for the third photo, which is by Rebecca Bernard