In this lesson, you will explore the architecture of the Venetian church San Giorgio Maggiore. At the end of the lesson, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.
San Giorgio Maggiore
When you think of Venice, what comes to mind? Beautiful canals filled with opera-singing gondoliers? Pasta, wine, and sun glistening on the water? How about architecture? Venice is home to some incredible architecture.
One of the most prominent buildings is a church called San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by the illustrious 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. San Giorgio Maggiore is an icon of Venetian style and is definitely something you want to consider whenever you find yourself dreaming of Venice.
Interior of San Giorgio Maggiore
Andrea Palladio designed the interior of San Giorgio Maggiore in a very classical style, meaning it reflects the traditions of ancient Rome and Greece.
This is especially evident in the abundant use of marble arches and columns, as well as the undecorated, white walls. The overall effect is to create a sense of order, logic, balance, and divine harmony, especially when natural light pours in through the many windows, reflecting off the undecorated surfaces. Palladio adhered to a classical use of mathematical formulas and geometric ratios to create this sense of order and balance, all while still respecting the Christian traditions of building churches in the shape of a cross.
While the majority of the interior space is left undecorated, there are some notable works of art. The Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto is a masterpiece of the mannerist style, which was popular at this time. Notice the high level of contrast between dark and light, resulting in figures that almost look outlined. The entire composition is also somewhat unbalanced, rejecting the perfect symmetry of earlier Renaissance paintings.
Christ and the apostles are in the background at an angle instead of the center of the painting, resulting in the dramatic shadows in the foreground.Tintoretto also painted two other works that are inside San Giorgio Maggiore, creating a unique contrast between the clear, calm logic of the architecture and the dramatic composition of these paintings. This is a good indicator of Venice’s place in the world, a crossroads where various styles mixed and mingled into unique compositions.
Exterior of San Giorgio Maggiore
The exterior of the church reflects this same push and pull between various stylistic influences, but this time it was Palladio himself who was responsible.
The red church has a white, marble fa;ade, styled after a Roman temple. Like the inside, this fa;ade represents geometrical perfection, order, and rational harmony. The white marble also makes this church very noticeable as light reflecting from the sea catches the marble and shines across Venice.This fa;ade is also unique in another way; it is actually two facades meshed into one. Palladio wanted to give this church a classical-style fa;ade, but that was difficult since Roman temples and Christian churches have different shaped roofs. The cathedral had a tall central aisle called the nave, then shorter aisles on each side.
Palladio’s solution was to create two different facades, one for the tall center nave and one for the short, wide side aisles, and then combine them into a single structure. To make this work, Palladio squished the two facades together, making it relatively flat. However, he designed the columns so that their shadows would create the illusion of depth, making it seem like the columns were free standing and not attached to the wall, like they actually are. Pretty tricky, right?
In Venice is the church San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by the sixteenth-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. This building exemplifies the Venetian styles of this time period, combining styles and themes into a unique but balanced composition.
The interior is almost entirely white with largely undecorated walls and classical marble columns and arches. The inside space uses mathematical ratios and geometric shapes to create a sense of calm, order, logic, and harmony. The artwork that does exist within the church is largely composed in the mannerist style, characterized by dramatic contrasts of light and dark and a lack of symmetry. This creates a strong contrast between the architecture and the art, drawing attention to both.The exterior is similar, featuring a white marble façade on a red building. This façade is also classically-composed, and Palladio solved the problem of putting a Roman temple entrance on a Christian church by combining two facades into one. The church mixes styles and forms in a way that is uniquely Venetian but also very artistically beautiful.
So, the next time someone asks you about Venice, think of San Giorgio Maggiore. And then those gondoliers.
Once you are finished with this lesson, you should be able to:
- Identify why the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore represents 16th century Venetian style
- Describe the interior of the San Giorgio Maggiore and explain the purpose of its design
- Discuss how the exterior of the church is a combination of two different styles.