Venice day 4 (continuation 2)

Palladio and Longhena: Il Redentore and the Santa Maria della Salute

17th century and nowadays    Ignazio Danti Map of Venice fresco 1580 – 1583 Galleria delle Carta Geografiche Vatican
 17th century map Venice

Boat 82 takes us over the Canale della Giudecca to the second church Palladio built: Il Redentore

Canal Grande with Santa Maria della Salute centre Canale della Giudecca and the Il Redentore under en Youtube drone
Canaletto ‘The Dogana in Venice’  1724-30, oil on canvas, 46 x 63.4 cm, Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna
aerial Venice Canal Grande Santa Maria della Salute Canale della Giudecca Il Redentore San Giorgio Maggiore k


Il Redentore

Canale della Giudecca and the  Il Redentore big size
Canale della Giudecca and the  Il Redentore Venice


Canaletto ‘Il Redentore’ big size
Canaletto 'Il Redentore'


Il Redentore facade
Il Redentore Palladio Venice

The second church Palladio built in Venice was the Il Redentore. This is considered a masterpiece, just like the San Giorgio Maggiore. The assignment inspired Palladio to create a very different church from his first. The Redentore was founded for the Lord as Savior. This church was not built by a religious order, but by the Senate.

Il Redentore big size      The Lord as Savior
Il Redentore Palladio dome

foto: Josep Sala Barnany

Tintoretto ‘Saint Roch and the black plaque’ big size          San Rocco
Tintoretto Saint Roch and the black plaque San Rocco church


Joseph Heintz de Jongere ‘Procession to the  Il Redentore’ 1650 Museo Civico Correr big size
Joseph Heintz de Jongere 'Procession to the  Il Redentore'  1650 Museo Civico Correr

It is a votive church (sacrifice through vow), built after a devastating plague epidemic in 1576 killing thirty percent of the population. In 1577, the Senate decided to spend as much as ten thousand ducats on the construction of the Redeemer. It was also decided that the Doge, the Senate and the choir of the San Marco would attend the church every third Sunday of July via a pontoon bridge. This votive church thus served as the ending point of a procession.

Il Redentore the procession  and the blessing big size         The other side       Youtube  the procession  (12.23 minutes)
Il Redentore de processie en de zegening Venetië

photo: Gianmaria Colognese

Construction of the church was in the hands of the Capuchins, a branch of the Franciscans. The church was not built according to the specific wishes of this Order, but was mainly a place for pilgrimage, and of course the end of the annual procession in the summer. The Order complained that the Redeemer was far too luxurious. The foundations were laid in the same year they decided on the construction, in 1577. The original budget was surpassed with sixty thousand ducats, making the church seven times as expensive as planned.

The church was built in a very special location. Along the Giudecca, facing the San Marco. This beautiful and remarkable place was chosen deliberately. Votive churches in Italy were always placed on a prominent location on the borders of the city. This made a great impression on the pilgrims who came from outside the city.

View from Molo on: Santa Maria della Salute and Il Redentore (back left) Palazzo Ducale and the San Marco (top) Santa Maria della Salute (centre at triangular point: the Dogana) Il Redentore (bottom left of the centre) and the island San Giorgio Maggior
aerial picture Venice

The Doge has to arrive exactly opposite the church on the south side of the Fondamenta delle Zattere through small, dark alleys to see the Redentore. A huge contrast: the dark and narrow streets, where the eyes only have a short field of view and the open space, abundantly lit by then sun, with the Redeemer in white marble as the absolute eye-catcher.

The pontoon bridge has a precise right angle to the facade and is located in the middle of it. The façade was designed in a way to be seen from this point. If you are on this bridge to cross the Giudecca, the church with its dome looks a lot like a central-plan building. The Senate discussed the blueprints at length: a central-plan building or a basilica? They opted for a basilica because of the procession. Also in this church, Palladio created a kind of synthesis between a basilica and a central-plan building. Click here for the layout of the Il Redentore. The facade has two sculptures. A sculpture of Faith with a cross above the pediment  and Christ who had just risen from his grave on top of the lantern: noli me tangere.

Il Redentore facade big size         Cross section
Il Redentore facade Palladio Venice

Photograph: Samuel Ludwig

This was the first time Palladio could build a church above street level. This is entirely consistent with the views of Vitruvius and Alberti. Palladio also recommends this himself in his ‘Quattro Libri’. The steps that lead to the entrance increase the effect of the procession. One has to really ascend. The facade was probably designed a bit later than the church itself and is more exuberant than the San Giorgio Maggiore. Also worth noting, two temple pediments overlap each other here. The rhythm of the triangles, the pediments, seems to support the dome. It also masks the buttresses that look more like a triangular pediment than a buttress.

Il Redentore view of the altar big size        Nave view of the altar big size         Main altar
Il Redentore view of the altar Palladio Venice


View of inner facade
Il Redentore view of inner facade Palladio Venice


Interior Il Redentore       View of entrance
Il Redentore nave Palladio Venice

Palladio turns the tholobate of the Tempietto by Bramante inside out. The colonnade behind the altar was strongly influenced by the Pantheon. Roman bath houses also had a strong influence on the interior of this church.

Palladio was awarded much respect as an architect with these churches. He was also asked for advice for problems at the Ducale after the fires of 1574 and 1577. Palladio did not think the Gothic construction of the Ducale was safe, because the walls that were supported by the double row of columns were twice as thick as the columns themselves. He came up with a schedule to rebuild the Ducale more classically. But Palladio was not capable of persuading the Senate, just as he was not able to give the Il Redentore the shape of a central-plan building.

Il Redentore interior big size
Il Redentore interior nave aisle PalladioVenice

Photograph:  Hans Jan Dürr

Il Redentore dome big size
Il Redentore dome interior Palladio Venice

Photograph:  Hans Jan Dürr

Serlio, Sanmicheli and Sansovino didn’t only bring the classical idiom to Venice, but also the classical grammar. Palladio brought the grandeur and scale of the classical buildings to La Serenissima. He showed that a building could look grand without lavish decorations and without the use of many types of marble and colours. Click on this blog for more information about the Il Redentore.

We take boat 82 and return to the St. Zaccaria to take a boat to the famous church Santa Maria della Salute.

Santa Maria della Salute

Canaletto ‘Santa Maria della Salute in Venice on the Grand Canal’ 44 x 89 cm, oil on canvas  c.1730 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin  large size
Canaletto ‘Santa Maria della Salute in Venice on the Grand Canal’ oil on canvas  c.1730 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin 
Canaletto Canal Grande big size
Canaletto 'Canal Grande'


Canaletto Santa Maria della Salute big size       David Roberts ‘Giudecca’ 1854 big size
Canaletto Santa Maria della Salute


Michele Marieschi ‘Santa Maria della Salute’ 1740-1741 big size
Michele Marieschi 'Santa Maria della Salute' 1740-1741


Santa Maria della Salute  Canal Grande big size
Santa Maria della Salute  Canal Grande

“Because there was not the faintest form of medication, the effects of the plague were disastrous: after a few days, the carpenter and his entire family had died; within a week, dozens died in his neighbourhood; and a week later, there were hundreds of victims throughout the city. The aristocracy and the clergy did not escape it either: the doge and a large part of his family also perished from the disease. Handsome rewards were offered to those who could stop the epidemic.

There was a recommendation that anyone sensing symptoms of the disease should drink half a litre of their own urine as soon as possible, suggesting an early suspicion that diseases could be fought by administering antibodies. But in those days, many sought true salvation in religion. For three days and three nights in a row, a procession went around Piazza San Marco, involving almost everyone who was not sick, and finally, on 22 November 1630, the Senate, through Doge Nicolò Contarini, promised to erect a church of unprecedented size and beauty for the Madonna if she would stop the epidemic and rid the city of the plague. And, indeed, barely a week after the procession, the disease did not seem to have spread any further, and a few weeks later it seemed to have been conquered.”

Cited and translated from: Luc Verhuyck ‘Venezia Anekdotische reisgids voor Venetië’ Athenaeum­­-Polak & van Gennep, Amsterdam 2011 p. 364

The masterpiece of Baldassare Longhena is the Santa Maria della Salute; a church he worked on his entire life. The plague resurfaced in 1630, which lasted sixteen months. 46,490 people died. The Senate decided once again to build a votive church. The church had to be devoted to Mary as protector of the salute, or health. The fear of the plague was of huge influence. That’s why the San Rocco became so rich and the votive church, Il Redentore, was built about fifty years earlier. The Salute was strongly influenced by Palladio’s votive church: it’s a 17th century equivalent of the Il Redentore.

Punta della Dogana and the Santa Maria della Salute
aerial Punta della Dogana and the Santa Maria della Salute


Santa Maria della Salute big size       Other side         Front
Santa Maria della Salute Venice church


 Santa Maria della Salute facade       Aerial photo       Topside
Video Sky View Productions (5.50 minutes)
 Santa Maria della Salute church Venice

The Senate held a contest for the construction contract. Eleven designs were submitted. Two of them were seriously considered. One design in the shape of a basilica was from Antonio Smeraldi, named ‘Il Fracao’. His father built the Palladian facade of the San Pietro in Castello. The other design was a central-plan building by Longhena. Longhena attached a letter in which he spoke of ‘rotonda macchina.´ This word macchina means large building, but was also used to describe the famous regattas on the Canal Grande. The shape of the church was completely unique to Venice, since it looks like brightly decorated carousel. The church is an impressive edifice from every point you look at it.

Just like the Senate argued for a long time about whether the Redentore should be a central-plan building like Palladio wanted or a basilica, it also discussed the Salute. There was no unanimity: Longhena received sixty-six and Il Fracao received thirty-nine votes. Longhena was not an unknown. He had already rebuilt a church in Chioggia, the cathedral, and built four important palazzi of Patricians. The old fashioned design by Il Fracao probably received support from conservatives in the Senate.

As soon as it became known that the Salute could be built, the myth about this St. Mary church arose. The priest Lorenzo Longo published a famous poem in 1644, exactly thirteen years after the foundations were laid. He wrote that the Doge saw Mary appear in a vision. The Holy Mother carried a church on her arms. Mary had whispered the design of the church to ‘il nuovo Palladio’ or Baldassare Longhena.

Santa Maria della Salute big size      Other side
Santa Maria della Salute dome sculpture Venice

This myth reflected in the angels as stone cherubs on the church. According to Longo, the Salute was a symbol of independence of Venetian Christianity, which did not want to recognise the ecclesiastical power of Rome. According to the poem, four Venetian saints appeared next to Mary above the entrance. The church the poet and priest Lorenzo Longo describes, is also shown in a picture by Marco Boschini in 1644, the same year as the publication of the poem. The Order that ‘received’ the new church, was the ‘Padri Somaschi’, an Order that wasn’t very faithful to Rome. This Order played a big role in 1606 in the expulsion of Jesuits from the city. If Rome desperately needs La Serenissima in the battle against the Turks, Rome is flexible in regard to Venice: quid pro quo. The radicals in the Senate lost, the moderates who had better ties with Rome won. The Jesuits were allowed to return in 1657. This political twist from the Senate can be found in the Iconography of the Santa Maria della Salute.

The iconography (meaning of the image) of the church was changed. The four Venetian saints – St. Sagredo, St. Magno, St. Lorenzo Giustiani and St. Emiliani – were replaced by angels. The lantern now depicted Mary with a crown with twelve stars. Mary is depicted on a crescent moon. This indicates that she is the full moon and thus immaculate, or immaculate conception. This is usually portrayed as a Mary standing on a crescent moon, on top of a globe, as she tramples a serpent with her foot. Mary on a crescent moon is described in Revelations. That’s why this picture was always seen as a symbol of the immaculate conception. Above the pediment of the facade is also a Mary with child but then with a crown.

Despite this change in the iconography, it was clear from the start that the church would be devoted to Mary. Baldassare Longhena wrote the following about this in a memoranda in 1631:

‘The mystery contained in the dedication of this church to the Holy Mary, reminded me, with the limited talent God gave me, to build the church in the forma rotonda, which means in the shape of a crown.’

It was common to give churches devoted to Mary a central-build shape, especially in Byzantine style, such as the Santa Maria Formose. Longhena knew the central-build at Verona: the Madonna di Campagna. They turned this church inside out. Longhena placed the cloister (in this case: tower gallery or walkway) inside the church instead of outside, with porticos in front. According to the Venetian myth about the origin of Venice, Mary protected the city. The protection of Mary over the city and health is inscribed in the middle of the floor of the nave, and reads: ‘UNDE ORIGO INDE SALUS‘ or  where the source is, health and salvation come’. This refers to the origin of Venice under the protection of Mary.

The annual procession to the new church was laid on the twenty-first of November: the feast of the Presentation of Mary in the temple. Longo’s poem explains the fifteen steps of the stairs leading to the entrance of the Salute. This is the same number that’s mentioned in Salomon’s temple, described in the Bible. The Presentation of Mary would have taken place here.

Francesco Guardi ‘De Doge visits the Santa Maria della Salute’ 1766-1770 big format       Temporary and current bridge
Francesco Guardi 'De Doge visits the Santa Maria della Salute' 1766-1770 

The function of this church, gratitude, as well as protection against the plague, can be seen in the main altar. The altar you directly stand eye-to-eye with when stepping into the church through the main entrance. Sculptor Juste Le Court developed a group of sculptures in 1670 for the main altar, showing the personification of the plague, an old ugly woman, being chased away by an angel. A woman kneels on the left, representing Venice, and Mary with her child is standing in the middle on a cloud with the crescent moon under her. In a style that is characteristic of the Baroque. The cap of the Doge can be seen on the pillow at the bottom in the centre.

Giusto le Court main altar big size      Main altar
Giusto le Court main altar Santa Maria della salute

The myth that the church was put forward by angels stands in stark contrast with the 100,000 trees used for its foundation. In the words of the poet Longo: ‘A fertile buried forest’. A very precious issue, since there was a lack of trees and most new building reused the old foundation piles.

Like the Redentore, the Santa Maria della Salute was primarily a votive church and not a monastic church. As described before, most votive churches are placed on hills or other prominent places, usually on the edge of the city or just outside of it. The pilgrims arriving from outside the city had to be overwhelmed. An example is the basilica of Mary on Mount Berico in Vicenza, which we will walk by when we go to Vicenza on Wednesday. Furthermore, the Salute forms an imaginary circle that connects the San Marco, the Redentore and the Salute to each other. The San Giorgio Maggiore also lies in this circle. Also, the church is located near the point where customs are. The ships that arrived and had to report to customs immediately saw the Santa Maria della Salute. They were reminded that Mary protected the sea travellers of this city. The final report of the commission of five noblemen appointed by the Senate stated what requirements the church had to meet:

  • the interior had to be properly lit
  • not too expensive
  • the main altar had to be clearly visible from the entrance
  • the rest had to be visible when the procession moved through the church

Palladio already effectively used the arch at the chancel as a beautiful frame of the main altar. The drama of the Redentore, the conscious creation of an architecture that impresses the participant of the procession, is copied by Longhena. In the Redentore, the church unfolds to the visitor when walking along the centre axis. In the Salute first at the axis: entrance and main altar. After this while walking around the octagonal. You get multiple vistas while walking around or standing still and turning your head. From the door you can see the main altar, but not the other six chapels: the view is blocked by the large columns that carry the dome. Longhena got the idea of a round cloister directly around the nave from early Christian examples such as the San Vitale in Ravenna and the San Costanza in Rome. The only example of a semi-circular cloister in Venice can be found in San Zaccaria. Click here for the cross-section and the map.

Lucas Carlevarijs ‘Bridge for the feast of the Santa Maria della Salute 1728 detail  and its entirety
Construction of a pontoon bridge to Santa Maria della Salute        Luca Carlevarijs    Bridge for the feast of the Santa Maria della Salute 1720
Johan Richter 'Bridge for the feast of the Santa Maria della Salute 1728 detail 

So the map is based on Byzantine examples. The perception of space is also very special in the San Vitale in Ravenna; you don’t discover the structure until you start walking. Since the annual procession started at San Marco and lead to the Salute via a pontoon bridge, Longhena made sure that the San Marco would also be represented in ‘his church’, at least in certain elements of it. The enormous dome looks a lot like the large dome of the San Marco; the outer shell is much higher than the inner one. While Palladio didn’t take the San Marco into account, Longhena felt obliged to create a connection with San Marco in his church. Both strongly rising domes are clearly visible against the horizon. Baldassare unified the San Marco and both churches by Palladio in his Salute.

Like the Il Redentore, the dome on the side of the Giudecca is flanked by two small towers. These connect the two churches when standing with your back towards the Il Redentore, looking at the city.

Santa Maria della Salute on the Canale della Giudecca big size
Santa Maria della Salute on the Canale della Giudecca

Photograph: netNicholls

This is of course also the case if you take a boat towards customs or sail onto the Giudecca. Two apses are placed in the chancel, next to the main altar. Palladio did this at the two chancels under the dome. Also, the large thermal windows from the IL Redentore can be seen in the side walls of the Salute. The main facade of the Salute has colossal columns at the entrance on high bases and niches that feel quite Palladian. The same thing applies to the combination of colossal and small order.


Central dome and the dome of the choir large size         Dome of the choir
Santa Maria della Salute domes Longhena Venetië

photo: Hans Nijn

Floor and nave 
Santa Maria della Salute floor and nave  Venice

In the interior, the large order, composite, is placed against pillars with half columns; it is flanked by Corinthian pilasters. Quite simple proportions were used in this church, reminiscent of Palladio. The Salute is however no sample of Byzantine and Palladian elements. It is a masterpiece of the Baroque that stands on its own. It can compete with buildings from the birthplace of Baroque: Rome, with Bernini and Borromini. Just like Borromini, Longhena was fascinated with contrasting geometrical shapes (St. Ivo della Sapienza and the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane). This ‘obsession’ is clearly visible in the transition from the octagonal nave to the round dome. The sixteen ribs in the dome just run through the pilasters of the tholobate.

Dome and nave
Santa Maria della Salute dome interior Venice

Just like Bernini, who made theatre sets, Longhena was aware of the church as a stage, similar to a theatre stage. He carefully interweaved the interior and exterior. Longhena changed the heavy buttresses to visually attractive curls reminiscent of the house of a snail. The twelve apostles are depicted on the twelve ‘snails’ or volutes. Completely above the lantern, Mary can be seen with a crown with twelve stars.

Santa Maria della Salute domes and Campanile Longhena Venice
Santa Maria della Salute exterior Longhena Venice
The lantern of the dome big size
Santa Maria della Salute the lantern of the dome Mary Venice



















Like Borromini and Bernini, Longhena was not afraid to ignore Vitruvian rules for a better theatrical effect. Longhena for instance used Doric pilasters above the composite order. Vitruvius would turn in his grave at the sight of this. Longhena also placed two windows above a single arch, as if wanting to show that the dome is a completely independent structure that is unrelated to the building underneath it. There is no logical tectonic connection to the upper and lower construction, a deadly sin in Vitruvian logic.

Santa Maria della Salute and the Il Redentore big size
Santa Maria della Salute and the Il Redentore aerial

Longhena, just like his ‘Roman brothers’, is very aware of the urban context he placed his church in. The Baroque was interested in radial vistas that stretched out over the city. The Salute, as described earlier, has points of contact with the different churches in the city. The Salute remains Venetian, since the white Istrian stone was also used here. The church lights up against the blue backdrop of water and sky, and immediately catches your eye. He uses white stucco in the interior and white Istrian stone that has darkened over time. Longhena wanted to decrease the strictness of the white, as seen in Palladio’s churches. He wanted stucco in the dome and paintings. This would be more in the direction of Bernini.

Santa Maria della Salute rear facing Il Redentore
Il Redentore Palladio Venice

The iconography played a big role in the design, as it did with Bernini and Borromini. The eight side walls stand for the eight winds, similar to the Tower of the Winds in Athens. The building was an inspiration for the sailors. Baldassare Longhena had just passed away when his church was completed. He wasn’t completely reassured about his creation. Sources from his time speak of a small man, always dressed in black, latching on to everyone to pry for their opinion about his church. Apparently he wasn’t all too sure of his own work. In the history of architecture, this church is seen as a masterpiece, and is depicted in every handbook on the history of architecture for a reason.

If we have time, we will view several famous paintings, including two works by Titian. Mark can be seen in one of these paintings with saints Roch, Sebastian, and Cosmas and Damian on the left. It was obviously no coincidence that these particular saints were painted by Titian in a church that was erected after the plague. The other painting shows the descent of the Holy Spirit.

 Titian ‘St Mark Enthroned’ big size
 Titian 'St Mark Enthroned' Santa Maria della Salute

Click here for day 5