San Francesco della Vigna

On our way to the San Francesco della Vigna 

San Francesco della Vigna      Zoom in
Canaletto ‘Il Campo e la Chiesa di San Francesco della Vigna’ 

San Francesco della Vigna  Venice
photos: netNicholls

Jacopo Sansovino (Tintoretto) designed the San Francesco della Vigna for a branch of the Franciscans, called the observants (they tried to maintain the sobriety of Francis more, the main branch, the Frari Minor, was in the Frari). The facade is by Palladio.

Titian ‘Doge Andrea Gritti’ 1546 -1550

Some wealthy families supported the Construction. The Doge Andrea Gritti bought the right to be buried in the chancel of the church. The Order, however, kept strict control over the design; Sansovino was on the leash of his principals. The humanist and scholar Francesco Giorgi (Wikipedia) altered the building modestly during the design stage. The letter in which Giorgi vents his views on the construction is still preserved to this day. Francesco Giorgi paid special attention to the Divino Proportione, the proportions given by God. The number three, which can also be found in Plato’s Lambda is the perfect number (click here for more about Plato’s Lambda). We will measure on site what ‘divine proportions‘ were applied in this church.

Giorgi writes the following about the proportions:

“April I, 1535.
In order to build the fabric of the church with those fitting and very harmonious proportions  (Click here for the plan with dimensions) which one can do without altering anything that has been done. In order to build the fabric of the church with those fitting and very harmonious proportions which one can do without altering anything that has been done. The length of the nave, which will be 27, will have a triple proportion which makes a diapason and a diapente. And this mysterious harmony is such that when Plato in the Timaeus wished to describe the wonderful consonancy of the parts and fabric of the world, he took this as the first foundation of his description, multiplying as far as necessary these same proportions and figures according to the fitting rules and consonances until he had included the whole world and each of its members and parts. We, being desirous of building the church, have thought it necessary and most appropriate to follow that order of which God, the greatest architect, is the master and author. […] To this perfect and complete body, we shall now give the head, which is the ‘capella grande.’ As for the length, it should be of the same proportion, or rather symmetry which one finds in each of the three squares of the nave, that is 9 paces. I consider it advisable that it should be of the same width as the nave (which as we have said should not be longer than 27) ; but [I prefer] that its width be 6 paces, like a head, joined to the body proportionately and well balanced. And to the width of the nave it will be in the ratio of 2:3 (sesquatera) which constitutes the diapente, one of the celebrated harmonies.” Quoted from: Rudolf Wittkower ‘Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism’, Sun, Nijmegen 1996 (original English publication 1971), p. 167

Just like the Camaldolese Order of the San Michele, the monks from the San Francesco were keen to apply the latest theories of the Renaissance to their church. The San Francesco was based on the San Salvatore al Monte in Florence, which was built at the end of the 15th century. Sansovino therefore had to take Giorgi’s proportions into account and at the same time base it off a church in Florence. The monks wanted only one nave with side chapels, just like the San Michele and San Giobbe. The Florentine model, the San Salvatore al Monte also only had one nave with side chapels. The large windows at the closing wall that illuminate the chancel create the impression that this part of the church is poorly lit unlike the rest of the church, because of the backlight. This was later copied by Palladio in his Il Redentore and the San Giorgio Maggiore.

San Francesco della Vigna

San Francesco della Vigna interior Venice
photo: Didier Descouens

Choir       Pediment of the High Altar

San Francesco della Vigna main altar Venice
photos: Michael Cannon and pediment: Didier Descouens
Paolo Veronese 'Giustiniani Altarpiece'

Paolo Veronese Giustiniani Altarpiece 1551       In situ
Chapel of Giustiniani

Veronese ‘Holy family Anthony the Abbot, Catherine, John the Baptist’
If you walked inside the Frari church and saw the famous painting by Titian, the Pesaro altarpiece, you may see who strongly influenced Veronese in this piece.


Andrea Palladio

Palladio was asked to handle the facade of the San Francesco della Vigna. Sansovino was still alive and the Grimani family paid for the facade, so the chapel of the Grimanis was built in the church for a reason. The fact that Palladio was commissioned meant his reputation in the city was established. The design of the facade of Sansovino for this church has been preserved in a coin. It was considered too old-fashioned.

Andrea Palladio Portrait

 Grimani Chapel

San Francesco della Vigna: Grimani Chapel
Web Gallery of Art

Palladio’s facade was completely different and totally new. Palladio used the colossal order, unlike Sansovino, bunched in the middle part. The side wings, the side naves, with the ‘regular’ orders look like the buttresses of the nave part of the facade. All orders are put on high plinths. The bases of the half columns are higher than eye level of the church visitor.

San Francesco della Vigna       Drawing of the facade
Drawing  of the facade Diagram of two interpenetrating temple frontons

San Francesco della Vigna: facade Palladio
photo: Didier Descouens

Campo San Francesco della Vigna and the church

The small order suggests that the side chapels also run up to the height of the columns, but this is not the case. The side chapels are much lower. This is clearly visible on the side of the church. The facade and the church are therefore not really compatible.

Campo San Francesco della Vigna
photo: Monica Maracineanu
Campo San Francesco della Vigna Church
photo: Didier Descouens

Palladio was more interested in an impressive facade as a screen. The enormous scale of the classical elements made a major impression, it was completely new in the city. By 1560 there were barely any facades that were fully made out of Istrian stone. This was the case in the San Michele, but this is a very small church, whereas the Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari had stone facades. Red brick in combination with some Istrian architectural elements were commonplace.

Campo dei San Francesco         Colonnade       Campo and church

Campo dei San Francesco Colonnade
photos: collonade: Hervé Simon; campo church: Monica Maracineanu

We walk to the S. Zaccaria Jolanda and take boat 82 to the island San Giorgio Maggiore, where we will visit the church of the same name. When we go to Vicenza on Wednesday, we will discuss the very influential architect Palladio. Palladio built two churches and part of a monastery in Venice.

The island San Giorgio Maggiore        Remote view

The island San Giorgio Maggiore
photos: Zairon and remote: Slices of Light

Continuation Venice day 4: San Giorgio Maggiore