(b. 1627, Ypres, d. 1679, Venezia)

High Altar

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

The high altar in the Santa Maria della Salute, with its octagonal plan, was designed by Longhena and portrays angels acting as caryatids and cherubs singing and playing instruments on the lower bases executed by Josse de Corte and assistants.

Sculptural altarpieces enjoyed a particular revival in Venice in the second half of the seventeenth century. A tradition of free-standing altarpieces had been introduced by Palladio's churches at the end of the sixteenth century, so it was not surprising that Baldassare Longhena made provision for a similar structure in his great Venetian votive church, Santa Maria della Salute. Raised as an offering against the plague, the Salute housed a miraculous icon of the Virgin which was incorporated into the high altar by Josse de Corte. As the altar stands between the monks' choir and the presbytery, De Corte followed the formula of sculptural complexes for San Giorgio Maggiore and the Redentore by Girolamo Campagna, fashioning a sacred drama of Venice's deliverance from the plague.

The Virgin is shown with the Christ Child interceding on behalf of a kneeling figure of Venice, while on her other side the plague is represented by a witchlike apparition toppling into the void; the city's patron saints Mark and Lorenzo Giustinian look up from below.

As a whole the altar does not quite succeed, the statuary being too small in scale and too meticulously worked to register in the vastness of its setting.