(b. 1508, Padova, d. 1580, Maser)

San Giorgio Maggiore: Façade

Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Palladio's few churches are milestones in architectural history. San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice was commenced in 1566, but Palladio did not live to see the façade, which was erected from his designs by Simone Sorella. Here Palladio presented a solution to the dilemma of the architect confronted with devising a classical façade for the difficult shape of the Christian basilica.

In 1565 Palladio made a wood model (untraced) for a new church. The cruciform plan incorporates a spacious barrel-vaulted nave with a domical crossing, an enlarged transept (to accommodate the participants in the rituals for the feast of St Stephen, co-titular saint of the church), and an elongated apsidal choir behind the presbytery. The interior elevation consists of a monumental Composite order of engaged columns and pilasters raised on pedestals, carrying an imposing entablature, applied to a brick fabric covered in white stucco and illuminated by thermal windows. The church, including the quadrangular space of the presbytery but not the apsidal choir, was completed under Palladio's supervision in 1575.

A year after Palladio's death in 1580, the church was in use. Construction on the apsidal choir was in progress by 1583 and completed by 1589. It has been proposed that the elongated apse, separating the choir entirely from the presbytery, was the result of a new plan by Palladio for the church and monastery, coinciding with the 1579 initiation of the cloister of the Cypresses. The relation of the executed façade to Palladio's designs has been the source of much discussion. Istrian stone was first collected for the façade in 1597, and work was begun in 1599 but was not completed until 1610. A monumental Composite order on high pedestals supports a pediment crowning the nave; this is interlocked with a lower, horizontal temple front, which coincides with the aisles. Below this, single-storey Corinthian pilasters frame triangular pedimented aedicules containing sculptural decoration celebrating the history of the church.

View the ground plan of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.