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

San Francesco della Vigna: Façade

Campo San Francesco della Vigna, Venice

Rebuilding of the church San Francesco della Vigna was Sansovino's first ecclesiastical commission in Venice. It was a contradictory one. On the one hand, this was a project with direct ducal involvement, for Doge Andrea Gritti, whose family palace lay just in front of the church, promoted the scheme and bought the right to use the chancel as his family burial chapel, while the side chapels were purchased by the richest and most powerful noble families in the city. On the other hand, this church belonged to the austere Observant Franciscans, who wanted a design appropriate to their ascetic ideals. Sansovino turned to his native Florence, and his design is closely modeled on that of the sister church in Florence, San Salvatore al Monte, begun for the Observant Franciscans by Cronaca in 1499. From Cronaca's church Sansovino borrowed the fluted Doric capitals and plain frieze, the arched side chapels and aiseless plan, and the two-storey pilastered nave with clerestory windows.

Palladio was commissioned in the early 1560s by Andrea Grimani to build a façade for the church. The display of grandiose classicism, with its gigantic columns raised far above head height, seems ill-fitting in this peripheral zone of the city, set between the lucid simplicity of Sansovino's church and the austerity of Gritti's palace in front.

The use of corresponding pediments over the nave and aisles allowed Palladio not only to resolve their difference in scale but also to make visible the hierarchy of the different parts with one architectural motif. This invention was to play a decisive part in the later church façades of San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore.