Church of Saint Francis of the Vigna

Campo San Francesco della Vigna. (Open Map)


Planned by J. Sansovino and built in the 1st half of the 16th century, this church has an elegant facade realised on a design by Andrea Palladio and a series of three cloisters. In the interior, precious paintings including works by D. Tintoretto, J. Palma il Giovane, and G. Bellini. After the unfortunate debut at San Pietro di Castello, it was yet again very probably Daniele Barbaro who favoured this commission to Palladio, by convincing the Patriarch of Aquileia, Giovanni Grimaldi, to entrust him the façade of San Francesco della Vigna. The choice of Palladio was, in fact, especially significant because it sidelined Jacopo Sansovino, who had built the church thirty years earlier (and also prepared designs for its façade). Palladio thus became a tangible alternative, supported by the most culturally advanced section of the Venetian aristocracy, to the now ageing protagonist of the architectural renovation of Piazza San Marco. In 1563 Giovanni Grimani, a man of sophisticated tastes and a refined collector of Roman antiquities, had undergone an insidious trial for heresy. Absolved from the charges, he transformed the construction of the façade of San Francesco into an occasion for private self-celebration. From Leon Battista Alberti onwards, Renaissance architects had applied themselves to the difficult task of adapting the façade of a single-volume building, that is the ancient temple, to the nave-and-aisles plan of Christian churches. With the façade of the church of San Francesco della Vigna, Palladio offered his first concrete response to the problem, after the unfortunately only projectual obligation of San Pietro di Castello. Since the nave, covered by a great pediment, and the aisles, covered by two half-pediments, were projected onto one plane, the compositional problem became one of organically linking the two systems and the modular relationship between two orders, of which the larger was employed to support the main pediment and the lesser the two half-pediments. The solution achieved by Palladio is brilliant, even if it constrained him to setting both orders on the same high basement. The architect would skilfully overcome this latter difficulty on the façade of the Redentore by placing a great staircase before the façade’s central section.