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Il Redentore: Masterpiece of Renaissance Architecture

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The Church of the Redentore is one of the greatest buildings of the Italian Renaissance. Located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, on the Giudecca, it was designed by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and contains paintings by Tintoretto and Ve

The Church of the Redentore (the Redeemer) is one of the greatest buildings of the Italian Renaissance. Located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, on the Giudecca, it was designed by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and contains paintings by Tintoretto and Veronese. Il Redentore was built as a votive church to thank God for delivering the city from an outbreak of plaque.

Between the summers of 1575 and 1577, some 50,000 Venetians were killed by plague. On 8 September 1576, the Venetian Senate vowed to build a church if the plaque ceased. Backed by Marc’Antonio Barbaro, Palladio submitted a design to the Senate. This was a square building with a hexastyle portico on the frontage and a semicircular apse at the rear. Internally, the square was transformed into a circle by the addition of paired columns at the corners and this central space was surmounted by a dome.

Circular church plans were popular in northern Italy due to the influence of Constantinople, but they presented severe liturgical problems. Among these was the difficulty of locating the high altar within a circular space.  As a pilgrimage church, Il Redentore was also expected to have a spacious nave to accommodate the congregation. Palladio’s circular plan was rejected, and the Senate instead requested a quadrangular building. Undeterred, Palladio submitted a revised design within a week

The new design prescribed a well-defined rectangular nave, each side pierced by three chapels framed by paired giant columns. The area containing the altar is a centralised space surmounted by a dome. This domed chamber is bounded by three enormous exedrae inspired by Roman baths. Two of these are curved walls; the third is a screen of columns.

Externally, Il Redentore is a large edifice clad in white marbel, which seems to float majestically above the waters of the Giudecca.  The building is crowned with a dome surmounted by a statue of the Redeemer. The facade was inspired by the Classical architecture of Antiquity adapted to suit the needs of a Christian church. A central triangular pediment overlies a larger one. This recalls Palladio's façade for San Francesco della Vigna (1562-70), where he first used the motif of double interlocking pediments.

Palladio's church of San Francesco della Vigna (1562-70)

Echoing the Temple of Jerusalem, 15 steps lead up to the entrance. This was complicit with Palladio's requirement that ‘the ascent will be gradual, so that the climbing will bring more devotion.’ Palladio applied rigorous geometric proportions to his façades and Il Redentore is no exception. The overall height is four-fifths that of the width whilst the width of the central portion is five-sixths of its height.  It has been suggested that there is a Turkish influence in the exterior, particularly the two campaniles at the rear, which resemble Eastern minarets.

Every year the doge and senators made a pilgrimage across a specially constructed pontoon bridge from the Zattere to Giudecca to attend the Festa del Redentore. Il Redentore occupies one of the most prominent sites of any of Palladio's buildings, and is one of the triumphs of his career.

Canaletto's View of the Church of the Redentore

Reading

Boucher, B. (1994) Andrea Palladio: the architect in his time. London: Abbeville.

Tavernor, R. (1991) Palladio and Palladianism. London: Thames and Hudson.

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