Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

La Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Architect: Palladio. 1565-80. [Click on images below to enlarge them.]

Ruskin, a fierce opponent of Renaissance architecture, begins his discussion of this church by remarking that it is “A building which owes its interesting effect chiefly to its isolated position, being seen over a great space of lagoon.” He then launches into his attack by inviting readers to look carefully at the building’s façade to see “the manner in which the central Renaissance architects (of whose style this church is a renowned example) endeavoured to fit the laws they had established to the requirements of their age.” Since churches “required . . . a high central nave and lower wings,” the architect’s problem was how to create the front of the building with “pillars of one proportion.” Whereas Romanesque architects in Pisa and Lucca solved the problem by putting one story above another, “the base Palladian architects” could not use this solution because, says Ruskin, they needed “some image of the Greek temple, but the Greek temple was all of one height, a low gable roof being borne on ranges of equal pillars”. The Palladian solution involved raising “a Greek temple with pilasters for shafts; and, through the middle of its roof, or horizontal beam, that is to say, of the cornice which externally represented this beam, they lifted another temple on pedestals, adding these barbarous appendages to the shafts, which otherwise would not have been high enough; fragments of the divided cornice or tie-beam being left between the shafts, and the great door of the church thrust in between the pedestals.” Continuing his invective, Ruskin declares, “It is impossible to conceive a design more gross, more barbarous, more childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more insipid in result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard” (381). Turning to the inside of the building, Ruskin devotes several pages to describing its six Tintorettos.

Left: Palladio's most famous structure in Venice is here viewed from the side of the sixty-metre high bell tower.. Right: . [Click on images to enlarge them.]

All photographs by Freidus (2020) except the one on the left in the second row, which is by Landow (2000). You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

Last modified October 2000