UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urbis Genio : the classicizing of the Venetian palace facade in the pre-Sansovino period, 1480-1510 Burgess, Allyson Jane


This study focuses on the facades of eleven palaces built in Venice between 1480 and 1510. Its purpose is to define the nature of Venetian Renaissance palace style prior to the arrival of Sansovino and the Roman Renaissance style in the city, and to show how this earlier style met the needs of the patrician patron. Although these palaces were praised by Francesco Sansovino in 1581, they have received short shrift by scholars since. This is partly due to lack of sufficient documentation, but the main reason scholars dismiss the palaces is that the architects did not use the Florentine interpretations of antique decorative motifs. The result of this attitude has been that the buildings have never before been analyzed in detail as a group. The aim of this study is to show that while use of the architectural forms of Roman classicism was a component of the Venetian Renaissance palace style, other traditions, such as the Byzantine, were equally important. The architectural style of these palace facades is truly inventive and expressive. It is an intelligent synthesis of both styles, grafted onto a preexisting late Gothic format, resulting in facades that were evocative and meaningful to the Venetians. In Chapter One, the existing literature on the palaces is reviewed, and the limitations of the predominant methodological approach in providing a viable means of understanding the complex imagery of the new style is discussed. Chapter Two sets up a comparative context for the study of the development of Venetian Renaissance palace style. This is accomplished through an analysis of the evolution of the Renaissance palace style in Florence, detailed observation of the developed Venetian Gothic palace style, and a discussion of influential examples of early Renaissance style in Venice such as the Ca' del Duca and the Ducal Palace. Chapter Three will analyze the first group of Renaissance palace facades, those built from 1480 to 1495. Here, a new architectural style is introduced in a series of diverse and creatively worked facades. Chapter Four discusses how those palaces built from 1495 to 1510 use a new facade form evolved from the experimentation of the earlier group and increase its symbolic potential with sculptural decorations. In Chapter Five the Vendramin-Calergi palace, the best known of the group, will be discussed. It has most often been heralded as the first "real" Renaissance palace in Venice; its facade will be compared and contrasted to those of the other palaces in order to re-insert it into the Venetian palace building context. Chapter Six will lay out the political and cultural conditions of fifteenth and sixteenth century Venice to suggest that palace builders were incorporating the new stylistic characteristics of important civic structures into their own buildings to contribute to a harmonious public image, reflecting the consonant goals of state and individual. This thesis is primarily focussing on defining the character of the Venetian Renaissance palace style as it evolves from 1480 to 1510 as a synthesis of antique Roman, Byzantine, and Veneto- Byzantine architectural forms grafted onto a framework perfected in the late Gothic period. As in many architectural monuments of the time, the tone of the architectural and sculptural imagery is generally triumphal; within this theme there are allusions to the virtuous nature of the Venetian patrician patron. It will be suggested that in incorporating Roman and Byzantine imagery into palace facades, the patrons may have been reflecting a current trend in Venetian government propaganda in which its Roman and the Byzantine heritage was being called upon to project a state image of strength and power. This use of imperial imagery, which took on many forms in Venice, both visual and literary, may have been a response to the difficult political and financial situation in which Venetians found themselves at the end of the fifteenth century.

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