After Architect Aldo Rossi: Alberti in Mantua, Canaletto’s “Forgetting” and the Palazzo della Ragione in Padova
Before travelling north to Vicenza and Padova, I paused in Mantua and watched the mist enter Alberti’s basilica of Sant’ Andrea. Alberti’s wall is interrupted by a colossal arch that reaches from entrance to the underside of the pediment. The facade is square in proportion but reads as a combination of wall and column architecture. Inside, the plan extends linearly and the internal elevations share an analogous relationship to the facade. The pediment is removed and replaced with a stunning vaulted and columnless space. San Sebastiano, Alberti’s other basilica in Mantua is a centralised plan with vestibule placed outside of a square plan. The facade of which is enclosed in a square, like at Sant’Andrea, the width corresponding to the height from the entrance to the apex of the pediment. With very few openings, pilasters rather than columns as decoration, it reads as “wall architecture.”
A preliminary question in Vicenza (via supervisor’s Graeme Hutton and Dr Lorens Holm) was to what extent has Canaletto faithfully represented the buildings in his vedute ideate of La Basilica di Vicenza e il Ponte dia Rialto, that hangs in Parma (refer to the post dated June 24 for photographs). I do not plan to fully answer this question here, but I will make some observations. The painting depicts a quiet scene that contains numerous boats and gondolas. It is the Grand Canal in Venice. At the centre is the Rialto Bridge, to the right is the Vicenza Basilica. Lining the canal on the left and only just visible is the Palazzo Chierecati. These three buildings are designs by the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio whose treatise The Four Books of Architecture dates from 1570.
Canaletto has replaced the present bridge, erected in 1587 and designed by Antonio da Ponte, with a composite of designs extrapolated from Palladio’s Four Books. Canaletto’s bridge has three arches, the central arch is one height of stone higher than the sides and thus also wider, unlike Palladio’s second design for the bridge which has three equal arches. The first design has five arches similar to that drawn in Riconstruzione di Castel Sant’Angelo (hangs also in Parma). The bridge painted by Canaletto is symmetrical in elevation, with a barrel vaulted roof over the two smaller arches, while that of Palladio’s appears not to be so. On the relationship of the Basilica and the Palazzo Chierecati, the rhythm of each of the buildings’ horizontal bays corresponds to that of the built projects of Palladio in Vicenza. Similarly the column Order for both is Tuscan to “ground” level, unadorned Ionic above, and faithfully represented by Canaletto. The vertical proportion of the Basilica accords to the common Palladian ratio of 4:5. In the Four Books the Chierecati is drawn to the same ratio as the Basilica. However in Canaletto’s depiction, if one follows the perspective line from the Basilica and returns with the Chierecati, it appears that although the column Order is the same, the vertical proportion is not. Canaletto has extruded the Palazzo Chierecati vertically and doubled the steps that reach from ground (water in the painting) to loggia. Has he “forgotten” Palladio’s ratio? Why the Palazzo Chierecati? It has an open loggia. In general, loggia’s are used to front public spaces, like in the built project in Vicenza, they do not usually front onto water. Additionally, buildings that line the canal in Venice are usually solid, so why did Canaletto not use the Palazzo Thiene, a building that defines a street edge in Vicenza, and one that might better define a water edge in Venice. Perhaps it just was not Venetian enough…
Rossi uses the Palazzo della Ragione in Padova as an example of a primary element that defines the pattern of the city. It has had multiple functions (medieval town hall, Renaissance court, market place) since its construction in the thirteenth-century and remains in full use. For this reason it contains the collective memory of Padova. At present the hall is used as exhibition space and there are numerous restaurants, cafes and grocery shops contained within the groundfloor bays. To either side are two open spaces. One is three times in breadth to height of the structure, the other is two. Thus, two different spatial conditions are set up and make for variety in close proximity.