The Architecture of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

The Architecture of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
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  • 0:08 San Giorgio Maggiore
  • 0:47 Interior of San…
  • 2:33 Exterior of San…
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the architecture of the Venetian church San Giorgio Maggiore. At the end of the lesson, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.

San Giorgio Maggiore

When you think of Venice, what comes to mind? Beautiful canals filled with opera-singing gondoliers? Pasta, wine, and sun glistening on the water? How about architecture? Venice is home to some incredible architecture. One of the most prominent buildings is a church called San Giorgio Maggiore, designed by the illustrious 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. San Giorgio Maggiore is an icon of Venetian style and is definitely something you want to consider whenever you find yourself dreaming of Venice.

Interior of San Giorgio Maggiore

Andrea Palladio designed the interior of San Giorgio Maggiore in a very classical style, meaning it reflects the traditions of ancient Rome and Greece. This is especially evident in the abundant use of marble arches and columns, as well as the undecorated, white walls. The overall effect is to create a sense of order, logic, balance, and divine harmony, especially when natural light pours in through the many windows, reflecting off the undecorated surfaces. Palladio adhered to a classical use of mathematical formulas and geometric ratios to create this sense of order and balance, all while still respecting the Christian traditions of building churches in the shape of a cross.

The Last Supper, by Jacopo Tintoretto
The Last Supper, by Jacopo Tintoretto

While the majority of the interior space is left undecorated, there are some notable works of art. The Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto is a masterpiece of the mannerist style, which was popular at this time. Notice the high level of contrast between dark and light, resulting in figures that almost look outlined. The entire composition is also somewhat unbalanced, rejecting the perfect symmetry of earlier Renaissance paintings. Christ and the apostles are in the background at an angle instead of the center of the painting, resulting in the dramatic shadows in the foreground.

Tintoretto also painted two other works that are inside San Giorgio Maggiore, creating a unique contrast between the clear, calm logic of the architecture and the dramatic composition of these paintings. This is a good indicator of Venice's place in the world, a crossroads where various styles mixed and mingled into unique compositions.

Exterior of San Giorgio Maggiore

The exterior of the church reflects this same push and pull between various stylistic influences, but this time it was Palladio himself who was responsible. The red church has a white, marble façade, styled after a Roman temple. Like the inside, this façade represents geometrical perfection, order, and rational harmony. The white marble also makes this church very noticeable as light reflecting from the sea catches the marble and shines across Venice.

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