Monday, 5 February 2007

Facade, surface and depth: Scuola Grande di San Marco

This unusual example from Venice might serve to express how the new methods of depicting and conceiving of urban space began to appear in cities during the fifteenth century. The aesthetic problem of the perspectival articulation of an urban wall received a singular treatment at Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Here a facade was created for the Scuola Grande di San Marco (1489-94) where through the iconographic programme of a series of sculpted marble low relief panels, a virtual extension to the actual space was created which mediated between the life of the city and that of its patron saint. It is all the more extraordinary because of the sober but essentially unadorned facade of the gothic basilica. The scuola’s position as one of the great confraternities of the city meant the ostentatious display of wealth was seen within a specific social context of charitable provision. At ground level, pairings of scenes in barrel vaulted and flat ceilinged spaces by Pietro and Tullio Lombardo are carved from the wall plane in controlled perspectives which resonate with the antique language of the equestrian monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni which stands in the campo.The length of the facade with its six bays was such that the perspective illusion takes place around two centres and with two different horizon lines.

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