Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

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Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th century Benedictine church on the island of the same name in Venice, northern Italy, designed by Andrea Palladio and built between 1566 and 1610. The church is a basilica in the classical renaissance style and its brilliant white marble gleams above the blue water of the lagoon opposite the Piazzetta and forms the focal point of the view from every part of the Riva degli Schiavoni.

History
The first church on the island was built about 790 and in 982 the island was given to the Benedictine order by the Doge Tribune Memmo. The Benedictines founded a monastery there, but in 1223 all the buildings on the island were destroyed by an earthquake. The church and monastery were rebuilt after the earthquake. The church, which had a nave with side chapels, was not in the same position as the present church but farther back at the side of a small campo or square. There were cloisters in front of it, which were demolished in 1516. The monks were considering the rebuilding of the church from 1521. Palladio arrived in Venice in 1560, when the refectory of the monastery was being rebuilt. He made great improvements to this and in 1565 was asked to prepare a model for a new church. The model was completed and approved in 1566 and the foundation stone was laid in the presence of the Pope in the same year. The work was not finished before the death of Palladio in 1580, but the body of the church was complete by 1575, except for the choir behind the altar and the facade The decoration of the interior was completed subsequently. The choir appears to have been designed in essentials by Palladio before his death and was built between 1580 and 1589. The façade, initially under the superintendance of Simone Sorella, was not commenced until 1599. The stonemason's contract provided that it was to follow Palladio's model and there were only minor changes. It was completed in 1610. The campanile (bell tower), first built in 1467, fell in 1774; it was rebuilt in neo-classic style by 1791. It was ascended by easy ramps and there is now also a lift. There is a fine view across Venice from the top.

Exterior
The façade is brilliantly white and represents Palladio's solution to the difficulty of adapting a classical temple facade to the form of the Christian church, with its high nave and low side aisles, which had been a problem since the time of Santa Maria Novella. Palladio's solution superimposed two facades, one with a wide pediment and architrave stretching over the nave and both the aisles with a single order of pilasters, and the other superimposed with a narrower facade in front of the nave with a giant order of engaged columns on high socles. This solution is similar to Palladio's slightly earlier facade for San Francesco della Vigna, where the other parts of the church had been designed by Sansovino. On either side of the central portal are statues of Saint George and of Saint Stephen, to whom the church is also dedicated.

Interior
The interior also is very bright with massive pilasters on undecorated, white-surfaced walls, creating an interior that expresses the Classical feel of a Renaissance design. As the façade, the interior plan is original in combining the central plan of classical tradition with the cruciform plan; this reveals the beginning influence of Counter-Reformation on the Renaissance tendencies in church architecture. As a matter of fact the dome divides both the church axis in two equal parts, with the longitudinal longer than the transversal. The aisles and the vast choir behind the presbytery sum up to this plan; therefore the best position to realize it is maybe under the dome. Many remarkable paintings are displayed in the church. The most important are: "Madonna enthroned with Saints" by Sebastiano Ricci; Last Supper and Fall of Manna by Jacopo Tintoretto (in the presbytery); other paintings by Palma il Giovane, Domenico Tintoretto, Jacopo Bassano.

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