Facade and bronze sculptures, San Francesco della Vigna

About the project

Several Venetian churches have unfinished facades, surfaces of rough, spiky brick which still await their Istrian marble cladding after four or five centuries. San Francesco della Vigna might well have ended up as one of these after Jacopo Sansovino completed the main building in 1554. It was Cardinal Patriarch Andrea Grimani, Renaissance Venice’s great cultural patron, who made sure that this fine new church, built for the Franciscan friars, received its proper frontage.

The architect chosen was no less a master than Andrea Palladio, already celebrated for his villas in the Veneto and for enriching Vicenza’s townscape. His design here, later developed at the Redentore and inspired by Roman architecture, is essentially two superimposed temple facades, playing with echo and contrast in pediments, panels and columns. Occupying niches flanking the door are tall bronze statues of Moses and St Paul by Paduan sculptor Tiziano Aspetti.

When Venice in Peril began restoring this bold frontal ensemble in 1994, it was threatening to detach itself entirely from the brick surface behind. Re-stabilization was undertaken, the Istrian stone surface was washed, both statues were cleaned and a year later the full Palladian glory was unveiled on 4 October, feast day of St Francis.

Jonathan Keates

Project location

In brief

  • Designed by the architect Jacopo Sansovino the church was finished in 1554.  The facade was added by Andrea Palladio beginning in the early 156os. This was Palladio’s first executed church facade.
  • It was also the first facade completed in Istiran stone since Codussi’s 15thC San Michele in Isola  but by 1994 the facade was in desperate need of stabilising when ViP took over the job of securing it.
  • Conservation work was also undertaken on the Tiziano Aspetti bronze statues of Moses and St Paul.

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