Michele Sanmicheli

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Sanmicheli, Michele (c.1487–1559). Italian architect and military engineer. Born in Verona, he studied the Antique remains there, and went to Rome in the early 1500s where he fell under the influence of Bramante's work which demonstrated how Classicism might suggest something of the grandeur of Ancient Rome. In 1509 he became Superintendent of the Works at Orvieto Cathedral and built fortifications at Parma and Piacenza in 1526 before returning to Verona. With the Sangallos he is credited with the evolution of massive triangular bastions and enormous curtain-walls in military architecture. He applied his expertise to fortifying Verona, where he constructed the bastion of the Maddalene and many other impressive structures including the rusticated gateways with the Doric Order much in evidence. The best examples of these gates are the Porta Nuova (1533–51), Porta San Zeno (1547–50), and the Porta del Palio (1548–59), the last a masterpiece of Mannerism, with its severe Roman Doric Order in antis engaged with a rusticated wall-layer behind which are three recessed rusticated walls into which the gateways are set. The influence of Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Tè, Mantua, is clear. He also designed the Forte di Sant'Andrea di Lido, Venice (1535–71). All these works were not only strong, but looked impregnable, as did the façade of his Church of Santa Maria in Organo, Verona (1547–59).

Sanmicheli's early palazzi show influences from Bramante, Raphael, and Serlio. The Palazzo Pompei, Verona (c.1527–57), for example, has a rusticated ground-floor acting as a podium for the engaged Doric Order of the piano nobile, a variant on Bramante's ‘House of Raphael’ in Rome, but with the central bay wider and pier-pilasters terminating the façade at both ends, thus giving the design greater serenity. At the Palazzo Canossa, Verona (begun c.1533), the Palazzo del Tè was again the influence in the rusticated base, with its triple arched openings in the centre, while Bramante's work affected the piano nobile with its paired pilasters and paraphrased serlianas. Much richer is the Palazzo Bevilacqua, Verona (late 1530s), with a rusticated Doric podium, the triglyphs of which project forward as brackets supporting the piano-nobile balcony over which is an elaborately complex façade designed as a series of three overlapping triumphal arches. His Palazzo Grimani, Venice (from 1556, completed by others), employed the triumphal- arch motif in the centre of the lowest storey, while above, the perceived naked of the wall was virtually dissolved, and the areas framed by columns and entablatures contained complicated systems of fenestration.

He did some ecclesiastical work, including the charming circular domed Cappella Pellegrini (begun 1527) at the Church of San Bernardino, Verona, clearly influenced by the Pantheon in Rome. It features columns with twisted or spiral fluting which he also employed at the Palazzo Bevilacqua. Outside Verona he designed the circular Pilgrimage Church of the Madonna di Campagna (from 1559), the drum pierced by a rhythm of 3 windows, 2 blind arches, then 1 window, then 2 blind arches, and then 3 windows, demonstrating Sanmicheli's ability to surprise.


H. Burns et al. (1995);
C. Frommel (ed.) (1995);
Gazzola (1960);
Heydenreich (1996);
Langenskiöld (1938);
Lotz (1977);
P. Murray (1969, 1986);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Li Puppi (1971);
Jane Turner (1996)

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Michele Sanmicheli

The Italian architect and military engineer Michele Sanmicheli (ca. 1484-1559) introduced to north Italy the Roman High Renaissance style of architecture. His work is generally characterized by a boldness and strength inspired by his military interests.

Born in Verona, Michele Sanmicheli went to Rome about 1500. With the counsel of the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, Sanmicheli served from 1509 as supervisor of the completion of the facade of the Cathedral at Orvieto. His first involvement with military architecture was in 1526, when he inspected the papal fortifications in the Romagna with Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.

Returning to Verona about 1527, Sanmicheli began the Pellegrini Chapel (ca. 1528) attached to S. Bernardino. The interior of this circular, domed chapel is very richly decorated with relief sculpture and elegant Corinthian columns, some with spiral fluting. In 1529 he commenced work on the nearby fortifications of Legnago and was soon charged with the fortifications of many of the cities controlled by Venice, such as Verona (from 1530), Chioggia (from 1541), and Udine (from 1543). In 1535 he was appointed engineer of the state for lagoons and fortifications by the Venetian Senate, and from 1537 to 1539 he traveled to Corfu, Crete, and Dalmatia to design fortifications. Incorporated in these fortifications were powerful gates combining heavily rusticated stonework with massive Doric columns and prominent keystones, as in the Porta Nuova, Verona (1533-1550), the Forte di S. Andrea a Lido, Venice (1543-1549), and the Porta Palio, Verona (1548-1557).

The chronology of Sanmicheli's architecture in Verona is controversial. The spiral fluting of the half columns and the relief sculpture on the upper story of the Bevilacqua Palace resemble the interior of the Pellegrini Chapel, suggesting a date of about 1530 for the palace. The Canossa Palace (ca. 1530-1537) is much more planar and reveals the influence of Giulio Romano's work in Mantua. In the 18th century the roof was raised, drastically changing the character of the facade. The Pompei Palace (ca. 1550; now the Museo Civico) marks a return to the severe classicism of Donato Bramante, but the robust Doric order and large keystones resemble Sanmicheli's Porta Palio.

Sanmicheli designed two imposing palaces in Venice: the Cornaro a S. Polo Palace (after 1545-1564) and the Grimani Palace (ca. 1556-ca. 1567). On the mainland near Castelfranco Veneto he built the Villa La Soranza (ca. 1545-1550), of which only a portion of the service buildings is preserved. Originally the villa consisted of a casino flanked by separate one-story, arcaded service buildings. Built of brick covered with stucco lined in imitation of stone, it had a rustic character emphasized by the simplicity of architectural detail and omission of the classical orders.

The Lazzaretto, or pesthouse, outside Verona (1549-1603), attributed to Sanmicheli, was a large, rectangular, arcaded court lined with cells. In the center of the court was a circular chapel with dome on a high drum. At his death in August 1559 he had just begun another circular, domed church, the Madonna di Campagna (1559-1561) near Verona.

Further Reading

The only monograph in English on Sanmicheli is Eric J. Langenskiöld, Michele Sanmicheli, the Architect of Verona: His Life and Works (1938). Piero Gazzola edited Michele Sanmicheli (1960), a fully illustrated catalog for an exhibition of Sanmicheli's architectural work which contains a complete bibliography to 1960. Sanmicheli is discussed in Peter Murray, The Architecture of the Italian Renaissance (1963), and T. A. West, History of Architecture in Italy (1968). □