Giuliano da Sangallo’s Surface Architecture


Giuliano da Sangallo’s initial training, as was often the case for Florentine architects of the fifteenth century, was that of a woodworker. Even before he began to design and erect buildings, he worked as a sculptor of crucifixes, a carpenter of frames, a builder of wooden architectural models. It’s not surprising, therefore, that a “wooden” character has often been detected in the buildings he designed. Even when transfigured in the architecture by lineamenta of his more abstract projects, his design practice continued to conceive buildings as clear-cut, box-like volumes, wrapped round by continuous surfaces, which act as support for a rich and heterogeneous ornamental repertoire. Surfaces of this kind include the two-dimensional façade of the Palazzo Cocchi, or the walls, seething with figures, of the courtyard of the Palazzo Scala; the carved stone vaults in the vestibules of the Madonna dell’Umiltà in Pistoia or of Santo Spirito in Florence; the many richly moulded ceilings, vibrant with coffering and stucco-work; or the uninterrupted wrapping of the dome of the pilgrimage church in Loreto, from which the Brunelleschian model clearly transpires, but without any structural differentiation. Giuliano’s architecture of surfaces is the expression, above all, of a distinctively Florentine architectural tradition. Evident in the smooth unadorned plasterwork of S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, or in the two-color décor of the Sacristy of Santo Spirito, it achieves its finest results in the sophisticated graphic style of the exterior of the Palazzo Gondi, in the virtuoso variation on a vernacular element such as the diminishing rustication of its three floors. Elsewhere, with an interpretation more recognizably Medicean or Laurentian, this sensibility gave form to architectural creations incrusted with marbles, or patterned with polychrome compartments, on which Giuliano lavished a wide repertoire of ornament. Giuliano’s treatment of surfaces lies at the origin of an architectural approach that would run through the whole of the sixteenth century in Italy, as a Tuscan counterpoint to tectonic classicism.

Florence, Palazzo Cocchi Serristori, lateral façade. Photo: Ralph Lieberman, 1990, silver gelatin print, 25,7 x 20,3 cm, inv. no. 485661

Florence, palazzo Gherardesca, former Scala, courtyard. Photo: Luigi Artini, 1985, silver gelatin print, 23,7 x 17,8 cm, inv. no. 405081

Loreto, Sanctuary of the Holy House, cupola. Photo: Giuseppe Marchini, before 1936, silver gelatin print, 23,5 x 17,4 cm, inv. no. 110269

Florence, Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi. Photo: Ralph Lieberman, 1998, silver gelatin print, 22,2 x 25,2 cm, inv. no. 550367

Florence, Santo Spirito, sacristy. Photo: Fratelli Alinari, before 1896, silver gelatin print, 24,7 x 18,9 cm, inv. no. 56961

Prato, Santa Maria delle Carceri, cupola. Photo: Luigi Artini, 1985, silver gelatin print, 17,6 x 23,6 cm, inv. no. 423938

Pistoia, Basilica of the Madonna dell’Umiltà, cupola of the vestibule. Photo: Cristian Ceccanti, 2014, digital photograph, inv. no. 614495

Florence, Santo Spirito, vestibule of the sacristy, arched ceiling. Photo: Cristian Ceccanti, 2014, digital photograph, inv. no. 614470

Florence, Palazzo Gherardesca, former Scala, stuccoed barrel vault (detail). Photo: Luigi Artini,1982, silver gelatin print, 17,9 x 23,9 cm, inv. no. 405083

Florence, Palazzo Gondi, staircase, ceiling panel. Photo: Luigi Artini, 1981, silver gelatin print, 23,7 x 17,9 cm, inv. no. 417468

Florence, Palazzo Gondi. Photo: Studio Brogi, before 1898, albumen print, 20,4 x 25,5 cm, inv. no. 2709

Florence, Palazzo Gondi, detail of the facade. Photo: Ralph Lieberman, 1990, silver gelatin print, 20,3 x 25,2 cm, inv. no. 485681

© KHI in Florence | 30.10.2020 09:23:38