By Costanza Beltrami

Very few secure dates are known of the life of Mauro Codussi, the most important Renaissance architect active in Venice. For example, the date of his birth and death are both unknown, although he died sometimes during 1504. A dated and documented work is the construction of the great staircase of the Confraternity of San Giovanni Evangelista. Codussi had been admitted to the confraternity on 13 May 1498, without having to pay the usual dues. On 14 August the Confraternity sent him the specifications of the staircase they desired, suggesting that he had taken on this project as payment-in-kind for his admission fee.

Apart from this staircase, Codussi realized many other distinctive works in Venice. His first commission in the city was the church of San Michele in Isola, begun in 1469. This church is located in an impressive position on the island of San Michele in Isola, and its striking white façade is best appreciated from a vaporetto (public transport boat) heading to the islands of Murano and Burano, to the north of Venice.

A few year later, Codussi was commissioned the completion of the church of San Zaccaria, begun by Antonio Gambello in the gothic style. Codussi completed the church with a façade of white Istrian stone, decorated with typical Renaissance motifs. Interestingly, he employed the same workmen who had worked on the Gothic construction under Gambello’s direction.

By this point, Codussi was Venice’s most sought after architect. His next commissions were the Scuola Grande (Confraternity) of San Marco, where he re-elaborated a design by Pietro Lombardo da Carona, and the Church of Santa Maria Formosa, begun in 1491 and still incomplete at its consecration in 1542. Codussi designed and constructed Santa Maria Formosa from scratch, but given the instable soil of Venice he had to re-use the foundations of the church which preceded it on the site. For this reason, his contribution is noticeable in the decorative details of the interior rather than in the overall structure. Surprisingly, in 1542 the Cappello family transformed the façade into a funerary monument to general Vincenzo Cappello, stripping it of all religious symbols.

Codussi’s last documented design is the Church of San Giovanni Grisostomo, begun in 1497 and completed shortly before his death. The design follows the architectural rules of the Renaissance architectural theorist Leon Battista alberti, for example by featuring piers and semi-columns rather than columns. Another work which follows Alberti’s rules quite precisely is the Clocktower in San Marco Square, but its attribution to Codussi has long been debated. Other debated attributions are the facades of the Corner-Spinelli and Vendramin-Calergi palaces on the Canal Grande.

Reference: Alberto Tacco, “CODUSSI, Mauro,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 26 (1982).

Further reading: Deborah Howard, The architectural History of Venice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).

The staircase of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. Source:

San Michele in Isola. Source: Didier Descouens on Wikimedia Commons.

San Zaccaria. Source: Deror avi on Wikimedia Commons.

Scuola Grande di San Marco. Source: G.dallorto on Wikimedia Commons.

Canaletto, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, c. 1735, oil on canvas, private collection. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

The Clocktower in San Marco Square. Source: Martin Furtschegger on Wikimedia Commons.

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