By Jennifer D. Webb

From 1849 to 1969, the first Sunday in July was dedicated to the “Feast of the most Precious Blood.” The basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua houses one of the most well-known relics of the Precious Blood of Christ. The relic, which was a source of great civic pride and religious devotion, was displayed annually on Ascension Day.

Ludovico Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, longed for the transformation of the Sant’Andrea which also was the primary pilgrimage shrine in the city. The first design proposal came around 1460 but no work was done until 1470 due to resistance from the abbot. Based on a design proposal Leon Battista Alberti submitted in 1470, building began in 1472. In a letter to Ludovico from 1470, Alberti notes that “the chief aim was to have a larger space where many people could see the Blood of Christ.” The exterior façade was completed following Alberti’s design and is characteristic of the architect’s classicizing vocabulary. Here Alberti synthesizes elements of a temple façade with a colossal triumphal arch. The barrel vault and dome deliberately rise above the main thoroughfare of the city.

References: Molly Bourne. “The art of Diplomacy: Mantua and the Gonzaga, 1328-1630.” The Court Cities of Northern Italy: Milan, Parma, Piacenza, Mantua, Ferrara, Bologna, Urbino, Pesaro, and Rimini. (2010): 138-195; Sonia Servida, The History of Renaissance Architecture(2011); “Feast of the most Precious Blood.” Catholic Encyclopedia; Paul Davies and David Hemsoll. “Alberti, Leon Battista.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.

Paolo Monti. Basilica di Sant’Andrea, 1972. Photo credit: Available in the BEIC digital library and uploaded in partnership with BEIC Foundation. The image comes from the Fondo Paolo Monti, owned by BEIC and located in the Civico Archivio Fotografico of Milan.

View of Mantua with Sant’Andrea. Photo credit: Jennifer D. Webb

Further reading: Anthony Grafton. Leon Battista Alberti: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Barbara Furlotti and Guido Rebecchini. The art of Mantua: power and patronage in the Renaissance. Los Angeles CA: Getty Publications, 2008.

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