The domed basilica of Santa Maria della Salute at the mouth of the Grand Canal is one of Venice’s most instantly recognisable buildings; commissioned to celebrate the end of a disastrous plague in 1631, it has since been immortalized on canvas by hundreds of artists from Canaletto to Monet, and continues to be captured on camera thousands of times each day.
The man behind its monumental design was Venetian-born Baldassare Longhena (1598-1682), a pioneering architect who was largely responsible for introducing Venice to the architecture of the Baroque era – a theatrical style characterized by bold explorations of form, light and shadow, gigantic proportions, and dramatic intensity.
Santa Maria della Salute is without doubt Longhena’s most celebrated masterpiece – but when you’re next in Venice, keep an eye out for some of his other architectural gems that can be found in numerous locations around the city:
Ca’ Rezzonico: Situated on the Grand Canal near Rio di San Barnaba, this imposing three-storey palace was originally owned by the Bon family, one of Venice’s patrician dynasties. During the 19th century it was lived in by various famous residents including artist John Singer Sargent and poet Robert Browing (who died there in 1889), and in the 1920s it was occupied by songwriter Cole Porter, who employed a troupe of 50 gondoliers as footmen. Today it houses the excellent Museum of 18th Century Venice.
Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore – Grand Staircase: For a glimpse of one of Longhena’s most innovative designs, book a guided tour of the Cini Foundation – a cultural institution housed in an historic monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Once inside the heavy gates, you’ll be led to Longhena’s ‘Grand Staircase’ (1643-45), where two parallel flights of stairs meet at a common landing – a highly influential design that was quickly copied throughout the grand palaces of Europe. Elsewhere in the complex you’ll also find Longhena’s monastic library, as well as many other artistic and architectural treasures.
Church of the Ospedale dei Derelitti: Located near the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, this monumental marble-clad church was designed as part of a complex that offered shelter and support to the sick, poor and disabled. Its fanciful façade, complete with grotesque masks and stone giants, was commissioned from Longhena during the last decades of the sixteenth century, by which time the complex had become wealthy thanks to bequests and donations. During this period, the church also became renowned for its choir of orphan girls, who lured audiences from all over Europe. Concerts are still occasionally held within the building, so keep an ear open for news of upcoming events.