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 on Michele Sanmicheli

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).