Basilica of Sant’Andrea

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Basilica of Sant’Andrea

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In 1470, Leon Battista Alberti, gives Ludovico Gonzaga a letter with the drawings for the refurbishment of the gothic church of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, Italy. In his letter, Alberti underlined the scale of the church in order to accommodate the number of pilgrims who came to worship a relic containing the blood of Christ.
As with San Sebastian church, designed by Alberti for the same city, Sant’Andrea is entrusted to the management of Luca Fancelli. Alberti died in 1472 just when the works had started, but the construction continued after his death. Despite some interruptions and changes, the church kept a lot of Alberti’s design: the classic style, the monumental proportions, the plan and distribution of the internal spaces. Even the façade remained substantially faithful to the original, despite being finished only in the Eighteenth century.
The plan is like a massive Latin cross, with a semicircular apse and strict proportions.
Inside, the church’s main body shows a single big nave roofed by a barrel vault with painted coffers, referring to the old Roman thermal basilicas and particularly getting inspiration from the Basilica of Maxentius and the Baths of Diocletian.
The 17 meters wide vault is supported by particularly strong pilasters planned by Alberti in an ingenuous system, which he managed by combining his knowledge of construction techniques with his inventions.
All connections are regulated by a modular geometric system, where each space is a multiple of the other, following a principle of rationality and perfection.
The powerful pilasters are certainly a novel aspect, from where Alberti obtained the closed chapels, which are covered by small domes and lightened by windows located on the external walls. In the space between the fluted and unfluted pilasters the architect inserted imposing barrel arches, creating the open chapels, which alternate with the closed ones in a continuous rhythm (A-B-A-B) up to where it crosses the transept.
The illumination system adds to the dynamism of the space, creating contrast and defining each area: the closed chapels get the light from the side windows while the main body of the church remains in dim light, illuminated only by the oculi above. A full lighting, coming from the dome above, defines the cross between the transept and the main body, putting the presbytery in evidence, and at the same time surrounding it with the dim light of the apse.
Everything in the interior has been devised to bring up an inner concentration and a serene and rational contemplation of the divine.

With its classical forms, the exterior connects perfectly with the interior. The façade is divided in three by giant pillars with composite capitals. A great deep arch opens in the centre, with barrel vaults and coffers (consistent with the internal ones). The façade-dominating arch is tangential to the cornice and superimposed by a pediment.

Three orders of openings overlap from top to bottom on both sides: two architrave doors, two arched niches and two arched windows. It’s a solution that hints the Arch of Janus in Rome.
Because of its very original interior, this church stands as an avant-garde for the Renaissance style and anticipates the subject matter that will resume in the Baroque architecture.

A. Cocchi.

Trad. A. Sturmer




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Leon Battista Alberti. Sant'Andrea. Façade. 1470. Mantua. Italy

Leon Battista Alberti. Sant'Andrea. Church interior. 1470. Mantua. Italy


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