In 1576 Palladio received a commission from the Venetian Senate to design the church of Il Redentore – The Redemption. The building was an offering of thanks from the state: a dreadful plague had visited Venice the year before and the death toll had been huge. The site chosen was conspicuous: this was to be the focus of an annual ceremony of thanksgiving; it continues to this day.
Like Palladio’s other works, the design of Il Redentore combined a range of sources: Alberti’s church of San Andrea, Mantua and Vignola’s Gesu, Rome bear some comparison. However, the principal source of this design was Palladio’s own buildings, both churches and villas. Il Redentore is best understood as the culmination of his career.
Palladio’s churches of Il Redentore and San Giorgio Maggiore can be admired together on the long Giudecca canal. The exteriors of these churches had to be differentiated, whilst also complementing each other. The façade of San Giorgio’s is vigorously carved; that of ll Redentore far calmer. Here, the chief feature is the three great pediments, together pointing towards the mighty dome: simple geometry has replaced elaborate carving.
The plan of the church is innovative and again can be compared with its neighbour. San Giorgio Maggiore is a church to walk around to appreciate. Il Redentore is a more forceful design. Aisles are dispensed with, the nave wider. Spatially this is simpler; the balance of focus has shifted from the architecture to the altar.
Il Redentore, like Palladio’s other buildings, reveals him as a man determined to experiment, not copy. Buildings had to fit their purpose and site; only then could they attain beauty. Certainly, with this church, his genius remains evident.