Cornaro crest

Michele Sanmicheli

Born: 1484, San Michele, near Verona

Died: 1559

MICHELE SANMICHELI began his studies in Verona with his father and his uncle, both architects, but then left at age 16 to study classical sculpture and architecture at Rome in the workshop of Antonio da Sangallo.

In 1509 Sanmicheli removed to Orvieto in Umbria, where he soon developed a successful career as architect of a number of churches and palaces, including the Church of S. Domenico in Orvieto itself and the duomo [cathedral] at Montefiascone just 20 miles away. Following the sack of Rome in 1527, however, Sanmicheli removed to Verona and continued his career there. His work at Verona included the Church of S. Bernardino and several prominent palaces, including Palazzo Pompei, Palazzo Canossa and Palazzo Bevilacqua. Bringing with him the benefit of his Roman studies, Sanmicheli was one of the pioneers of Renaissance architecture in the Veneto.

Sanmicheli gained equal or greater fame, however, as an architect of military fortifications. While based in Rome, Sanmicheli was retained by Pope Clement VII to improve the defenses at Parma and Piacenza. In 1529 he fortified Legnago, southeast of Verona, on behalf of Venice. By 1535 he had been placed in charge of all fortifications of the Republic, not just in the Venetian lagoon, but on the mainland and in Venice's possessions in the eastern Mediterranean as well, including Crete and Cyprus. His largest project for Venice was Fortezza di Sant'Andrea (1545), defending the Lido entrance to the Venetian lagoon.

It was in the military field that Sanmicheli's career was first influenced by the Cornaro family. Sen. Girolamo Cornaro (B-64/H-1), then newly installed as Capitano [military commander] at Padua, encountered Sanmicheli in 1538 as architect for the famous fortification there that became known as Bastion Cornaro. In the following year he also commissioned Sanmicheli to design a new palace, Villa Cornaro, in nearby Piombino Dese to replace the earlier family manor there, which had been burned more than 25 years earlier in the War of the League of Cambrai.

Later, Girolamo's brother Cav. Proc. Giovanni Cornaro (B63/G-1) commissioned Sanmicheli to design a new atrium for Ca' Lando-Cornaro [later known as Ca' Cornaro-Spinelli] on the Grand Canal in Venice, c. 1542, and then an entirely new palace. The Sanmicheli-designed Ca' Cornaro was constructed, 1555-64, in Campo S. Polo, on the site of an earlier family palace there that had been destroyed by fire in 1535. The second great Venetian palazzo designed by Sanmicheli was Ca' Grimani, constructed on the Grand Canal in the late 1550s.

Sanmicheli outlined his ideas on classical architecture in I Cinque Ordini dell' Architettura [The Five Orders of Architecture]. He closed his career with the design of the circular Church of the Madonna di Campagna near Verona, 1559.

1997-9 C. I. Gable