ST 2021 | The Architecture of the Cappella EmilianaCopyright: © Alexander Cattaneo
The Architecture of the Cappella Emiliana of San Michele in Isola
Master's Thesis by Alexander Cattaneo
Between Venice and Murano, halfway across the water route, near the former Camaldolese monastery of San Michele, an architectural gem can be found. The Cappella Emiliana (also Cappella Emiliani) of San Michele in Isola - a Quattrocento foundation that was not realized until the Cinquecento - rises gleaming in white at the northern tip of what is now the island of the cemetery. It clearly seems to belong to the west façade of the early renaissance building of the newer monastery church and yet stands entirely on its own near the water of the lagoon. A hexagonal centralized building with an unusual dome construction – mostly unnoticed by architectural research - was realized by the bergamascan stonemason architect Guglielmo dei Grigi d'Alzano between 1528 and 1543 after an eventful history.
The master's thesis consists of both a theoretical, scientific research work and the drawing and photographic recording as well as the documentation of the monument with the help of the methods of deformation-based building surveying. As the most important source, it is the building itself on which the main focus is placed. In addition to the preparation of the plan material on site, however, it is also the other built works of the architect Guglielmo dei Grigi in Venice that were examined during the study trip in order to be able to understand the chapel in the context of his design repertoire. In addition, the research literature dealing both peripherally with the Venetian Renaissance and dedicatedly with the object and its references has, of course, had to be consulted.
Not only does the question arise as to how Guglielmo dei Grigi arrived at a hexagonal chapel architecture unique to Venice in the first half of the 16th century without any experience in sacral building construction, but also how that project was postulated as early as 1427 by the widowed Margherita Vitturi in honour of her late husband Giovambattista Miani, when dedicated chapel annexes next to churches were highly unusual at the time. Accordingly, in her will she made requirements for a building that had to accomplish much more than what would have been expected of a mere devotional chapel. In 1455, the ideational ownership of the building was transferred to the Procurators de "Citra" of the Venetian Republic, who were initially to build the chapel next to the church of the Observant Monastery of San Francesco della Vigna. After failed land negotiations, the decision was made in 1526 for Vitturi's alternative site; the monastery church of San Michele in Isola and thus next to the first white Renaissance façade of the lagoon city.
In the end, Guglielmo dei Grigi planned his Cappella Emiliana on an "urbanistically" prominent and architecturally highly predetermined site.
A major part of the research is about the challenges, the possible considerations and the resulting consequences that must have influenced Guglielmo's design near the Camaldolese church. Several architectural characteristics of the Cappella Emiliana are named and analyzed as part of the study.