Chapter 2 Peripheral or Central? The Fortification Architecture of the Sanmichelis in Dalmatia

In: The Land between Two Seas: Art on the Move in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea 1300–1700
Author: Ana Šverko
Open Access

Michele Sanmicheli (1484–1559) and his nephew Giangirolamo (c.1513–59), famed Italian military architects, were both active along the two coasts of the Adriatic Sea: the western, on which they were engaged in the fortification of cities in the center of the Venetian Republic; and the eastern, on which they fortified strategically important cities along the edge of the republic (Zadar and Šibenik among them).1

For almost the entire time the Venetians and the Ottomans were present in the Balkans, Dalmatia was exposed to encroachments on one or the other side into its territory. These ongoing conflicts and territorial campaigns resulted in frequent changes to the borders in the area—a dynamic territory that has been exposed throughout history to shifting cultural and artistic impacts. The Venetians managed to occupy the coastal parts of Dalmatia for good only at the beginning of the fifteenth century, from 1409 to 1420, after they had bought the rights to the territory from the king of Hungary-Croatia, Ladislaus of Naples. The Venetian acquisitions in Dalmatia were soon threatened by the Ottoman Empire, which had set off on its powerful drive westwards. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, frequent conflicts broke out between the Venetians on the one hand and the Ottomans on the other, the latter however gradually gaining the upper hand in the southern areas of Croatia and coming within reach of the Venetian possessions.2 Thus, this is a space marked by conflict and unstable borders, and at the same time the location of a dialogue among different cultures, where relationships of center and periphery and the influences of East and West alternate and intertwine.

Venice was primarily a trading power, and safe harbors on the eastern coast of the Adriatic had been essential for its trade routes ever since the tenth century. However, the Ottoman-Venetian Wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would prompt Venice to begin intensively investing in the construction and modernization of fortifications. Some of them—those in Zadar, Šibenik, and Corfu, as well as Crete and Cyprus—were worked on by the Sanmichelis, both the uncle and the nephew. In this essay I consider their major projects in Dalmatia: the fortifications in Zadar and Šibenik.

The Adriatic coastline during the Renaissance is usually divided into the central part, that of the Italian Peninsula, and the eastern section, where the very edges of the Venetian Republic’s coastline were located. The first proposition of the following discussion then is that from the perspective of fortification architecture, the “periphery” is in fact the “center” of architectural innovation, for it represents the first line of defense. From this, it follows that the architectural innovations and creativity of the Sanmichelis, the main fortification architects of Venice in the sixteenth century, are most likely to be found on the eastern coast of the Adriatic.

Furthermore, military architecture necessarily entails secrecy. The Sanmichelis did not leave any treatise or writings, and we analyze their remarkable fortification projects with hardly any preserved drawings. Accordingly, some of their innovations, even in terms of decoration, might have remained unattributed to them until today; an example is the so-called Sansovino corner sequence at the Marciana Library in Venice.3 Innovations in architectural decoration were presented in the “real” centers, like Venice for example, and applied to important public buildings at a time when the Sanmichelis were vigorously engaged in fortifying the cities of the eastern Adriatic.

The focus of this paper will therefore be on the military architecture of the Sanmichelis and how it supports the theory that discussions of fortification architecture shift the concept of the center. I will consider the Sanmichelis’ Dalmatian projects from this original perspective, relying on previous research, primarily on the excellent monograph about Michele Sanmicheli by Paul Davies and David Hemsoll, as well as on my own on-site studies, which offered me valuable arguments that support the thesis that has been established. I will show that they spent a critical part of their professional lives devoted to building fortifications in Stato da Mar—in Venice’s overseas territories.4 I will also demonstrate that, given the military situation at the time, Zadar and Šibenik were, at the time the Sanmichelis were active, at the very center of the state’s entire defensive system. I will explore the Sanmichelis’ innovations and the manner in which they adapted defensive models to the local context, using the Zadar and Šibenik projects as examples. This will be demonstrated using various scales—from urbanism and planning through to the architectural, and all the way to the level of ornament. From a planning and architectural point of view, then, I examine the Sanmichelis’ approach in an inherited urban context on the one hand (in which the architects bring together the logic of the military and that of urbanism) and a natural context on the other. The results of my research into bastions and city gates as the key elements of Renaissance fortification structures will testify to the originality of the Sanmichelis’ contributions to architecture, both in terms of their important role in improving fortification systems, as well as in the refinement of their interpretation of Vitruvian theories. Finally, I also look at ornament, which likewise acted as a bearer of meaning superimposed onto the language of fortification itself.

1 Dalmatia in the Context of the Sanmichelis’ Renaissance Fortifications

Around the year 1500, at an early age, and after having learned the elements of architecture from his father Giovanni and his uncle Bartolommeo, who were both architects, Michele Sanmicheli set out from his native Verona for Rome. In 1509 he went to Orvieto, where he practiced for almost the next two decades. Among his earliest works, his contributions to the design of the Duomo of Orvieto and the Duomo of Montefiascone, an octagonal building surmounted by one of the largest domes in Italy, have been recorded. Michele returned to Veneto in January 1527, after having been engaged by Pope Clement VII to inspect all the places of great importance in the Papal States and, wherever necessary, to see to the construction of fortifications.5 Of particular focus were Parma and Piacenza, the two cities most distant from Rome and the most exposed to the perils of war. On his return to the Veneto region, Michele was engaged building new forts in Verona, where he introduced polygonal bastions (instead of the previous round or rectangular structures used in defensive architecture) and radically changed the previous defensive system. In 1532, Sanmicheli began building a massively fortified and richly decorated city gate for Verona, the Porta Nuova, on which the Roman Doric order is superimposed on layers of rustication (Fig. 2.1).6

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.1

Francesco Da Ronzani and Girolamo Luciolli, “Prospetto verso la Campagna della Porta Nuova in Verona,” in Le fabbriche civili, ecclesiastiche e militari di Michele Sanmicheli, Venice, 1831

Fine Arts Library, Harvard University, Fine Arts XCage FA2225.30.14 PF

In 1535, Michele Sanmicheli was appointed engineer of the state for lagoons and fortifications by the Venetian Senate and charged with the examination and updating of forts throughout Istria, Dalmatia, Cyprus, Crete, and Corfu (Venetian reports from the 1520s had informed the government of the dilapidation of the defensive structures in Dalmatia). He passed on some of the engineering projects to his nephew, Giangirolamo (born in Verona), with whom he had collaborated on several projects on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. In 1537, Michele was sent to Zadar (a city he already knew, having been there in 1534), and Giangirolamo joined his uncle two months later.7

Of course, there were immediate historical factors that contributed to the campaign to fortify Zadar and Šibenik. Suleiman the Magnificent’s campaigns to conquer the region placed the Venetian territories in Dalmatia in an extremely challenging military and strategic position. The fall of Knin, Skradin, and Ostrovica on the Krka River in the early 1520s raised awareness of Šibenik as, geopolitically speaking, the most important city in Dalmatia. Šibenik is located at the mouth of the Krka River on the Adriatic Sea. For the Ottomans, conquering Šibenik would allow them to establish sea routes with the territories they had already acquired on the mainland and its interior, which was particularly important for trade and the export of raw materials. In addition to Šibenik, it was essential that Zadar, which was the main city in Venetian Dalmatia, be fortified as well. In 1537–38, the Ottomans conquered Klis and two strategically significant forts in the Zadar hinterland—Nadin and Vrana—placing central Dalmatia in a particularly difficult military and strategic position. As a result, during the Third Ottoman-Venetian War (1537–40), Venetian territories in Dalmatia were at their most vulnerable.

In Zadar, Michele developed a concept for the defense of the town. The design was probably devised even earlier than his arrival in Zadar, for in the very same year work started on building the Ponton, the central bastion and key feature of the entirely original polygonal defensive system. In contrast to Zadar’s other bastions, the Ponton was built largely of brick.8 Michele departed for Corfu and Crete just a few months after work started, and the development of the Zadar fortifications was taken over by Giangirolamo. Returning from Greece, Michele Sanmicheli stopped in Kotor; from 1539 to 1541 he was once again in Zadar and Šibenik, just at the time when the building of the monumental Land Gate in Zadar was in full swing and work on the Fortress of St. Nicholas in nearby Šibenik began. The leading role taken by Giangirolamo in the design and supervision of the building of the Fortress of St. Nicholas is evidenced by reports from the time of building.9

Michele Sanmicheli is mentioned again for his work in Verona in 1541–42, when he was invited for the construction of the San Zeno Gate. For the composition of this gate, as we shall see, the Land Gate in Zadar served as a prototype. Michele was subsequently sent to Cyprus, visiting Zadar, Šibenik, Corfu, and Crete on the way. By the time of his return in 1543, the designs for the Zadar fortifications were close to completion. Giangirolamo was to stay in Dalmatia and Šibenik, and Michele returned to Veneto, where he was engaged (among other things) in building the Fortezza di Sant’Andrea, which defended the Lido entrance to the Venetian lagoon.10

In 1547, Michele Sanmicheli once again went to Greece and Cyprus, this time with Giangirolamo, who stopped off at Corfu, left for Cyprus in 1548, and returned via Crete and Corfu.11 Both of them returned to Veneto, and Giangirolamo, soon after getting married in Verona, was sent to Cyprus in 1558. He died there the following year, in his mid-forties. Overcome by grief at the death of his nephew (a genuine pupil and disciple), Michele soon followed him to the grave.

From this reconstruction of their movements along the Adriatic, it is obvious that the Sanmichelis, and Giangirolamo in particular, spent a significant part of this period in their working lives dedicated to the construction of fortifications along the eastern coast of the Adriatic. As a result, it is entirely realistic to suggest that it was on the eastern Adriatic that they developed an architectural language in the field of fortification architecture.12

2 Urban Morphology and Topography: The Examples of Zadar and Šibenik

As we have already noted, the Sanmichelis arrived in Zadar at the beginning of the Third Ottoman-Venetian War. This coastal city was the capital of Venetian Dalmatia, excellently sited on a peninsula and with a protected port for naval and other vessels. In terms of military strategy, the most vulnerable point of this peninsula was the connection with the mainland; here the city was protected with a wall and a lower wall and an artificially created moat that had effectively turned the city into an island.13

The whole process of fortifying Zadar is not my object here. Rather, I will focus on a few interventions made by Michele Sanmicheli that are crucial for this investigation. The first is the design of the central bastion itself, and the second is the position and design of the Land Gate right beside it (Fig. 2.2).

Figure 2.2
Figure 2.2

Francesco Geronzi, Plan of the town and fortifications of Zadar, eighteenth century

Correr Museum, Venice, Cl. XLIVb n. 0635

With respect to the relations between the given site and the construction of the bastion, Sanmicheli did not follow an architecturally or geometrically ideal form or system as might have been expected of a Renaissance architect, that of two bastions with the city gate in the middle—a symmetrical design which would not have been adequate to control the long tract of the landward side of Zadar. Instead, he adapted the design to respond to the characteristics of the site: Sanmicheli broke the line of the defensive wall divided from the land by the moat and placed a monumental pointed bastion in the center of the landward side of Zadar. As far as it is known, this angled bastion, the Ponton, was the largest bastion in the Venetian Republic at that time. By adjusting to the topographical demands of the site, Michele Sanmicheli enabled defense from all angles of the field of view, effectively offering complete control of the territory.

Sanmicheli’s design for the Ponton closed one of the two city gates that led from the mainland into the city. To make up for it, Sanmicheli replaced those gates with a single massive entryway that he placed in a novel position: not in the center of the wall but directly beside the huge new bastion so that it connected with one of the two main city streets.14 This decision reflects his skill as an urban planner. If we consider the potential locations for a new city gate, it becomes clear that Michele Sanmicheli chose the ideal position, both because it could be easily connected to the existing city street and because of the excellent defensive position it occupied within the new fortification system. Sanmicheli clearly respected the existing topographic and town-planning constraints of the site and did not impose any ideal architectural scheme upon the location.

Let us consider now the completely different location of Šibenik’s Fortress of St. Nicholas. It is not situated in an urban setting but rather upon an isolated islet, where the natural location determined the architectural concept. The Fortress of St. Nicholas was designed for the islet called Ljuljevac, which according to documents from the tenth century was the location of the Monastery of St. Nicholas. In contrast to earlier plans for building two forts at the entrance into the St. Anthony Channel, Giangirolamo’s idea to build only a single fort had already been accepted when the Sanmichelis arrived in Šibenik from Zadar in 1540 (Fig. 2.3).15

Figure 2.3
Figure 2.3

Marcello Alessandri, Map of Šibenik, Marcello Alessandri, 1620

Correr Museum, Venice

A report dated September 3, 1540 and signed by Giangirolamo confirms that the fort was his design.16 There is a very detailed description of the triangular fort, with its two demibastions on the landward side and a roundel and entry from the sea on the eastern side, that has been preserved. This is precisely the way in which the fort was actually built. If we look at the contours of the island, it is clear that the shape of the fort was made to fully conform to the requirements of the site (Fig. 2.4).17

Figure 2.4
Figure 2.4

Anonymous, St. Nicholas Fortress, Šibenik, sixteenth century

Correr Museum, Venice, Cl. XLIVb n. 0796

The fortifications of Zadar and Šibenik designed by the Sanmichelis were built on a stone footing in brick. Brick is a material not used, as a rule, in Dalmatia, but it provides a flexibility of execution not possible in stone, which would have been more expensive, lengthier, and much more complex. In addition, a brick structure is better at absorbing hits.18

As far as I have managed to determine from examples of the Sanmichelis’ military architecture in Italy, Greece, and Croatia, the technique of building in brick was never implemented so comprehensively and to such exacting standards as at Šibenik. Although several kinds of brick can be seen at the Fortress of St. Nicholas, an ochre yellow brick that belongs to the original structure stands out for the fineness of its workmanship. From the point of view of the reconstruction of the Sanmichelis’ working process, it will be interesting to carry out further detailed research into the types of brick used and the transport of the materials, as well as the origins and employment conditions of the master builders in what was—for Dalmatia—the unfamiliar material of brick.

It is important to emphasize the close collaboration between Michele and Giangirolamo Sanmicheli, who worked on the projects together. Giorgio Vasari writes thus of the work of Giangirolamo:

“[…] and, among other places, he took part with much judgment and labor in the fortification of Zara, and in the marvelous fortress of S. Niccolò at Sebenico […] Gian Girolamo, besides his great judgment in recognizing the nature of different sites, showed much industry in having them represented by designs and models in relief, in so much that he enabled his patrons to see even the most minute details of his fortifications in very beautiful models of wood that he would cause to be made; which diligence pleased them vastly, for without leaving Venice they saw every day how matters were proceeding in the most distant parts of their State.”19

Likewise, in his celebrated 1778 book on the lives of the most famous Venetian architects and sculptors of the sixteenth century, Tomasso Temanza discusses the work of Michele and his nephew Giangirolamo Sanmicheli under a single heading.20 This is not surprising because Giangirolamo continued projects founded on joint work with his famed uncle with convincing mastery. This biographic information is evidence of how closely the two collaborated, but it also reveals the extent of Giangirolamo’s own capabilities, which were no less than those of his famous uncle. Skill in making models on the one hand, and presence on the ground on the other, enabled Giangirolamo to creatively perfect his uncle’s ideas while adhering to his premises. The fact that the Sanmichelis were working away from the center, where they were far from the controlling system, must have given them both a creative freedom that they would otherwise hardly have had the chance to develop.

Francesco Milizia, the most influential Italian architectural theorist of the Settecento, elaborates on Michele Sanmicheli’s role in the history of military architecture as an architect to whom is owed the glory of inventing the military architecture that was in use in the eighteenth century: “[…] Before him all the bastions were round or square […] The mystery of this art consists in defending every part of the enclosure by a flank; therefore making a bastion round or square, the front of it, that is, the space which remains in the triangle, is undefended; and that is precisely what Sanmicheli effected.”21 Milizia (as well as Giorgio Vasari), gives Michele Sanmicheli credit for the revolutionary invention of the angled bastion. Although later studies have demonstrated that credit for this invention might belong to Francesco Maria Della Rovere, the Sanmichelis were unquestionably pioneers in the use of pointed bastions in the Venetian Republic and the further development of the bastion as an element in fortification systems.22 It was while working on the Fortress of St. Nicholas in Šibenik that Giangirolamo introduced important innovations to this field.

In Šibenik Giangirolamo did in fact build a round bastion, but one facing the sea, where there was no fear of the enemy approaching the walls themselves; indeed, in this place the round form enabled him to design an optimal radial disposition of cannons. It is important to point out that two angled demibastions linked with a short curtain wall are called tenaglia or tenaille, meaning “pincers.” This usually appears as one of the outer elements of a fort, separated by a ditch from the basic fortification. From research done to date it can be hypothesized that the Šibenik tenaille was one of the earliest examples in the context of Venetian military architecture.23 Another specific feature of the Fortress of St Nicholas is the orillion at the joint between the bastion and curtain wall, an element that is also one of the first known examples in Venetian fortifications. Later, it was to become standard.24

Later criticisms of the Fortress of St. Nicholas from fortification experts relate mainly to the insufficient depth of the ditch separating the fort from the land. It is probable that a deepening of the ditch was not carried out because of the great difficulty and expense of digging in the rocky ground. One of the earliest reviews of the quality of the Fortress of St. Nicholas was given by the influential military commander and fortress architect Sforza Pallavicino (1559), who continued working on the fortifications in Zadar after the Sanmichelis.25 He criticized the vaults of St. Nicholas as being likely to collapse during a bombardment and complained of the many cannon ports that additionally exposed the fort to the enemy. This type of fort would be developed in the direction of a reduction of ports and interior space in favor of thicker earthworks.26 The existing spatial conditions demanded creativity from the Sanmichelis in terms of how they applied contemporary fortification models.27 In doing so, they introduced some innovations into the design of fortifications that would later become common. Their approach, which was based on the principle of adapting to the context as the starting point for their architectural innovations, is one of those timeless, universal lessons that all urban planners and architects must keep in mind.

3 The Gates at the Forts of Zadar and Šibenik: From Their Composition to Their Details

It is important to point out that military architects were not only dedicated to the defensive characteristics of city walls but also to their appearance and aesthetics. This doubled responsibility for structure and ornament comes into particular focus in the design of monumental city gates, which often constituted a contrast to the surrounding countryside.

In addition to their monumentality, gates of course had an important defensive role. Behind the façade there were originally spaces for housing the city watch and the artillery, service spaces, and devices for raising the drawbridge. The design of the façade and gates was also a powerful device for representing the strength and domination of the Venetian Republic.

The blend of the useful and the beautiful in Venetian Renaissance fortification architecture is a theme on its own, but here I shall briefly say that—considered through the eyes of power—fortifications had to play a double role. Their first function was to protect the city by means of their architectural structures and by serving as a garrison for soldiers. The second was to represent and define an aesthetic and “ordered” language, which could be clearly understood and easily referred to by the economic and political powers.28

If we take the case of Giovanni Maria Falconetto, a slightly older contemporary of Michele Sanmicheli, it is clear that for the city gate in Zadar, Sanmicheli adopted Falconetto’s composition of the Porta Savonarola in Padua (Fig. 2.5).29 While Falconetto based the appearance of the front on chromatic contrasts between elegant Composite columns and decorative elements in Istrian stone on a background of gray trachyte, Michele Sanmicheli treated that composition in the Doric-rustic order, which in its solidity and massive firmness corresponds to the strength of the site.30 Thus, unlike Falconetto, he introduced the strongest order, the Doric, and created an impression of sophisticated impregnability.

Figure 2.5
Figure 2.5

Giovanni Maria Falconetto, Porta Savonarola in Padua

Photograph by Fedele Ferrara, Shutterstock, 682814572

In my construction of the space of the periphery as center of defense, that is, as the point of origin for innovations in fortification architecture, there is additional backing for this thesis with respect to the ornamental language as interpreted by Davies and Hemsoll. They argue that it could have been Michele Sanmicheli who first questioned, and indeed resolved, the celebrated corner sequence with a double column in the Doric order on the Porta Nuova in Verona, which could not follow Vitruvian demands without some innovation, even before Sansovino applied it to the Marciana Library in Venice.31 According to Vitruvius, the Roman Doric frieze needed to have a centered triglyph in line with the final column and to conclude with a metope that wrapped around the corner; but there was not enough space for this. Michele Sanmicheli’s focus on this architectural theme, before Sansovino drew attention to it in 1539 (in a sensational way), can be seen not only on the Porta Nuova but also on the Zadar gate. To appreciate the originality and specificity of Sanmicheli’s approach in Dalmatia, I would point to his solution of the corner metope of a Doric frieze on the Zadar gate, which was also later applied to the gate of the Fortress of St. Nicholas in Šibenik.

Sanmicheli’s sketch for the Zadar gate (probably created in 1537), does not contain the actual decoration of the corner metope, but all other elements indicating the innovative approach to the corner are present (Figs. 2.6 and 2.7).32 There is nevertheless an important difference in the approaches of Sansovino and Sanmicheli. Sansovino solves the problem of the corner in a two-dimensional manner, at the level of the façade, while Sanmicheli solves it at the level of the ornaments and details, which is logical given that Michele Sanmicheli also trained as a carver of architectural ornaments.33 On the Porta Nuova, Sanmicheli decreases the radius of the paterae on the metopes so that in the narrower space of the final demimetope, by decreasing the distance between the patera and the triglyph, he can convincingly wrap it around the corner. Sanmicheli creates a slight increase in the width through subtle adaptations to the width of the frieze, all but making it level with the rustication of the corner columns. Thus, he achieves a rather convincing solution for the corners through the combination of these two interventions. Sanmicheli would develop this approach further on the Zadar city gate, where he decorates the alternating metopes with an intricate rosette, whose third dimension on the corner entirely overcomes the insufficient width of the final metope. The position of the gates, directly beside the Ponton bastion, doubtless had an impact on this approach to articulating the corner metope, as well as on the overall raised design of the gate. As a clear central view of the gate, because of its position, was impossible, it was necessary to dedicate a great deal of attention to its third dimension in order to create an impression of monumentality. For his solution in Zadar, which was based on the criterion of ornaments in stone, Sanmicheli could rely on the skill of the excellent local craftsman Dujam Rudičić.34 Sansovino, meanwhile, creates space for the corner demimetope in the full width with skillful increases in the width of the corner column. His solution for the Marciana Library would not have been so convincing in terms of the scale and proportions on the city gates in Zadar, where the aim was to emphasize the illusion of rustication. In 1539, therefore, when Sansovino was finishing the Marciana Library and Michele and Giangirolamo were spending time on the eastern Adriatic coast, the celebrated corner had already been resolved on the Porta Nuova in Verona and recorded in Michele Sanmicheli’s sketch for the Zadar “Terraferma” gate, although the two architects did not produce identical solutions.35

Figure 2.6
Figure 2.6

Michele Sanmicheli, Drawing of the Porta di Terraferma in Zadar, Michele Sanmicheli

Uffizi Gallery, 1759 A
Figure 2.7
Figure 2.7

Sculptural decoration from the Porta di Terraferma, Zadar

Shutterstock, 1279159333

By comparing the Zadar gate and the Porta Savonarola in Padua (designed by Falconetto) with Sanmicheli’s Porta Nuova, it is clear that the Zadar gate was created through a fusion of Falconetto’s composition with the classical Doric style that Sanmicheli interpreted, with a rustication that imparts a three-dimensionality to the front. After the Zadar gate, Sanmicheli designed the Porta di San Zeno in Verona; the latter is almost identical to the Zadar gate in composition, but with a different decorative treatment.36 For example, the first string course in Zadar has no ornamentation, and the second is ornamented with a spiral motif, while the decoration on the portal of San Zeno is a degree higher: the first string course has a spiral motif, and the second has a meander. While in Zadar the Doric half columns bear the architrave and frieze, in Verona Composite pilasters are employed instead, which bear the architrave and cornice on consoles. In the symmetrical fields of this tripartite composition, horizontally and vertically, are inscriptions, the coats of arms, and the Venetian Lion of St. Mark over the main entrance. In Zadar the keystone of the main entrance is graced with the figure of St. Chrysogonus, symbol of the Zadar commune (Fig. 2.8).

Figure 2.8
Figure 2.8

Porta di Terraferma, Zadar

Shutterstock, 1288769269

The San Zeno gate is built in brick and stone, while that in Zadar is executed entirely in stone. The San Zeno gate, with its Composite order and color contrast between brick and stone is thus closer in appearance to Falconetto’s than the Zadar gate. In other examples, Sanmicheli was to draw on the composition of the Porta Nuova. This suggests that the Zadar gate is the most distinctive example of Sanmicheli combining a traditional composition of the kind used in Falconetto’s gate with his own rustic three-dimensional interpretation of the Doric order.

The Porta Nuova, however, served as a direct model for Giangirolamo Sanmicheli in his design of the gate leading into the Fortress of St. Nicholas in Šibenik.37 In accordance with the size of the fort, only the central part of the city gate in Verona was taken as a prototype for the gate of St. Nicholas (Figs. 2.9 and 2.10). This comparison was first made in 1823 by Francesco Ronzani and Girolamo Luciolli.38 However, careful observation of the gate of St. Nicholas indicates Giangirolamo’s skillful adaptations to the limitations of the site. The height restriction forced him to shorten the arched opening by the height of the base. The width of the gate located right by the round bastion did not permit Sanmicheli’s usual placement of the coats of arms in the space alongside the gate, and so it is positioned on the bottom of the arched aperture. Such a location of the coat of arms, along with the uncommonly richly decorated lower side of the architrave (with a motif of oak leaves and decoration in the lowest part of the cornice), strongly indicates that the gate was carefully designed to be seen from below or from up close. The approach to the portal of this sea fort, protected by an orillion (a similar logic to placing Zadar’s city gate directly beside the bastion), is altogether unique. The gate, located behind the orillion, can only be seen from close up, and access was not—as was usually the case—via a drawbridge over the ditch at the level of the gate but rather at the foot of the fortress, on the shore of the little island. The approach to the gate was from the sea level and at close distance, so my assumption is that Sanmicheli purposely designed the St. Nicholas gate according to this specific spatial context and way of moving through it.

Figure 2.9
Figure 2.9

Francesco Da Ronzani and Girolamo Luciolli, “Porta del Castello di S. Nicolò presso Sebenico,” in Le fabbriche civili, ecclesiastiche e militari di Michele Sanmicheli, Venice, 1831

Fine Arts Library, Harvard University, Fine Arts XCage FA2225.30.14 PF
Figure 2.10
Figure 2.10

Fortress of St. Nicholas, Šibenik

Shutterstock, 532769578

The corner on the frieze is handled in the same way as that of the Porta Nuova; however, the corner decorative shield of the demimetope is displayed—as it is in Zadar—outwards, and more richly decorated in comparison with Sanmicheli’s other works. Around the central triglyph, but so far not comprehensibly discussed in the literature, are two lions in the place of the decorative shield. Both figures are depicted in moleca, without sword and aureole; one holds an open book and the other a closed one (Fig. 2.11).39 The Venetian Republic never coded the symbolism of the open versus the closed book. Indeed, the fairly common interpretation that links the closed book, nestled between the paws of Mark’s symbol, with periods of war and the open book with periods of peace has not been confirmed by the evidence.40 The intention of this paper is not to offer an answer to this intriguing dichotomy but rather to draw attention to the layers of research that hide behind fortification architecture, even to the level of ornamental symbolism.

Figure 2.11
Figure 2.11

Detail of the frieze of the Gate of St. Nicholas Fortress, Šibenik

Photograph by the author

The metopes were decorated more richly than with the mere decorative shield used in Sanmicheli’s earlier projects. It is only on the gate of the Fortezza di Sant’Andrea in Venice that we find a similar level of decorative motifs, but this was after the gate on the Fortress of St. Nicholas had already been completed. In the decoration of the St. Nicholas gate, however, what is so special is not just the design of an ichnographically and typologically rich decorative scheme; we can also observe a remarkably high level of execution, which was due to the skills of local craftsmen. Just as with the Zadar gate, local masons were involved in the execution of the stone architectural decorations on the gate of Šibenik’s Fortress of St. Nicholas.41 In both monumental entrances, the fine work of the carver Dujam Rudičić of Split is prominent.42 In these gates, the Sanmichelis were offered a space for uniquely creative decorations, thanks to local stone-carving practices, which were highly developed, and the unique positioning of the gate, which created the need for emphatic three-dimensional articulation. The Sanmichelis adapted existing decorative models to the context of the Šibenik and Zadar fortifications. Bringing together the local and the universal thus proved to be a source of creative synthesis in architecture, irrespective of the scale at which they worked.

4 Conclusion

The Šibenik and Zadar fortifications are part of a single system: all the fortified cities were elements of the “great Venetian state defense machine.”43 The mid-sixteenth century was an age of great advances in military construction techniques, and I would like to argue that the examples of Zadar and Šibenik indicate the importance of their designs to this overall system. On the so-called “peripheral coast” of the Adriatic, the Sanmichelis had more opportunities to develop innovative systems of city defenses. They adapted every defensive structure to the specific spatial context, either urban or natural, while it was their gates that showed clearly that all these fortifications, adjusted to the spirit of the place, belonged to the same system.

From the perspective of function, the Sanmichelis took certain elements across the Adriatic, but not ready-made models of forts. They designed on the spot and in response to the environment—both urban and natural. The actual gates—the aesthetic component of the fortifications and vehicles of symbolic meanings—bore the emblems of the Venetian Republic but were adjusted each time to the situation on the ground with a different artistic formulation, clearly showing the difference between the creative application of a model and a mere uninventive copy. The distance from the political center provided by Dalmatia gave the Sanmichelis freedom in their interpretation of fortified architectural design, and local craftsmen of great skill brought the execution of their designs to the highest level.

The Sanmichelis were active on the Dalmatian coast, on that “paradigmatic shore” that divided the “East” from the “West,”44 at the moment when the cities of Zadar and Šibenik represented, in terms of the military situation at the time, the center of the Serenissima’s overall defenses. The significance of their work on the fortification of these cities places Zadar and Šibenik in a crucial position within the overall Venetian defensive system of the sixteenth century. In studying them it becomes clear that, when it comes to fortifications, those on the periphery were no less important than those in the center; rather, we can make a case for perceiving the periphery as the center—both in terms of defense as well as architectural creativity.

Acknowledgments

I wish to thank the entire team of supervisors on the project “From Riverbed to Seashore,” and in particular Gulru Necipoğlu and Alina Payne for their approaches to this topic and development of the central thesis. I would also like to thank Danko Zelić and Andrej Žmegač for their careful reading of the text and valuable guidance and Katrina O’Loughlin and Sarah Rengel for helping to refine the language used in the text.

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Notes

1

For a full account of the lives of the Sanmichelis, see Paul Davies and David Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli (Milan: Electa, 2004). In addition to his work on military architecture, Michele Sanmicheli was extremely active in the fields of religious and civil architecture. Giangirolamo is regularly referred to as Michele’s nephew, although he was in fact the son of Michele’s cousin Paolo.

2

See Evliyâ Çelebi, Putopis: Odlomci o jugoslavenskim zemljma (Sarajevo: IRO Veselin Masleša, 1979); Josip Vrandečić, “Had an Ottoman Combatant Any Chance to Win the Love of the Daughter of the Rector of the Dalmatian Town Zadar (Islam in Ottoman Dalmatia in the 16th and 17th Century and Its Coexistence with the Christian World of Neighboring Venetian Dalmatia),” in Radovi Filozofskog fakulteta u Zadru 34 (1994/1995), 163–83; Josip Vrandečić and Miroslav Bertoša, Dalmacija, Dubrovnik i Istra u ranome novom vijeku (Zagreb: Leykam International, 2007); Cemal Kafadar, “Evliyâ Çelebi in Dalmatia: An Ottoman Traveler’s Encounters with the Arts of the Franks,” in Dalmatia and the Mediterranean. Portable Archaeology and the Poetics of Influence, ed. Alina Payne (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 59–78.

3

See Deborah Howard, Jacopo Sansovino: Architecture and Patronage in Renaissance Venice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 19–20.

4

Stato da Mar spread from the Adriatic to the Eastern Mediterranean and included Venetian possessions southeast of Istria, including parts of Dalmatia and Albania, many islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, and two large islands—Crete and Cyprus.

5

Giuliana Mazzi, “Michele Sanmicheli, la cosiddetta scuola sanmicheliana e le difee della Repubblica,” in L’architettura militare di Venezia in terraferma e in Adriatico fra XVI e XVII secolo, Aatti del convegno internazionale di studi. Palmanova 8–10 Novembre 2013, ed. Francesco Paolo Fiore (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2014), 119.

6

Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 236–74.

7

Ana Deanović, “Il contributo dei Sanmicheli alla fortificazione della Dalmazia,” Castellum 7 (1968): 37–56; Kruno Prijatelj, “Sanmicheli e la Dalmazia,” in Michele Sanmicheli. Architettura, linguaggio e cultura artistica nel cinquecento, eds. Howard Burns, Christoph L. Frommel and Lionello Puppi (Vicenza and Milan: Electa, 1995), 222–27; Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 33; Pavuša Vežić, “Vrata Michelea Sanmichelija u Zadru,” Radovi Instituta za povijest umjetnosti 29 (2005): 93–106; Žmegač, Bastioni jadranske Hrvatske (Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 2009), 39.

8

Žmegač, Bastioni, 45.

9

Šime Ljubić, ed., Commissiones et relationes Venetae II (1525–1553) (Zagreb: Sumptibus Academiae scientiarum et artium Slavorum meridionalium, 1877), 150–52, 155–59.

10

Construction of the Fortezza di Sant’Andrea began three years after work began on the Fortress of St. Nicholas. This was the first of the standalone fortresses that defended the entrance to the Venetian lagoon. In a conceptual sense, they were therefore related to the fortress in Šibenik. Andrej Žmegač, “Utvrda Sv. Nikole pred Šibenikom.” Radovi Instituta za povijest umjetnosti 25 (2001): 98–99; Giorgio Crovato and Maurizio Crovato, Isole abbandonate della laguna veneziana (Venice: San Marco Press, 2008), 229–36.

11

The Sanmichelis were, as far as it is known, the only famous Venetian Renaissance architects who observed ancient Greek architecture in situ.

12

This reconstruction of the movements of the Sanmichelis along the Adriatic is based on the following literature: Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 236–74; Francesco Da Ronzani and Girolamo Luciolli, Le fabbriche civili, ecclesiastiche e militari di Michele Sanmicheli (Verona: Tipografia degli eredi di Marco Moroni, 1823); Eric Johan Langenskiöld, Michele Sanmicheli: The Architect of Verona: His Life and Works (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells boktryckeri, 1938); Lionelo Puppi, Michele Sanmicheli architetto di Verona (Padua: Marsilio, 1971); Deanović, “Il contributo dei Sanmicheli,” 37–56; Christoph L. Frommel, “Roma e l’opera giovanile di Sanmicheli,” Michele Sanmicheli. Architettura, linguaggio e cultura artistica nel cinquecento, eds. Howard Burns, Christoph L. Frommel, Lionello Puppi (Vicenza and Milan: Electa, 1995), 14–31; Žmegač, “Utvrda Sv. Nikole”, 91–100; Žmegač, Bastioni, 29–61; Mazzi, “Michele Sanmicheli,” 119–42.

13

Deanović, “Il contributo dei Sanmicheli,” 37–56.

14

Deanović, “Il contributo dei Sanmicheli,” 37–56; Andrej Žmegač, “Zadarske utvrde 16. stoljeća,” Radovi Instituta za povijest umjetnosti 27 (2003): 112–13.

15

Šibenik had been ruled by the Venetians since 1412. But after Skradin, a town on the Krka River, fell to the Turks in 1522, there were fears that the Turks would be able to achieve a sea link with Skradin. This would mean the Turkish fleet could enter the Bay of Šibenik, and so in 1524 Malatesta Baglioni, a condottiero who had the general assignment of reporting on the state of the Dalmatian forts, was sent to Šibenik. His recommendation was that Šibenik should be particularly defended from the seawards direction. The sole entry into the Bay of Šibenik was through the mile-and-a-half-long St. Anthony’s Channel, which made it possible to mount a quality defense and control the entry of ships. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, passage through the channel was controlled by torette—the large and small towers built on both sides of the channel at the entry into the port of Šibenik. At that place, a chain was stretched from one side to the other, preventing ships from sailing into the port, particularly at night. Baglioni proposed building two forts at the entrance into the Channel of St. Anthony to prevent the entry of the Turkish fleet into the bay. One would be built at the site of the medieval Monastery of St. Nicholas, the ruins of which were still visible, and the other would be alongside the church of St. Andrew on the other side of the channel. A document reveals that Giangirolamo was in Šibenik in 1538 for discussions relating to the defense of the harbor of Šibenik. See Šime Ljubić, ed., Commissiones et relationes Venetae I (1433–1527) (Zagreb: Sumptibus Academiae scientiarum et artium Slavorum meridionalium, 1876): 178–188; Josip Ćuzela, “Pomorska utvrda Sv. Nikole na ulazu u kanal Sv. Ante kod Šibenika,” Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji 33 (1992): 51–75; Mazzi, “Michele Sanmicheli”, 137; Ivo Glavaš and Ivo Šprljan, “Kule na ulazu u Kanal sv. Ante: Neodvojivi dio šibenskih fortifikacija,” Ars Adriatica 8 (2018): 47–60.

16

This document indicates that the construction of the fortress began during the period of the Third Ottoman- Venetian War (1537–40). The lost inscription over the main showed shows 1543 as the year of the conclusion of that original phase of the building. This was during the period of office of Šibenik’s Rector Francisco Coppo and of the first castellan, Orsato Manolesso. See Krsto Stošić, Šibenske utvrde (manuscript in the Šibenik City Museum).

17

Deanović, “Il contributo dei Sanmicheli,” 37–56; Ljubić, Commissiones II, 150–52; Ćuzela, “Pomorska utvrda,” 55.

18

Ćuzela, “Pomorska utvrda,” 72–74. Given its similarity to the construction of the Fortress of St. Nicholas, the extensive use of brick for the construction of the Ponton has led to the conclusion that its creator must have been Giangirolamo, who built it on a site selected for him by Michele as part of the overall project. See Žmegač, “Zadarske utvrde,” 114.

19

Giorgio Vasari, Le vite dei più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti, di Giorgio Vasari (Florence: Giunti, 1568), 3: 512–527.

20

Tomasso Temanza, Vite dei Più Celebri Architetti, e Scultori Veneziani Che Fiorirono Nel Secolo Decimosesto (Venice: Stamperia di C. Palese, 1778), 1: 151–97. See Ronzani, and Luciolli, Le fabbriche civili, 11.

21

Francesco Milizia, Le Vite De’ Piu Celebri Architetti d’Ogni Nazione e d’Ogni Tempo: Precedute da un Saggio Sopra L’ Architettura, trans. Edward Cresy (Rome: Stamperia di Paolo Giunchi Komarek a spese di Venanzio Monaldini Libraro, 1768), 207. See also Giannantonio Selva, Elogio di Michel Sammicheli architetto civile e militare (Rome: Stamperia de Romanis, 1814).

22

Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 239; Ennio Concina, La macchina territoriale. La progettazione della difesa nel Cinquecento Veneto (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1983); Giuliana Mazzi, “Il Cinquecento. I cantieri della difesa,” in L’architettura a Verona nell’età della Serenissima (Verona: Banca Popolare di Verona, 1988), 95–145.

23

Ćuzela, “Pomorska utvrda,” 51–75; Andrej Žmegač, “La fortezza di San Nicolò presso Sebenico. Un’opera importante di Giangirolamo Sanmicheli,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 49, 1–2 (2005): 133–51.

24

Ćuzela, “Pomorska utvrda,” 51–75; Žmegač, “La fortezza,” 133–51.

25

Žmegač, Bastioni, 55–60.

26

Antonio Manno, “Strategie difensive e fortezze veneziane dal XV al XVIII secolo,” in Palmanova, fortezza d’Europa, ed. Gino Pavan (Venezia: Marsilio, 1993), 500–49.

27

Christopher Duffy, Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494–1660 (London and Haley: Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), 31–32.

28

Paul Hirst, “The Defence of Places: Fortifications as Architecture [part 1],” AA Files, 33 (1997): 13–26; Federico Bulfone Gransinigh and Livio Petriccione, “War landscapes and fortifications from the 15th to the 17th century: the useful and the beautiful (or unless?) at the service of the State”, Proceedings of the XVIII—IPSAPA Interdisciplinary Scientific Conference (2014): 177–188.

29

On Falconetto’s gates and Sanmicheli's Porta San Martino in Legnago as forerunners of the Porta Nuova, see David and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 241–53.

30

Vasari, Le vite, 3: 267–271.

31

Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 43–45, 289–313.

32

Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 55–56.

33

Frommel, “Roma e l’opera giovanile,” 14–31.

34

Laris Borić, “Dujam Rudičić, Sanmichelijevi i Girolamo Cataneo u procesu prihvaćanja klasičnog jezika arhitekture od Zadra do Dubrovnika tijekom druge četvrtine 16. stoljeća,” Radovi Instituta za povijest umjetnosti 39 (2015): 41–54.

35

According to the letter of Pietro Aretino, Sansovino’s model of this corner solution existed in 1537, see Manuela Morresi, Jacopo Sansovino (Milan: Electa, 2000), 451. The preserved sketch for Zadar by Michele Sanmicheli with the same detail was made in the same year.

36

Ferdinando Albertolli, Porte di città e fortezze, depositi sepolcrali ed altre principali fabbriche pubbliche e private di Michele Sanmicheli, Veronese, misurate, disegnate: incise e brevemente illustrate da Ferdinando Albertolli (Milan: Cesarea regia stamperia, 1815); Davies and Hemsoll, Michele Sanmicheli, 258.

37

About the sculpture of the lion of St. Mark that was placed on top of the St. Nicholas Fotress in Šibenik in a similar manner as it was placed on top of the Porta Nuova in Verona, see Borić, “Dujam Rudičić, Sanmichelijevi i Girolamo Cataneo,” 43–45.

38

Da Ronzani and Luciolli, Le fabbriche civili, 12.

39

For the first mention of the difference between the depiction of the book in the lions’ paws, see Ana Šverko, “The Sanmichelis’ City Gate in Zadar: Necessity and Art, Tradition and Innovation,” in Discovering Dalmatia (Zagreb: Institute of Art History, 2015): 23; Ivo Glavaš, “Marginalije o tvrđavi sv. Nikole kod Šibenika i Velikim kopnenim vratima,” Godišnjak zaštite spomenika kulture Hrvatske 39 (2016): 131–32.

40

Venice was, above all, a trading rather than a military power. According to Maria Pia Pedani, the two versions of the lion draw attention to the double aspect of power in Venice: on the one hand is “St. Mark in the form of a lion” with an open book and on the other is the “lion of St. Mark” with a closed book. The first symbolizes sovereign rule, the second delegated power. On the approach to this problem, see Maria Pia Pedani, “Il leone di San Marco o San Marco in forma di leone?” Archivio veneto 5, no. 166 (2006): 185–90.

41

Bulfone Gransinigh and Petriccione, War landscapes, 184. On the local craftsmen hired for these projects, see Borić, “Dujam Rudičić, Sanmichelijevi i Girolamo Cataneo,” 41–54.

42

Stošić, Šibenske utvrde; Cvito Fisković, “Zadarska renesansna crkva sv. Marije,” Prilozi povijesti umjetnosti u Dalmaciji 10 (1956): 118; Borić, “Dujam Rudičić, Sanmichelijevi i Girolamo Cataneo,” 41–54; Emil Hilje, “Uz nekoliko arhivskih podataka o gradnji šibenske lože,” Ars Adriatica 10, no. 1 (2020): 69.

43

M.E. Mallett and J.R. Hale, The Military Organization of a Renaissance State: Venice c.1400 to 1617 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

44

Alina Payne, “Introduction: The Republic of the Sea,” in Dalmatia and the Mediterranean: Portable Archaeology and the Poetics of Influence, ed. Alina Payne (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 1–18.